The dimensionality of things: Studio Visit with Nichole van Beek

For New York based artist Nichole van Beek, the surface that she works on is as much a medium as the inks and pigments she applies to the surface. Often working on unstretched, dyed canvases, Nichole’s artworks explore the interplay between three and four dimensionality, surface and space. Her work is characterized by geometric shapes and interesting color palettes which build layers to create real and perceived sense of depth. When exhibiting her work, Nochole presents her work in unconventional installations which extends the dimensional interplay into the gallery space. Nichole says that the geometric forms that feature in her work are other worldly; blueprints for higher consciousness. In the interview with Nichole that follows, we discuss working with light-sensitive dyes and other materials as well as the importance of spending time on residencies. Enjoy!

AMM: Hi Nichole. Can you tell us a little about how your interest in form and three dimensionality developed? 

NVB: I went to grad school because I wanted to work on mapping photographs in sculptures, installations, and virtual constructions. That came out of interest in 3D graphics and digital imaging that seemed like a new way of seeing in the 80s and 90s.

Much of what I learned about drawing and painting growing up was defined by the depiction of three-dimensional space according to Western conventions, so learning about different cultural conventions in image construction throughout history was also an influence.

AMM: The way you use colour in your work creates visual play and interplay with perspective. Can you tell us more about this? 

NVB: I think of perspective as things that are farther away getting smaller, and I don’t usually use that when I’m constructing an image. The space in my paintings and drawings is an orthographic projection, like what is used in diagrams or architectural drawings, or is graphic and flat.

If there aren’t planes or objects that recede in the distance, then front and back can be interchangeable. Instead of perspective, I use colors to make certain areas fall back or pop out, sometimes in contradiction to the structural information.

AMM: What themes or ideas are you currently exploring in your work?

NVB: I just got back from a residency at the Jentel Foundation in Wyoming. I was trying out different ways of bringing the outdoors into my work. I made a 10.5’ x 8.5’ collage of ten canvas panels that were stapled directly to the wall. The panels were dyed outdoors so I could look directly at the hillside behind my studio and take inspiration from the colors and shapes, without having the filter of smaller sketches or photographs. The canvas was laid out on the dry grass unstretched, so the shape of the marks and pooled dye took on the physical presence of the ground.

The assembled form is a variation on a model of 4D, which to me is very abstract and otherworldly. I’m interested in learning more about higher dimensions and how we represent them.

AMM: Your style has changed quite considerably over time. What has influenced this evolution? 

NVB: Picking up new materials or following new ideas, getting inspired by the work I see in museums, galleries, and studios, working in a different environment, and moving away from something that seems like it isn’t working are all contributing factors.

AMM: How do residencies influence your art thinking, approach and practice?

NVB: I’ve only participated in a few residencies, but certainly processing a new environment has an impact on what I’m making. In all of them I’ve gotten the chance to work outside; I’ve never had a studio in NYC with outdoor space so that’s a real benefit. I’ve also met so many great artists from around the country and the world at residencies so it’s also a way to see how others work and to find out about what’s going on outside of NYC.

AMM: What is a typical day in the studio for you? 

NVB: I work in stages, so it seems like it’s always changing. Sometimes I draw for days or weeks at a time, or I might dye a bunch of fabric, stretch some canvasses for a few days, or paint for other periods of time. It’s all punctuated with walking my dog and advocating for universal healthcare.

You can see what I’ve been doing most recently on Instagram @nicholevanbeek.

AMM: Please tell us about some of the less conventional mediums that you work in and why?

NVB: The past few years I’ve been working with a light sensitive dye made by Jacquard called Solarfast. I wouldn’t say it’s unconventional, maybe just not commonplace. I mix some of my own paint concoctions using mica, sand, glitter, pencil shavings, candy, or whatever will go in there. And I often apply paint with a pastry bag, which makes it come out looking more like string, yarn, or ribbon. I like the surprise of approaching a painting and having a texture that is very present.

AMM: Many of your works are on dyed canvas. Please tell us more about working with the substrate as a medium.

NVB: Dyeing the canvas is a way to acknowledge and push the relationship of painting to textiles. I dye more canvasses than I use, and sometimes the dyed pieces hang around and get thought about for years before I stretch them or cut them up and assemble them somehow. I’m not so worried about controlling the outcome, so it’s a very fluid part of the process (literally and figuratively).

AMM: How do you achieve the gradients and tie-dye effects in your work?

NVB: I usually mix a series of colors – either in dye or paint – making sure that the intervals in hue, chroma, and value are regular. I lay one color down and then blend the next one in while it’s wet.

I have tie-dyed some canvases but the thickness of the material makes it hard to get good folds and the dye doesn’t always soak through. Most of the effects come from brushing or dripping the dye on a wet or partially wet canvas. Maybe the way it moves around while it dries gives it the impression of tie-dye.

AMM: What’s next for you?

NVB: I made cyanotypes of grasses and grains in Wyoming and I’m excited to make some collages with them. First I need to finish unpacking my suitcase!

Find out more about Nichole’s work: www.nicholevanbeek.com

Interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Mag.