On ViewWhite Columns
August 28 – October 16, 2021
Nicole Storm’s first solo show in New York is an exuberant installation of heavily worked surfaces that combines abstract color painting and calligraphic line drawing. Occupying half of White Columns gallery, the exhibition presents a multicolored collection of two-dimensional and sculptural mixed media works with recurring visual elements. Layers of bright washes in acrylic, watercolor, and ink, distinct lines from markers and pens, as well as the use of varied surfaces such as paper, wood panel, canvas, and found material enliven the white-walled room. The artist’s use of different materials is mesmerizing; her show beautifully prioritizes formal process and the artist’s joyous vision above all else.
Storm, who has Down’s syndrome, created most of these works at the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, CA, a nonprofit that provides shared studios, guidance, and exhibition space for artists with developmental disabilities. Storm has been affiliated with the center for over 25 years, which was founded in 1974. Creative Growth implements a nurturing and non-directive approach to art instruction that separates it from other teaching initiatives. With this method, instructors act more like facilitators, assisting artists with disabilities like Storm in developing a creative practice that is unique to them. The emphasis on the artist’s vision found at Creative Growth extends over to Storm’s presentation at White Columns. In an almost performative installation process, Storm directed instructors from Creative Growth on how to hang the show. Here, she specified the details of the arrangement and rearrangement of her work while humming, dancing, and painting on the gallery’s walls. This resulted in a salon-style display that filled the gallery with her energetic, brilliant, and open-ended art works.
Working from the floor upwards, Storm painted multicolored washes directly onto the walls throughout the gallery, further transforming the architecture into one of the most immediate examples of the artist’s hand in the show. The side of the center wall facing the gallery entrance is covered in bright blues, purples, pinks, and oranges that are layered and mixed. The paint on these walls, which is only as tall as Storm’s height, leaves a sign of the artist and frames other work throughout the gallery.
The majority of the mixed media works offer built-up layers of variations of one dominant color, with thin marker and paint lines directly on top. Meandering and repeating lines on the color fields create depth within these abstract works. Color, brushstroke, and weight are varied in each piece, generating a constant sense of motion, which is heightened by the abundance of work. One prominent watercolor work featured pools of colors in distinct shapes, layered with strokes of heavier washes on top that caused other colors to mix and blend. As my eyes fell into each color pool, they quickly moved towards a series of lines done in marker on top of the watercolor in the upper right corner. The movement in this painting translates throughout the gallery, with long pauses at one aspect of the installation followed by moments of wandering into new details.
Although all the art in the exhibition is untitled and not arranged chronologically, Storm’s work contains an evolution seen in folded lines on several thin paper works. These are earlier pieces by Storm where the artist would implement more ephemeral materials like brown paper, then paint or draw on them, finally folding them up, and hiding them in the studio space. In later works, Storm started utilizing thicker sheets of paper and wood panels, which formulated the approach most prominent in the gallery. Storm also incorporates found ephemera from the studio, such as calendar pages.
The transition to more durable surfaces manifests in five sculptures made from found materials—a cardboard box and four segments of a shipping tube. The box and tubes are painted over in Storm’s style with red, purple, orange, and blue on their surfaces below looping and ticked lines. Seeing Storm’s aesthetic translated into three-dimensional objects offers a tactile experience, where we feel the build of her surfaces on otherwise mundane shipping materials. Looking on the ground into the open shipping tubes, one can also see that the interior is also painted in light blues and purples. There’s even a photograph on paper adhered to the side of one tube that’s covered in thin washes of red and yellow, offering a new visual element that blends in seamlessly. Like the rest of the artist’s work, these found-object sculptures embody Storm’s innate ability to transform objects and spaces to her aesthetic completely. They remind us that Nicole Storm’s installation is something singular and stunning to behold as a pure expression of an artist’s individuality and presence.