Lara Nickel Artist

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPOS -

Alot has hap­pened since Lara Nickel grad­u­ated from the Col­lege of Santa Fe in 2007. The artist, who has an in­stal­la­tion-based ex­hibit at LewAllen Gal­leries through Jan. 17, has since trav­eled ex­ten­sively, spend­ing time in Ire­land and Italy and then liv­ing for three years in France be­fore com­ing back to New Mex­ico. The Col­lege of Santa Fe it­self, fac­ing fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, went through a try­ing re­or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2009 and was then pur­chased in a joint ven­ture in­volv­ing the City of Santa Fe and Lau­re­ate Ed­u­ca­tion and re­named the Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign. “I grad­u­ated just be­fore it hap­pened,” Lara, now thirty, told Pasatiempo. “I didn’t have to deal with the clos­ing and chang­ing.” She was among the last wave of stu­dents to earn a de­gree from that institution.

Lara calls her prac­tice in­stal­la­tion-based paint­ing. She paints de­tailed com­po­si­tions of flora and fauna such as prickly pears, ze­bras, jaguars, and horses but with ref­er­ences to art history that nudge her work into the con­cep­tual realm. “At LewAllen I have this se­ries of cacti and sort of semitrop­i­cal plants. They’re paint­ings of plants I found in Ari­zona and San Diego, kind of that area. And they’re life­sized. What­ever it is I’m do­ing, I try to dis­play the paint­ing in the room the way that the an­i­mal or ob­ject would ac­tu­ally be. So I have the plants go­ing around a cor­ner or two of them close to­gether, or one is stick­ing out from the wall — kind of the way plants would be­have nat­u­rally out­side. They’re still paint­ings. They’re two-di­men­sional, but they come out into the phys­i­cal space, so they act a lit­tle more like an ob­ject.”

Lara’s paint­ings rest per­pen­dic­u­lar to the wall rather than hang­ing flat, forc­ing a more dy­namic in­ter­ac­tion for the viewer. “It’s a clas­si­cal style of paint­ing, but the way I dis­play it in a room is much more con­tem­po­rary,” she said.

The show is her pre­miere ex­hibit at LewAllen and her first solo ex­hi­bi­tion pe­riod. “I have a lot of dif­fi­culty show­ing my work in Santa Fe,” she said. “Be­cause it’s in­stal­la­tion based, a lot of gal­leries don’t want to show it. It was really nice that LewAllen ap­proached me and let me do an in­stal­la­tion.”

Lara, who main­tains a stu­dio off Ace­quia Madre, is en­gaged in an­other project based on a pre­vi­ous work by Greek artist Jan­nis Kounel­lis. “It’s an homage,” she said. “In 1969 he brought 12 live horses into a gallery in Rome. For a long time I wanted to paint horses, but I didn’t want to do just por­traits. Most of my work is in­stal­la­tion with paint­ing. So one day it just clicked that if I did an homage to his piece, I could make up this whole in­stal­la­tion and paint horses, and it could be more about the horse and the history of art rather than be­ing only por­trai­ture. They’ll be dis­played per­pen­dic­u­lar to the wall, too, so all the horses are stand­ing in the room.”

She is mid­way through the project, hav­ing com­pleted six of the dozen horses — all of them life-sized, to scale, anatom­i­cally cor­rect, and based on real horses. The work will be ex­hib­ited in a U-shaped in­stal­la­tion. Kounel­lis’ orig­i­nal piece was an ex­am­ple of Arte Povera, a move­ment that orig­i­nated in Italy and is char­ac­ter­ized by the use of un­con­ven­tional and non­tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als. Lara fur­thers th­ese as­pects by dis­play­ing her work so the back of the paint­ings can be seen, a direct con­trast to the nor­mal mode of ex­hibit­ing two-di­men­sional works. She also chal­lenges viewer expectations, call­ing at­ten­tion to the il­lu­sory as­pects of rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

The project is time-con­sum­ing and in­volves a lot of plan­ning. “With the other plant or an­i­mal or ob­ject paint­ing that I do, I just pho­to­graph it and then I’m in the stu­dio by my­self,” she said. “With the horses, I had to in­ter­act with a lot of peo­ple who owned them or the or­ga­ni­za­tions that owned them.” The artist is work­ing with eques­trian or­ga­ni­za­tions in Italy, France, and the United States as well as with in­di­vid­ual horse own­ers. “Each can­vas is a dif­fer­ent size,” she said. “I mea­sure the horse and pho­to­graph them my­self. Then I have to fig­ure out how big they’ll be and what pose I want them to be in.”

Lara has not pub­licly dis­played the horse paint­ings but plans to bring them to Europe. “I have some con­tacts in Italy, but there is noth­ing of­fi­cial or set yet. I’m just cre­at­ing my net­work over there. I’m also try­ing to do it in Paris and a few other places.” She hopes to un­veil the in­stal­la­tion in Rome, home of Kounel­lis’ orig­i­nal in­stal­la­tion, some­time in 2017. — Michael Abatemarco

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