Antelope Valley Artist Interview: Larissa Nickel

Antelope Valley Arts blog recently posed a set of questions to Antelope Valley multi-media artist Larissa Nickel.

Describe the AV “art scene” in a few words.

Isolated, disjunctive, decorative, but full of potential.

What has been your personal experience with shows in and around the Antelope Valley?

As an arts patron, I’ve felt that shows in the Antelope Valley have been very redundant. The same themes appear over and over with poppies, antelopes, landscapes and aerospace being the major representations. It’s AV kitsch-without being acknowledged as kitsch. It interests me to challenge the AV art scene to figure out the concept behind these themes, rather than a concrete representational portrayal of objects or imagery. For example: the aerospace industry was incredibly influential in the development of the California art aesthetic in the 1960s, devising new materials and methods for artists—such as Craig Kauffman—to envision unique and individually Californian artwork. Those developments occurred specifically in this region and within our dominating aerospace specialty. I’ve always wondered why the AV arts have never taken pride in that accomplishment or development. It should be an exciting example of the possibility for finding and establishing an intelligent and thoughtful identity or niche within an existing art scene- a mirror for the development of an art community in the AV just outside of LA.

As an artist working in the AV, I’ve had trouble finding venues willing to exhibit my work. The censorship quotient is very high and presents a variety of roadblocks for artistic expression and arts development. I’m very proud to have been a small part of the artist lofts opening show, which actually exhibited my work freely and with respect to my vision. Amanda (from the Arbor Lofts) is amazing to work with and completely understood my artistic perspective in a way that hasn’t been appreciated out here before. Without her involvement, the arts wouldn’t have had the push that they did, and I’m extremely grateful to her for driving that initiative, displaying leadership and belief in what the arts can accomplish.

As an arts professional working at the museum, I’ve tried to uphold four values that I believe in as an artist: idealism or thinking about the ways things could be-not simply what they are, and striving towards actions in that vein; intimacy or communication and quality of contact between people, artist’s, the arts and social responsibility; depth or being thorough and complete, thinking, questioning and reflecting with an understanding of the value and purpose of a museum; and lastly interconnectedness-between community, the environment, organizations, and humanity. These are very personal goals that I also feel a museum as an establishment should strive towards as well. Professionally, the exhibitions, programs, fundraising, museum identity, and arts relationships that I’ve tried to accomplish have all been geared towards demonstrating these ideals and beliefs.

Will you be submitting works to the juried show at the LMAG this year?

No.

What are some specific challenges to showing art, producing art, etc. in the Antelope Valley?

There really is no art market in this area. As an artist, it makes very little sense to show in the AV, especially with LA right next door. There aren’t any art buyers here, there aren’t any ways to build your reputation or get noticed by galleries or curators, there is a lack of support for artistic expression, and it takes so much work to actually get a show in this area, plus many venues aren’t professional. In terms of producing art, there aren’t any art supply resources; there isn’t a strong community of artists to interact with, and the shows that are being exhibited lack an interest or knowledge in art history and theory making it difficult to engage with, or find inspiration in any meaningful way. The AV is definitely an artistic challenge.

What are some specific benefits and opportunities to showing art, producing art, etc. in the AV?

There exists in this area, an incredible opportunity to build a thriving art scene that seeks to build a more complicated, meaningful, engaged, and enriched experience for everyone. Due to the lack of a strong definition of art in the region, there is free territory to explore what that definition would be or consist of-it is a freedom unknown in other areas. There are endless possibilities for building and influencing this community in a very positive way. It’s both exciting and frustrating. The shows I’ve participated in have all been reflections of my belief that art can have an impact in this area. My hope is that the AV will begin to engage with the larger art scene, and develop an intelligent artistic community that assists this area in overcoming its negativities or artistic challenges.

How has the AV influenced your art in terms of subject?

My subject matter has always been geared towards an investigation of identity and the self through personal narrative. As an artist working in the Antelope Valley, the AV has been an integral part of my experience and therefore my art. The people I meet, the frustrations I feel, the road blocks I encounter are all expressed in my work. I’ve noticed that the subjects of loneliness or wandering have made a strong appearance in my work since I’ve moved here. One particular component that has been developing through my AV years is this role of place, space, and relationships in personal identity.

Recently I’ve been looking towards relationships or connections between people and places as a way of mapping identity or connecting. The vast and isolated space of the desert area, which sits right next to a major urban city, is an interesting juncture and influence and represents a type of void, paralysis or death in a way.

How has the AV influenced your art in terms of style?

