Love out loud

Social Utterances

Artist Candace Nicol before one of her works, “Lacan,”from <span style="">Social Utterances,</span> now showing at Sierra Arts Gallery.

Artist Candace Nicol before one of her works, “Lacan,”from Social Utterances, now showing at Sierra Arts Gallery.

Photo By David Robert

Confused love letters—adolescent flirtations, really—inspired Candace Nicol’s latest exhibit. About three years ago, when she was teaching high school in Boise, Idaho, Nicol noticed her students passing notes. They were loaded with code words, innuendo and words she wasn’t convinced her students knew the actual meaning of: words like voyeurism, pedophilia, pimp, casual references to being “bi.”

“Everything was about sex,” says Nicol. Sex, but not much intimacy.

She began to think more about how visual culture affects young people’s (and later, adults’) notions of sexuality and identity. She asked her students to give her their notes, from which she crafted a book with her own illustrations. What began as scribbled writing on classroom notebook paper has now evolved into Social Utterances, an exhibit at Sierra Arts Gallery exploring issues of sexuality and the blurring of sexual boundaries.

This exhibit is sensual, erotic, unflinching and at times disturbing. Within her four-color intaglio prints, you’ll find Freudian concepts, sex, rape, homoeroticism and some men’s aversion to it, porn clips, incest, molestation, exhibitionism, castration, identity searchers, aging sexuality and whatever your own experiences might project.

It’s a bold show for Sierra Arts, where a warning sign for sexual content is hung on its glass doors.

“It’s bold for here, but not for the nation,” says Nicol, a 40-year-old, warm-natured woman who’s now a printmaking instructor at Truckee Meadows Community College. “I think this is kind of tame.”

The title Social Utterances was a term used by an art historian writing about Picasso. It refers to taking images from society and assimilating them into one’s work to make a new, personal meaning. That’s what Nicol does here. She uses photographs from her personal life, as well as from the Internet and art history, juxtaposing some of the actual high school notes over the images in a collage. Smaller accompanying thumbnail-sized images provide hints to the narrative she presents.

For example, in one of the more straightforward pieces, a larger print features a naked, older man lying in bed, exposing his pouched belly and penis. Three smaller square images of a naked little girl are placed around him. The work is titled “I didn’t know she was 6.”

Nicol, whose mesmerizing exhibit of larger-than-life male nudes showed at TMCC this past November, focuses heavily on the male body. She views it with a feminine gaze, going where some men would be more reluctant to go and turning an inquisitive eye on how men are trained to be men.

She says certain men viewing her work have been embarrassed to look at other male nudes. She addresses this idea of underlying homophobia in “Manicest.” It shows a larger print of two men at a frat party with one getting sick—an image she took from a Myspace page—with smaller squares of male porn shots (also taken from the Internet) around them. The images are not always crisp, allowing for ambiguity.

Nicol isn’t trying to criticize, denounce, celebrate or make statements with these works, she says. It’s an exploration. She calls herself a “visual interrogator” of sexual issues and contradictions.

“There’s no way I have an answer for this,” she says.

Arguably, no one ever will. This is her way of trying to figure it out.