francis bacon quote for one year, detail
the laughter between two miles*
the laughter between two miles*
*with special guest dusty the squirrel.

Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto
October 11 - November 16, 2019
Opening Saturday, October 12th 2pm-5pm

"The seeds of this exhibition began with three concepts in mind: rules, standards and increments.

Rule: one of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere.

Standards: a basis of comparison, an approved model a rule or principal used as a basis for judgement, a requirement, weights and measures.

Increment: a gain, addition or increase often standardized in quantity.

Every magic trick has three parts, the pledge, the turn and the prestige. The prestige is the final flourish that makes the impossible seem plausible. If you know the secret to how a trick is done, it loses its lustre. Nicol’s paper box sculptures are a beautiful trick. The pledge you observe is a seemingly ordinary paper box on a pedestal. The turn is when you realize that the title is one hundred paper boxes, that nestled within the box that you can see are 99 additional meticulously crafted paper boxes. What he calls his “not-boxes” are the prestige; the sheets that the boxes were cut from, descending in size, sculptural in nature and presented as proof that if the boxes are no longer there on the page then they must be hiding within the single box on the pedestal. The artist will not exhibit these works together. To understand the trick is to miss the magic. The truth is that we want to believe that they are there. We don’t need the proof. It’s a matter of faith.

Sometimes his work is met with skepticism but mostly it speaks for itself. Both of the mile drawings are evidence of this. Each large drawing showcasing a single mile of graphite executed at one inch increments, one vertically and one horizontally. “People who know my work, know that that’s my thing. I’m not short changing them on a mile. You can go ahead and count it. It’s there.”

The new sculpture not my fuckin fault comprised of a (Sic) manufactured from steel captures his fascination with literary devices that somehow remove our attention from the texts we are reading for a moment. Sic, meaning “thus” in latin indicates an inherent flaw in the spelling or grammar of a sentence but aims to reflect the quote accurately. It connects tidily with Nicol’s tendency to collect mistakes or “fuck-ups.” The laughter component of the laughter between two miles, the title of the exhibition, is not a metaphor, but rather another hand-crafted steel word sculpture.

Someone: "have you never heard of water jet cutting? or laser cutting?"
me: "have you ever heard of entirely missing the point?"
there's something about this [Laughter] that has stuck in my head.
it's the shape of letters and the shape these letters make that i keep coming back to.
the upright square brackets containing the italic letters, that weird "g" that hangs right in the middle, and that barely an "r" that sits on the end.
the "h" looks like its tripping or stumbling.
the "u" that's just a zig zag...
i get to cut and shape each curve, bend, and straight line... each corner...
hand cutting and filing 1/4 inch steel allows me to more understand these shapes/letters... i think.

-Ken Nicol

Nicol is known to keep a stash of almonds in his pocket to feed the squirrels that now visit his studio daily for a snack. Anyone familiar with Nicol’s studio knows that it is not a temple to austerity, however, amazingly, the work that emerges from the rubble-strewn environs reflects the immaculate nature of the systems that he concocts to guide his artwork. The paper on which his drawings are executed emerge crisp and clean with only the ink or graphite marks as evidence of his travails, or they did until recently. As his relationship with the neighbourhood squirrels has developed, they have become more and more bold in their trespass into the studio. Expanding their intrusions from a tap at the window to wait for a nut, to racing along the pipes of the fire suppression system above his head and now sitting comfortably near him as he works (provided the nut cafe remains open). Recently some of the pristine drawings have been graced with squirrel-sized footprints.

So much of Nicol’s process is down to trial and experimentation. Out of the chaos, inspiration emerges. Like the Francis Bacon quote which inspired the quote for one year piece. “You’ve seen my studio. I thought by leaving the thing in my studio [for a year] it would be a disaster, but nothing happened.” The work hours assigned to failed experiments can be staggering, given the labour-intensive nature of the artist’s work. Sometimes the result is just as imagined. “There is planned, and executed near-perfection, there is beautiful accidental imperfection, and then sometimes a squirrel jumps in the window.” OKG

Image: francis bacon quote for one year, ink on paper (triptych), dimensions variable, 2019.
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