WHITEWALL: Beeswax, Rope, Gold, and a Sea Sponge: Nick Theobald at Richard Taittinger

By Katy Donoghue

A solo show of new works by artist Nick Theobald is currently on view at Richard Taittinger Gallery in New York, entitled “WITH HONEY FROM THE ROCK.” The artist uses natural materials to create surprising works—dripped beeswax is used to make paintings, and discarded canvases is used to create sculptures. We spoke with the artist about his process and about how he thinks art will replace religion.

WHITEWALL: “WITH HONEY FROM THE ROCK” refers to a passage in The Old Testament, about God’s final gift to the faithful. Was this a starting point for you with this series?

NICK THEOBALD: It actually was the end point and summed it up. The work is about devotion and submission to a purpose and the freedom that purpose delivers. The title of the show is from a Psalm that I learned as a child at summer camp… so I suppose it is the starting point too; it’s come full circle.

WW: When did you start working with unaltered beeswax? Why was this a material you wanted to work with?

NT: My first explorations with beeswax began four years ago. I saw the tonal variety in beeswax and I started to explore ways of “painting” using natural materials. I am concerned with the idea of karmic footprints in regard to materials. To make 1 pound of beeswax it takes roughly 6000 bees, in some of my paintings there are over 100 pounds of wax. There is a lot of energy resonating from beeswax and I think that is something you feel in the work. The sense of 600,000 bees… and me.

WW: What about working with other natural fibers appeals to you? Have you always worked with natural materials? 

NT: I am interested in creating works that use natural materials because there is something very primal to using what is found in nature—the power and stillness in nature. I still find that residing in the work.

WW: Can you tell us about the sculptural pieces in the show, works like Absorb Form made from wax and sea sponge, and the canvases wrapped in rope?

NT: Absorb Form I see as a Vanitas, a sense of emptiness. It is a sea sponge, which is the skeleton of the former sea creature. The sponge is absorbed in the sweet and everlasting produce of the honeybee. Bees are a symbol of immortality in many cultures and beeswax was first used for mummification by the Egyptians. Combining the two became a “skull and roses” image… besides the obvious nod to Yves Klein.

Born/Bound is a cycle of resolution. Discarded paintings are un-stretched and the wax is melted into the linen. I take something crude and then struggle to turn it into an elegant form—linen, jute rope, beeswax, steel, solid 24-karat gold—melting away failures, binding it into new form and giving new life to something abandoned. The pure gold placed at the end of a knot certifying all these failures are validated.

WW: Your drip paintings, imprint paintings, and rust paintings all seem to evolve around material and process. Do you want the process of making the work to be apparent to the viewer, or is there something else you’d like the viewer to experience?

NT: For some of the work the process is apparent and that is about submitting yourself to a greater purpose, repetitive drips became mantra. In the rust paintings and imprint paintings the process is greatly out of my control, there is a need to surrender to the material. The process is often apparent but the process is only a vehicle. Abstraction has the ability to transcend the struggles in my own work and life, the triumphs. They are often abstract but completely tangible in viewing the work. Art will replace religion.  My hope is the joy I experience in creation is transcribed to the viewer, a shared sense of creation can unite people.

WW: Y1-1-015 and WR1-1-015 involve an action of gathering or accumulating. How would you relate them to your other body of works featured in your solo exhibition? 

NT: It’s really the same. If I am dripping, cutting stalks of dried flowers, rolling bars of steel into canvas, tying knot ends ceaselessly… It all becomes a focus on the breath.

WW: You grew up in Japan, Taiwan and Singapore. What prompted your move to New York?

NT: Anything is possible in New York. There is an energy and a rapid pulse; creative energy builds on itself and needs nourishment from all angles. There are very talented people in New York and having an ongoing dialogue with other artists is crucial. There is a supportive structure here and that is essential to my development.

WW: We read a recent interview where you said “All of my art is a way for me to get back home to my childhood, to my first contact with beauty and nature.” Do you see your work as a way of reconnecting with nature?

NT: I see it as getting back to primal and innocent experiences with creation. Free of ideas and instead only feeling. Often it is early childhood memories and emotions I am after. The obsession with light and purity are my methods of reconciling innocence. The desire for purity and taking inspiration from the natural world is seeking a balance to the darkness that has duality in life.
“WITH HONEY FROM THE ROCK” is on view at Richard Taittinger Gallery through December 12.

Read on Whitewall

Photos by Slava Mogutin.

HUFFINGTON POST: Nick Theobald and the Art of Surrender

By Chase Quinn

The first thing to hit you when entering Nick Theobald's small studio space in Bushwick Brooklyn is the dense fragrance of honey. I met the 29 year old in this space as he prepared for his second solo exhibit, WITH HONEY FROM THE ROCK, on view at the Richard Taittinger gallery through December 12th. 

Possessing water-clear eyes, pale skin, and the shaved head of a monk, he welcomed me with a glowing smile. It is the same glow that radiates from within his signature iridescent, yellow canvasses, dripped in thick layers of beeswax - his material of choice. Amid the clamor of garbage trucks and traffic noise, his studio emerges a sanctuary, backlit by early morning light, drifting with gold dust or pollen on the air. The spiritual nature of his work is at once apparent in the tranquility of his demeanor and in the harmony of this atmosphere. 

"Resonance" 2015. Courtesy of the Richard Taittinger Gallery NYC.