Stylistically, the Antelope Valley hasn’t had much impact on my philosophy or work outside of the influencing the experiences or subjects that I display. The philosophy of my work revolves around a concept of reclaimed data archive which allows me to freely explore any medium, style or time period that suites my interest through an awareness of the internal and external impulses that I experience. In my investigation of identity, I view the self as devising a singular perspective or viewpoint patched out of the many influences, memories, interests, ephemera, etc. that is recorded through personal experience. All the works I create are focused in this direction, yet the medium, the look, the style change between each piece relying on the concept to create coherence between outputs. My experiences in the AV are just one portion of a much more abstract journey.

Set B.
What is the artist’s role in society and how does that relate to the community/society of the Antelope Valley?

Artists are the visionaries, the inventors, the risk takers, the challengers, the questioners of society. They are observers, able to experience and appreciate things outside of themselves. Artists propel and drive society forward through their unique ability to envision and invoke change, challenge existing norms, see the unseen, investigate the overlooked, collaborate with a community, etc. Particularly in an area such as the Antelope Valley-that is attempting to engage and harness an artistic perspective-the community of artists needs to expand, evolve, and develop the attributes of intuition, empathy, collaboration, leadership, and strength.

Artistic strength is not commonly spoken of, but is one reason that the arts are such a necessary force for the development of societies. Existing simultaneously outside and within the political system in order to comment, address, and illustrate ways of progressing, thinking or being is incredibly difficult and requires the artistic impulse to overcome the political dimension, or the lack of vision. Although politics exist in any given situation, there are many different ways of maneuvering within that system. Caving to a traditional politically organized commodity system conveys a lack of ability in understanding the myriad of means to an ends. Mutual respect is a much better answer-especially when it creates synergy. That synergy between two opposing groups is what grows an intellectual mind and the arts are like the flame to the rocket of that synergy.

In your opinion, what role does art play in the AV?

The current art scene in the AV lacks any real depth. Engaging with the work is very difficult and not very fruitful. The statements are very basic-the desert is beautiful, the flowers are beautiful, the animals are beautiful. There really isn’t much being said. For that reason, art has not played much of a role in the Antelope Valley so far. It decorates the walls of spaces, but isn’t providing any content for growth, questioning life, fulfillment or spirituality or social cause. Where is the vision, the commentary, the risk-taking, the questioning?

There have been a number of people working outside these boundaries, but the infighting, political climate and control have not embraced the artists who are saying more in their work, and sadly they simply withdraw from the scene or escape to LA. Embracing a new vision and a new artistic perspective gives this area an incredible opportunity for growth. It will be interesting to see whether the true support and respect needed to obtain success will be understood and valued enough to make any gains in the artistic arena. The current role for the artist’s in this area is to challenge and create an evolution in this community that truly impacts people’s lives and invokes curiosity in the world around them-a world outside of the AV.

How has the artist’s role changed in the last fifty or one hundred years, if it has changed?

Artists have become more entrenched in a new form of social public art that appreciates and requires artistic insight and impulse in the redevelopment and revitalization of communities and social spheres. Art that exists outside of museums or galleries, and relies on the participation and interaction of people has grown from Fluxus and performance art movements, and has been driven by an increasing technological globalization and demand for social media and worldwide interaction.

The interactive approach has driven public art into a wide-ranging opportunity for art to integrate into its urban environment. Contemporary art, installation art, participatory art, have allowed artists to involve themselves in many areas of society. The role of artist has been merging with architecture, graphic design, and public space becoming an engaged encounter with the world around us. Art embraces you.

Is art important? How?

Of course, it’s essential. Art is like your soul—unless you’re a sofa, you might need one.

Can you compare the profession of painting to any other professions or forms of art?

Painting translates in many ways to other professions or other forms of art. The ability to visualize an end result and work towards that vision through the difficulties and unexpected occurrences is universal between art forms, general business, and in life. My work involves experimenting with other forms of art in order to reinvigorate the meaning of painting or art by exploring the concepts integral to these other forms. Incorporating the cinematic or time based component, concepts of installation, performance, the recording mechanism of drawing, the dimension of sculpture, concepts of categorizing, archiving or curating, the joy of music, the thought of poetry/literature, all develop into a wide-ranging philosophy or artistic vernacular that keeps me interested and invigorated.

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6 thoughts on “Antelope Valley Artist Interview: Larissa Nickel

  1. Nalin here, producer and director for Antelope Valley Thespians.

    “The current art scene in the AV lacks any real depth.” To a point, I will agree. From the theatre perspective, I’ve seen a whole lot more “entertainment” than “art” being done around here, though there have been notable exceptions. We’re definitely trying to change that.

    “but [art in the AV] isn’t providing any content for growth, questioning life, fulfillment or spirituality or social cause. Where is the vision, the commentary, the risk-taking, the questioning?” Wholeheartedly agree. Art should move us, perhaps forward, perhaps backward, maybe sideways… whatever direction, we should not be left standing where we were. I am heartened to see the small community of artists who feel this way coalescing around THE hub for art on the west side, Sagebrush Cafe.

