Devils and dust

The Blind Leading the Blind

Naomi Nickerson stands in front of the textured paintings on display at The Truckee River Gallery.

Naomi Nickerson stands in front of the textured paintings on display at The Truckee River Gallery.

Photo By Nick Higman

An body of new work created by Reno-based artist Naomi Nickerson is on show at Truckee River Gallery in Reno through May 26. The word “new” is wholly applicable to this exhibition of work by this emerging, exploring artist. Nickerson presents a medium completely fresh for her. Having previously painted more recognizable imagery of landscapes, figures and horses, this is Nickerson’s first public show of abstraction.

A step into the gallery finds the viewer confronted with roughly 20 pieces of sizes large and small—ranging from 40-by-80 and 57-by-44 inches to works 21-by-12 inches—in the small space. They are nicely hung so as not to be too crowded and overwhelming—an accomplishment this tiny gallery pulls off time and again. The work features thickly-applied media: spackle, latex house paint, mica flakes in gel medium, metallic spray paint and oil paint on what appears to be an organic background. The immediate impression is that the medium was applied to timeworn wood or some other less-then-metered-out surface. But a closer look and conversation with the artist reveals that the surface is Masonite board that has been shaped along the edges to curvy form with a coping saw.

“Edges are very important to me,” says Nickerson.

Those edges work. Not only does the artist avoid the need for frames, which was an impetus to explore such boundaries, but they also lend an organic touch to the art.

Nickerson earned her Master’s of Fine Art from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Hoffberger School of Painting. After having moved through various subject matter—"I cycled rapidly through many styles,” says Nickerson—the artist began representing the landscape in this new and abstract way, with the thickly applied paint media, just a year ago. Formally, Nickerson is concerned in these works with surface and edge, which shows. The surfaces are thick, well-sculpted and replete with color, much of which reveals itself from beneath; Nickerson sands the works after the medium is applied.

“These are hand sanded,” explains Nickerson. “And all the mediums sand at a different rate.”

Abstract, the work doesn’t immediately reveal its impetus, though landscape is a clear influence. A look at the titles lends insight. Nickerson was inspired by the hazy effects of last year’s fires as well as the dusty appearance our desert landscape can take. The blending of one hue to another in atmospheric effect speaks to this inspiration.

Also evident is the joy the artist took in creating the work. Textured, raw, rich with gesture—these pieces exhibit the hand of an inquisitive explorer.

“I had so much fun making these paintings,” Nickerson says.

It shows. “Dust Devil I,” for example, is a large work that incorporates darker and lighter blues as well as oranges, reds and yellows. It’s bright, subtle and full of movement.

Has Nickerson found her endgame? Probably not. Though lovely, these works can appear clunky. There is certainly more grace to uncover, more joy to be explored and more talent to be unleashed. Pushing further can only expose greater, more developed discoveries. This is a very fine start.