"Resonance" 2015. Courtesy of the Richard Taittinger Gallery NYC.

Theobald's background is an interesting one. Blue-eyed and California born, he in fact grew up throughout Japan from ages 5 to 19. It's there that he attributes the cultural and aesthetic influences that have shaped his work, and that's left him feeling a stranger in a strange land in American culture. He admits that while he possesses a passport, studied at Parsons and is currently based in New York, "It doesn't feel like home". A self-described child of the universe he explains that he "grew up in many different cultures" and recalls walking the streets of Tokyo with his mother, "the saffron robes of the monks, and the patina Buddhist temple walls" - colors visible in the palette of Honey From the Rock.

In his work, Theobald embraces boundaries indicating that, "by giving yourself no parameters and no rules, it doesn't make you more creative. Actually, by setting up boundaries and limits you're creating something more interesting." Later in our conversation he goes further to suggest that real suffering is a life without limits - a belief that goes far in illustrating his discomfort in American culture, which glorifies unbounded, pleasure-seeking consummation. It also further distances his work from the school of American art exemplified by, for instance, Jeff Koons, that delights in the excesses of capitalism. 

In one series, he takes failed wax canvasses and, instead of discarding them, fashions the canvasses into sculptures, elegantly bound by rope. He relates these pieces to life indicating that achieving success "is generally this uphill battle with lots of bumps". Going on to explain:

"It's the same with the work, especially with the sculptures. It's this crude fabric and you are twisting and trying to make elegant. It's how we feel about our own lives. We're very critical of ourselves. You want to look good to the world. It's no different than the sculptures. They are frustrated and bound".

"Born/Bound" 2015. Courtesy of the Richard Taittinger Gallery NYC.

"Born/Bound" 2015. Courtesy of the Richard Taittinger Gallery NYC.

Theobald's use of natural materials and his practice of repurposing failures feel in direct dialogue with the universalism of Buddhist philosophy and the belief in rebirth. His stretched canvasses offer another example, featuring impressions of rusted metal. These imprints are made from frames that the artist used in another project. But they have since rusted. Instead of destroying the corroded metal, and abandoning the project, he used the scraps to make impressions on canvas that, in effect, recall the organization of a DNA profile , iron bars, or the cells of a bee colony. 

"Phlogiston Flow" 2015. Courtesy of the Richard Taittinger Gallery NYC.

What is most striking in Theobald's work, however, is the Yin to his serene, light-loving Yang. Indeed, his work is bright, uplifting and energizing. He talks about color therapy and the positive effects of working with yellow on his outlook on life: "Before working with the wax, I use to be dressed head to toe in black". The day of our meeting in fact, he is dressed in a tope construction jacket, a yellow beany with yellow socks and tennis shoes. 

Nonetheless, the darkness in his work is what feels essential. You see it in the tortured shapes of his sculptures, in the compulsive patterns and cell-like vocabulary of shapes, and in the autumnal grades of yellow and brown in the wax (produced by the diverse diet of the bees where the wax is harvested, orange tones from Marigolds, browns from buckwheat). Like the transition of autumn, death becomes vital to the process of rebirth. You can't talk about one without talking about the other. 

"Tonal Survey" 2015. Courtesy of the Richard Taittinger Gallery NYC.

It is the same darkness that, when he talks about submission to "something that is bigger than you" and attaining purity, when describing his relationship to his work, that also hints at a process of atonement. And begs the question - for what sins? Perhaps this is what makes his work so compelling . It speaks to a collective loss of innocence. Theobald himself speaks with great nostalgia for the past, indicating that "All of [his] art is a way for [him] to get back home to [his] childhood, to [his] first contact with beauty and nature." In this sense the work feels patently American, as influenced by a puritan guilt ethic as it may be by notions of Buddhist philosophy. 

When I asked him what he hoped people took away from his work, his answer was simple:
"Being the person creating those works of art, it all becomes about the process, not [about] what you are seeing. It's my hope that what is transcribed and what you feel, is the same thing I'm feeling when I created it." As an artist whose work evokes light and dark, love and loss, what we've done wrong and the tireless effort to make it right, to start again, indeed this cycle feels complete and perpetual.

Read on Huffington Post

Artlyst: Timothy Taylor Gallery Continues Its Exploration Of Philip Guston's Work

Questioning the ‘substance’ of painting also demands contemplation of the two/three- dimensionality of the object; as in the glitter paintings of Chris Martin, the wax paintings of Nick Theobald, and the sculptural grids of Ding Yi, who each use substance in order to abstract. Martin’s masterful use of craft materials such as glitter and collaged paper in his multi-layered abstract paintings, creates depth and density, making his canvases sculptural. Theobald’s paintings use various organic derivations of beeswax, in order to create gradations of different pigments.

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The East Hampton Star: The Art Scene

“Chop Wood, Carry Water,” a show of work by Erika Keck, Nick Theobald, and Michael Bevilacqua, will open at the Fireplace Project in Springs tomorrow and run through July 21. An opening reception will take place Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m.

Ms. Keck uses paint, canvas, and stretchers or steel bars in unconventional combinations that aggressively deconstruct the medium. Beeswax, linen, and wood, Mr. Theobald’s materials, result in complex, tactile surfaces. Images from both popular culture and contemporary painting create a blend of high and low culture in the work of Mr. Bevilacqua.

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