August 28 – October 16, 2021
Nicole Storm’s first solo show in New York City is an exuberant installation of heavily crafted surfaces that combines abstract painting in color and calligraphic line art. Occupying half of the White Columns gallery, the exhibition presents a multicolored collection of mixed two-dimensional and sculptural works with recurring visual elements. Layers of glossy washes in acrylic, watercolor and ink, distinct lines of markers and pens, as well as the use of varied surfaces such as paper, wood panels, canvas and the materials found enliven the room with its white walls. The artist’s use of different materials is fascinating; her show magnificently prioritizes the formal process and the artist’s joyful vision above all else.
Storm, who has Down syndrome, created most of these works at the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, Calif., A nonprofit that provides shared studios, advice, and exhibition space for artists. with an intellectual disability. Storm has been affiliated with the center for over 25 years, which was founded in 1974. Creative Growth implements a stimulating, non-directive approach to arts education that separates it from other educational initiatives. With this method, instructors act more like facilitators, helping artists with disabilities like Storm develop a creative practice of their own. The focus on the artist’s vision found at Creative Growth extends to Storm’s presentation at White Columns. In an almost performative setup process, Storm led the instructors at Creative Growth on how to hang the show. Here, she spelled out the details of arranging and rearranging her work while humming, dancing and painting on the gallery walls. This culminated in a salon-style exhibition that filled the gallery with its energetic, shiny and open works of art.
Working from the ground up, Storm painted multi-colored washes directly onto the gallery walls, further transforming the architecture into one of the most immediate examples of the artist’s hand in the exhibition. The side of the central wall facing the entrance to the gallery is covered in bright blues, purples, pinks and oranges layered and mixed. The painting on these walls, which measures only the height of Storm, leaves a hint of the artist and frames other works throughout the gallery.
The majority of mixed media works offer layers made up of variations of a dominant color, with fine lines of marker and paint directly on top. Sinuous and repetitive lines on the fields of color create depth in these abstract works. The color, brushstroke and weight are varied in each piece, generating a constant sense of movement, which is reinforced by the abundance of work. A prominent watercolor work featured distinctly shaped pools of color, layered with thicker wash strokes on top that caused other colors to mix and blend. As my eyes fell into each pool of colors, they quickly moved to a series of marker lines above the watercolor in the upper right corner. The movement of this painting is reflected throughout the gallery, with long pauses on one aspect of the installation followed by moments of wandering into new details.
While all of the art in the exhibition is untitled and not chronologically arranged, Storm’s work contains an evolution seen in the folded lines on several thin paper works. These are earlier Storm pieces where the artist would use more ephemeral materials like brown paper, then paint or draw them, finally fold them and hide them in the studio space. In later works, Storm began using thicker sheets of paper and wood panels, which formulated the gallery’s most prominent approach. Storm also incorporates instants found in the studio, such as calendar pages.
The transition to more durable surfaces is manifested in five sculptures made from found materials: a cardboard box and four segments of a shipping tube. The box and tubes are painted in Storm style with red, purple, orange and blue on their surfaces below the looped and ticked lines. Seeing Storm’s aesthetic translated into three-dimensional objects provides a tactile experience, where we feel the construction of its surfaces on otherwise mundane expedition materials. Looking down into the open shipping tubes, you can also see that the interior is also painted in light blue and purple. There’s even a paper photograph stuck to the side of a tube covered in thin washes of red and yellow, providing a new visual element that fits right in. Like the rest of the artist’s work, these found object sculptures embody Storm’s innate ability to completely transform objects and spaces according to her aesthetic. They remind us that Nicole Storm’s installation is something unique and surprising to see as a pure expression of the individuality and presence of an artist.