Santa Fe

Nic Nicosia

James Kelly Contemporary

Pictorializing the stagecraft of art is Nic Nicosia’s purported subject. The eight new photographs included in this exhibition depict the artist in the process of making, or having just completed, drawings on the white walls of sets that he has built. These sets hold the artist’s figure and his marks in a relationship that is both a performance of making a picture and a picture of making a performance. Nicosia’s miniature theaters serve as simultaneous arenas of technical possibilities and constraints. Scale is the first illusion. The sets are mostly semicircular, the photographs universally rectangular. The relationship between the two is deceptive: The eye of the machine can show only a fl at quadrant of the set’s illusory circumference.

Constructive mechanics notwithstanding, the craft of these photographs is subsidiary to the physics inherent in making the drawings. Nicosia attacks the walls in various ways, with the aid of props: In one, for example, he straddles a metronome-like apparatus and arcs back and forth in front of the wall with a lump of charcoal in his hand, conferring upon his enterprise a Rube Goldberg essence. Nicosia consistently gets in the way, persistent and dogged, as we try to look at the drawn surfaces surrounding him. In Untitled #5, 2007, he shows himself blindfolded and with his arms crossed, contemplating the constellation of dotty marks surrounding him. Trailing off to the side, the string attached to a lump of graphite seems abject: It looks as though Nicosia had been manically swinging the instrument around the room and is now standing there hoodwinked, as if to say, “The joke’s on me.” In Untitled #14, 2007, Nicosia has given himself only a tiny space in which to stand. Using a pole-like drawing implement that is longer than he is tall, he makes on the floor concentric rings that constitute a target circumscribing his ability to move. Nicosia seems to be engaging, absurdly, with Jasper Johns from within the bull’s-eye of one of the latter artist’s famous targets.

Nicosia has staged picture making inside setlike constructions for some time, yet in the past the artist based his sets on real-life settings in which improbable, dreamlike occurrences take place—a cascade of snow forms a mound on the living-room floor, for instance, as a nude woman in a wing chair swings her foot. These new images, however, show no other players; Nicosia now plays a solitary game. Untitled #11, 2007, finds him staring at the fruits of his labor—a giant human form made of splotches resulting from lobbing paintballs at the wall. The artist has backed off slightly and stands as if stunned and exhausted from trying to render, or destroy, his likeness.

Time is ineluctably at work here, in that the camera’s speed and the repetitive, prolonged drawing processes exacerbate Nicosia’s problem: trying to reconcile two very different media. For Nicosia, drawing provides a space for theater and gamesmanship, while photography is a record of the tension between the artist and his tools. This problem inflects the work with an interesting dialectic, as the artist shifts between performing and documenting. Untitled #18, 2007, is the only image sans Nicosia, who has exited the frame, leaving only a mess of props. The viewer almost misses him, a reaction that underscores the central role Nicosia plays in these works.

Ellen Berkovitch