The AFC Emerging Artist Summer Series: The Paintings of Charlotte Nicholson

by Art Fag City on July 13, 2006 Events

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Charlotte Nicholson, 2006, Les Hasards Heureux de l’escarpolette, Watercolor on paper, 7 1/8 x 10 1/4

My current work comes from the desire to create associative images, through the development of an intuitive mark making language. Though the marks themselves are generic, they morph into clouds, steam, fur, a sub-atomic world, and, most recently inhabited landscapes. Honoring the paintings of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, my latest series is about maintaining a balance between fantasy and reality, and creating formal relationships whereby the ground threatens to overwhelm the figure. — Charlotte Nicholson

One of the most valuable skills an artist can have is the ability to discern talent amongst the most unhip of histories canon. This is an important talent to cultivate because it requires a fundamental understanding of process and product, while adding a greater breadth of visual material to an artist’s vocabulary.

Having come from an academic background, artist Charlotte Nicholson, has spent many years cultivating this expertise. Much of the work she has produced in New York has been an exploration of abstraction that uses the mark making language of artists such as Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh as a spring board for her own work. Not surprisingly, studying Impressionists and Post-Impressionists such as these may initially be seen as about as hip as pinning up the latest fold out poster of Jonathan Taylor Thomas from your Bop Magazine, (after all these artists populate the walls of every Liberal Arts undergraduate in the country,) but Nicholson proves the rational that drives such trends to be insubstantial. Her ability to construct surface, texture and composition using their work as a model is a testament to effectiveness of the philosophies and art making strategies developed by these artists.

There are obvious formal connections between Nicholson’s paintings and any number of Impressionist painters, but perhaps more important than straight forward matters of wrist and brush stroke is that her paintings are about the sublime*. Much like the works of Rothko and Clyfford Still, these series are created with the intent to elicit an emotional response from the viewer. And they do. The larger abstract paintings envelope and dominate the viewer, while her newest work, creates such movement within the small to mid-sized canvases that the effect is almost dizzying.

The Fragonard Series, which is Nicholson’s most recent series, draws upon a vocabulary used by all of the artists mentioned above, but most specifically upon that of Jean-Honore Fragonard. Like the paintings of this master, Nicholson’s pieces are exceptionally sexually charged. Part of this is the natural result of the source, as Fragonard was well known as a painter to wealthy art patrons who desired paintings that depicted pleasure, love and play. In addition to this, Nicholson captures the life of these paintings by using an intuitive approach which is in keeping with similarly instinctual sexual behaviors.

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The Swing, which can be seen in the photo comparison above is among Fragonard’s best known paintings and in the case of both artists is an excellent example of how sexual imagery can dominate a work. While all the elements of the Fragonard work are present within Nicholson’s reinterpretation, figures become muddied, and there is a warm comfort that comes from the literal absorption of the cast within the lush landscape. In addition to the feminization of the landscape, the fetish of the stocking and shoe is maintained in this work. While somewhat predictable, this is an important choice by the artist because it maintains a long lineage of artists ranging from Jean-Honore Fragonard, to Henrik Ibsen (author of The Dollhouse), and Meret Oppenheim to Vanessa Beecroft who create fetishized art objects, or literary works, and depict these accessories. The interesting thing about this, is not that there is some sort of pre-existing foot fetish among artists that we are now more aware of, but rather that the same fetish can be remade a couple hundred years later, and the flavor of this desire somehow remains consistent.

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It is probably cliché at this point to say that there is also some sort of painterly fetish and ritualization of the act at play, since there is certainly no dearth of contemporary artists who use the principle that from movement and repetition comes beauty. Most of us have already observed that few manage to find success within this convention. An example of the latter is Tara Donovan, who makes sculptures and (less successful) drawings, and like Nicholson manages to take what could very easily be seen as formulaic and creates the rhythmic, the moving, and the sublime. Unfortunately, the sublime isn’t something you can explain or recreate through the use of a jpeg; you simply have to experience it.

*The sublime: Inspiring awe. Impressive

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