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Review: Richard Emery Nickolson at Dewclaw

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Richard Emery Nickolson, "New Harmony Outline"
  • Richard Emery Nickolson, "New Harmony Outline"

In Charles Baudelaire’s poem “Correspondences,” the great French poet talks about the “forest of symbols” that man finds in nature.

Richard Emery Nickolson has created his own forest of symbols in his paintings that draw inspiration from many sources. These range from the ancient Anasazi petroglyphs carved into Newspaper Rock in southern Utah, to abstracted images of houses found in Amish quilts, to more private symbols of Nickolson’s own devising.

His medium at this show is watercolor on paper, and he uses a limited palette of mostly reds, oranges, and yellows. Many of the 22 paintings on display at Dewclaw seem to be deliberately simple. You see in "School House" the unicolor red figure of said house against a dull orange background, as if in silhouette. The lines of definition in the paintings are as sharp as a stiletto blade. But in the background of this painting (and others in this series) there are soft variations of color suggestive of clouds, perhaps, or an unsettled atmosphere.

In any case, there's much here to engage the eye, as well as the mind. Nickolson has, among his subjects, several symbolic portrayals of mazes. As we negotiate the mazes of our daily lives, many of us cling to, and search for, symbols. For many, certain symbols have an "apotropaic" effect. That is, the power to ward off evil. And perhaps, as Baudelaire writes in "Correspondences," these symbols are looking at us even as we look for them.

Through Oct. 26 at Dewclaw Gallery

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