    This article makes me wonder… if we are commissioning plays by local writers on an ongoing basis, could we perhaps also pay for related art to reveal on the respective opening nights? I will talk to my team to see what is possible. Art should not be done in isolation from its context, as you say Larissa. But I would also posit that the various arts should not be considered in isolation from each other.

    A great interview, and thorough. I enjoyed reading this. Thanks AV Arts, and Larissa for your insight!

    1. “Notable exceptions” is a great point. I’m definitely seeing some growth in the arts-LMAG’s A Fool’s Paradise exhibition was intellectually driven, the 4<40 exhibition was very interesting-although I was in that one so I’m admittedly biased. AVC Art Gallery has had some great shows as has Sagebrush and the Lofts. The problem is that these are exceptions. What we need to do is consider sustainability. How do these types of shows become the norm?

      I definitely agree with you Nalin-various arts need to interact. There’s no reason for creative’s to not be encouraging and driving each other, as well as collaborating on new and interesting forms. I like that you’re thinking of ways to engage artists perhaps I’ll start thinking of ways to engage playwrights.

  2. I think your disappointment in what the art scene has been should serve as fuel to continue moving in the right direction. Personally, I do feel we are moving in a good direction.

    Creating dialogue on the arts – dialogue oriented toward ideas and expression first and technique second – is what you present most forcefully as both the failing and the proper aim of local arts culture here.

    Art is a complex and amophous thing. A maleable sort of monster-concept. I take your comments as a call to see the social/functional side of art as primary. The failing to understand the social drive of art is not local to us though. I don’t think so anyway.

    The LA art that I am aware of is consistently expressive of confluences, disparate media combining, distinct modes of living and of being and expression(urban&rural, nature & man, nature & city, realism & cartoon). There is a social element to all this and sometimes a clear statement, but – and maybe this is my personal failing – I find that style is often triumphant over all else in LA art. To the extent that style marginalizes statement. This effect is a statement in itself, if there is any validity to my reading of the general pool of work that has circulated through los angeles in the last five years.

    …obviously though, the work shown in LA has not tended toward the decorative art of the Antelope Valley…

    I’m letting my thoughts scatter a bit here, but my point is that the petty vices of AV arts and the AV arts scene are not necessarily vices we can claim sole ownership over.

    I agree with what I take to be one of your central premises/complaints:
    We ought to ask ourselves as artists and as people interested in the arts the questions that will open up discussion as to what is behind the art – and what is behind people, for that matter.

    My personal response to your opinions could be phrased as a general agreement. I believe that there have been some shows here in the last year that have taken steps in the direction that you suggest we should take. Steven Fiche isn’t producing decorative art. He is making a very pointed set of social and political statements.

    Nick Shake is not making decorative art either. His work is complex and narratively driven. The 4<40 show, on the whole, was expressive of contemporary identity conflict and complexity.

    The lofts, and I'd like to say Sagebrush too, in its way, have opened up spaces that are actually interested in expressive, exciting, provocative art. That doesn't mean people are snatching it up with monies. but it does mean that, with the space to show, there may be a growing space for conversation on these works, as well as with these artists, including yourself.

    1. It’s difficult not to generalize when discussing art shows or artists or scenes. I think that most areas have a spectrum of artists that work in their own scenes. There is room for different types of art in one single area. LA is the perfect example of that. The AV is experiencing the type of growth expected of an expanding art scene that involves different levels and types of artists. Besides the lack of dialogue and discussion, what bothers me about the AV art scene is what I feel is a lack of educational value. The arts have incredible power to teach and illuminate curiosity in so many ways. This is what needs to be supported and valued. We owe it to younger generations, younger artists, as well as older generations and older artists to bring awareness of things that are happening in a much larger world. It’s not just about having crafts for kids or poppy paintings to show community (not that those are necessarily negative things). Why support a craft activity when you could support a deep learning experience?

      We need to consider what happens as people grow both older and intellectually and how we can propel and drive that forward through our commitment to the arts. Notice the word commitment, which sits next to responsibility. It’s not just about numbers or dollars or pr opportunities; it’s about supporting educational, valuable and responsible programs, exhibitions, and artists. It’s simply not enough to say you appreciate the arts. What are you doing to drive the arts?

      While I have subjective opinions on display here, there are still things outside of my perspective and experiences. While I do see many of the AV shows, and regularly visit museums and galleries in LA-that’s just a small sliver of what’s actually happening in this area or the world. I think if more people stated their perspectives it would encourage others to become active in the scene. I’m willing to share my opinion because I understand that not everyone will agree or disagree, but will hopefully take the challenge and go to a show, interact with an artist, purchase some artwork, have an opinion or somehow get involved. Critical reflection and accountability on display are not bad things, but will hopefully spark people to join the conversation.

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