New York

Don Nice

The American Dream comes packaged, lining the shelves of our supermarkets, mass-produced and uniform, and unit-priced. Even the fruits are perfect. In their uniformity these items become packaged images, almost archetypes. Don Nice renders these images in watercolor, placing them in frames and compartments of unfinished wood. His subjects and sitters are American institutions: BLT-on-toast-to-go, construction shoes, Jack Rabbit, bubble-gum pink plastic water gun, Barnum’s Animal Crackers, a “Fliback”, a TastyKake donut, Kraft Campfire Marshmallows, a Ballantine six-pack, a buffalo. I am so tempted to continue listing because these images, no matter how glossy and Saran-wrapped, are artifacts which speak poignantly of American childhood. Here a Popsicle can act as a time machine taking us back to the hot summers of youth. A simple bag of Kraft caramels, in all their filling suctioning glory, can bring us back in time so swiftly, so totally.

These are packaged experiences as much as packaged images. The disrobing of a Schraffts Peppermint Patty (one must mouth those words to gain full enjoyment) is delicious even before one can take a bite because we know that the taste and texture we are about to enjoy will be identical to that of the last time. Uniformity is our only link to the past. The formula for Coca-Cola is the same today as it was in the 1920s. We are convinced that nothing changes, that everything remains the same. There is no room for error, or is there?

The central images in one of Nice’s formats are Hudson River scenes. Surrounding this landscape are all those processed things which we refuse to see as compromising the very core and basis of our land. Even the renderings of the supposedly living, such as animals and birds, have ceased to be alive in our minds. They too are packaged experiences borrowed from a Golden Book of Nature or a fairytale. They become as real and unreal as a cellophane bag of Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses. One can easily visualize a caption to describe each animal and bird to appear in a beautifully illustrated children’s book fifty years from now: “This species was once common in the Hudson River Valley but is now extinct due to the pollution of those waters.” Fruits and vegetables, also in the category of living things, are depicted as being bound in paper, or in tight sealed plastic, labelled with company names and stickers informing the checkout counter lady that they are “Produce.”

The setting up of objects in this frame-by-frame format works like showing slides or better yet, like spitting out strings of names, words and places to cause the deepest and truest associations. Don Nice, by facing us with finely rendered images of our childhood, causes very pleasant sensations to run through our minds. His formats, sequences aligned vertically as “totems,” or horizontally as “predellas,” enshrine these objects, fetishistic emblems of our American childhood that function like footnotes.

We are momentarily sobered by the sight of the buffalo, the symbol of America’s depreciation of its own resources, the emblem of nature’s anger at our immaturity; but our ecological awareness, although awakened, does not as yet overpower our need to create these uniform and perfectly processed products. To us, a young nation, our ecology does not seem to be a big price to pay for these things. The fact that we are destroying ourselves, the fact that we are ingesting frozen, dyed sugar-water in the noble form of a Popsicle does not repulse us. Somehow, our instincts convince us that it is better to retain than to lose all that sweetness of our memories.

Judith Lopes Cardozo