Nick Doyle (b. 1983) is an artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He Holds an MFA in Sculpture from Hunter college and a BFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute. In 2014 he attended the Skowhegan school of painting and sculpture. From 2014–2017 Doyle was a resident of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's workspace program. In 2013 he was awarded the C12 emerging artist fellowship upon completion of his MFA. Solo exhibitions include "Steven" at Invisible Exports Gallery in New York (2014), "Soft Arrest" at Mrs Gallery in New York (2018), and a forthcoming solo exhibition at Steve Turner Gallery in Los Angeles(May 2019). Group exhibitions include The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, Pioneer Works, Abrons Art Center, Perrotin Gallery, Nathalie Karg Gallery, and Columbia University.
My Practice is multidisciplinary and often employs sculpture, painting, mechanical motion and video. I look to media, particularly film, television, and photography as a source of imagery. I think of visual media like a pop culture database full of narratives pertaining to the cultural moment. My interested lies in what these narratives have to say about us as a culture, and the permission these narratives allow us as individuals. I think of my work as part of the psychological landscape of media culture. The objects, videos and machines that I make hold the psychic energy of my experiences and life, and allow me a way to engage with a broader visual discussion. I use a lot of commonly found materials often found in local hardware stores. I recently started using a lot of denim. It has a sort of schizophrenic symbolism charged with a lot American history. It’s at once a symbol of slavery, revolution, the American west, masculinity and high fashion. It speaks to me as about a story of America that is rich with strife.
Interview with Nick Doyle
Questions by Andreana Donahue
Hi Nick. Can you share some of your early memories of art or art-making from growing up on the West Coast? How has LA contributed to shaping your perspective as an artist?
The suburb I grew up in was where the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was filmed, a science fiction horror film from the 1950’s where citizens of the town are being replaced by pod people from outer space. One day in the actual suburb, life sized pods appeared in the town square. Written on each pod was the name of a local politician. One citizen felt so strongly against the city council that in protest they created their own public sculpture, stating their local government had been replaced by aliens. That always seemed to stick with me. This direct interplay between movies and the city itself. Growing up, many of my old haunts could be seen on the silver screen. On top of this, my mother was a screenwriter for various television shows and made for TV movies. Being from LA, I can’t help but consider myself entrenched in its visual media culture.
You’re currently based in Brooklyn. What are the most valuable aspects of living and working in this community?
There are so many aspects. The two main ones would have to be the caliber and the diversity of its people. It’s amazing to be around so many great artists and thinkers coming from different backgrounds. Here you get hit with new thoughts and images just by hanging around. It keeps me stimulated.
Can you tell us about your studio and typical daily routine?
My studio is located seven blocks from my apartment in an industrial part of Greenpoint. I usually arrive around 10 am and just sort of sit there for a bit, drink some tea and stare off into space. My practice is super diverse so my days aren’t typical and usually consume all my focus. It can range from welding or engineering mechanics to recording music for videos, puppetry, and painting/collaging. I’m a bit of a tinkerer.
What is the significance of your choice to prominently use denim as a material?
Denim, particularly the blue jean, shares a historical Identity with America. There are all the obvious clichéd narratives of American Masculinity associated with it: the rugged cowboy, the rags to riches gold miner, the counter culture revolutionary, the blue collar worker, and even the budding tech entrepreneur. They all sort of gloss over the fact that cotton and indigo were early cash crops harvested by slave labor in the antebellum south. And like most masculine myths in this country, they were often built on the backs of others.
Can you talk about your ongoing interest in Americana, as well as mid-century signage and architecture?
I’m interested in Americana as a production and a performance of American culture. There is a mythology as well as a spiritual symbolism embodied in its objects. Much like in art, these objects of Americana carry expressions and characteristics that resonates collectively within the broader culture. So much so that they are reproduced again and again as if they were totems, confirming sacred truths about what it means to be American. A lot of mid-century signage and architecture was developed in Las Vegas and in response to the proliferation of the automobile. Which in a lot of ways for me runs back to older notions of western expansion and manifest destiny. A sort of streamlined visual language saying that if you were white, salvation will emerge, like a mirage on a desert road, promising shimmering riches and respite from mundane struggle.
In what ways do wry and black humor inform meaning in your work?
Well, I sort of think of it just as humor. But I like to keep it balanced. You sort of need both darkness and lightness together. They simultaneously limit each other but also allow each other to expand to deeper depths. If something so dark can give you joy and vice versa, the emotional journey between the two can be vast. I think as minds we limit our perceptions in order to function on a daily basis in society. Humor and darkness both share an ability to expand our perceptions, however momentarily, and remind us of our own biases in perception.
Throughout your work appear subjects or objects that fail to meet their potential—a pair of boxing gloves for instance. How would you characterize the nature of your relationship with failure?
I think about shame a lot. What it can do to a person. What it can do to a culture that is ill equipped to deal with shame, mental health, and individual self-worth. I think the presentation of success in America gives its youth a false sense of value. Growing up in Los Angeles, wealth, glamour, and fame were commonly flaunted and in certain ways gave me a grotesquely warped sense of success. There is an entire landscape of shame to traverse when comparing oneself to the class and social hierarchies not only embedded in LA’s culture but pop culture as well.
Can you elaborate on how pop culture influences your work, specifically from film and TV?
I’m very into narrative. When organizing a body of work or exhibition I will consider how images and objects function together, as if they are characters collectively telling a story. Film and television have had an immeasurable impact on not only visual narrative but visual literacy. I consider film and television as a large cultural image database and appreciate considering it from an anthropological perspective.
Can you talk about your motivation behind the kinetic sculptures from your Executive Toys series?
I think of them as unpacking some of the shame and pressure involved with executive culture. The ideals of corporate culture run parallel to the ideals of hegemonic masculinity : aggression, stoicism, risk taking, competitiveness, #winning. I think it’s such a drag. It’s really harmful to creative and divergent thinking. I also think of the executive toys as cathartic. For a lot of us seeing an executive commit self-harm is very satisfying and contrary to the norm. I see them as little bit of visual justice.
Over time you’ve worked across various media, including painting, sculpture, and video. Do you see your creative practice as one, ongoing body of work or is it broken down into series? If the latter, how do you know when a series is finished?
I see it as a bit of both. I think each series informs different aspects of a singular perspective, Sometimes ill revisit series years after I thought they may have been done. But it’s hard to tell sometimes. Creative thinking is so non-linear. Sometimes it takes years for pieces to fall in place.
Do your titles serve as guides for meaning, or would it be more accurate to describe them as running parallel to the work?
I see them sometimes as guides for meaning, sometimes as puzzles. When they’re working they can really position the viewer in a state of mind or perspective.
Who are some other contemporary artists you’re excited about right now?
There are a few. Gahee Park, Genesis Belanger, Willie Stewart, Anna Weyant, Cynthia Talmadge, Emily Mae Smith, and Azikiwe Mohammed. I’m really into “Dark Pop”.
What were some of the best exhibitions you’ve seen in recent memory?
The Nari Ward exhibition at the New Museum was pretty spectacular, as well as the Haas Brothers at the Bass Museum in Miami.
What are you currently working on? Do you have any other upcoming projects, events, or news you’d like to share?
Right now I’m working on a solo show for Reyes/Finn in Detroit which will open in January 2020. I’m excited to do a project in Motor City.
Thanks so much for talking with us!
To find out more about Nick and his work, check out his website.