Editor’s note: Beginning today, August 29th, and running until September 11, Nicole Duennebier’s art is on display at the 13FOREST at 444 popup gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Gallery co-owner Marc Gurton says, “Since 2007, 13FOREST Gallery has been working with some of the finest artists in the Boston area to bring recognition to their work and to link them directly with the public. Last summer our pop-up exhibition at Gallery 444 in Provincetown allowed us to connect with visitors from all over the country, and this year we look forward to forging more connections within the art community of Provincetown with this two-week exhibition.” Receptions will be held on August 31 and September 7, 6-9 pm.
Natural phenomenon—dermoid cysts, fungus, invasive flora/fauna—and my love of candied, old-master opulence have a constant presence in my work. Through painting with attention to detail, I’ve become accustomed to the fact that nature itself, or anything living really, never totally allows you to have a perfectly idealized experience. Everything is always spewing, dripping, rotting a little. Similar to 17th century still-life paintings with those vibrant lusty fruits that show the light fuzz of beginning decay, I don’t see these works as allegorical depictions. To me it is more the realization that both the rot and the fruit are a textural attraction in their delicacy; both take the same concentration and care to paint.
The classic chiaroscuro darkness in still-life is a primordial soup, a pool of black that springs forth a decadent, and sometimes horrible, growth. I’ve always been attracted to the obsolete idea of spontaneous generation, all that awful stuff popping into existence for no reason. The paintings reflect this; they are more spontaneous generations than firmly rooted in actual living organisms.
The following (edited) interview with Nicole was conducted at the 13FOREST Gallery in Arlington, Massachusetts. Please click on the paintings for a full screen view.
Fictional Cafe: Here we go, I’m Jack Rochester, the founder of the Fictional Café, and it’s my pleasure to introduce Nicole Duennebier. How do you pronounce your last name?
Nicole: Oh, Duennebier. It’s German. It means weak beer in German, yeah kind of like a light beer.
FC: Oh yeah?
Nicole: It was like a replacement for purified water or something like that.
FC: Okay, good one. When did you begin painting?
Nicole: I’ve always painted to a certain degree and, see, my mom was an artist and art had always been part of my life. I didn’t start taking it seriously until about high school, when I decided that’s what I wanted to go to school for. But I’ve always been, always guessed I was an artist. I’d say a lot of artists feel that way.
FC: That you’re born with it.
Nicole: To a certain degree.
FC: Was there anyone, or anything, or any painting, which first inspired you?
Nicole: I think having a lot of art materials at home, a lot of books, my mom’s . . .
FC: Your mom’s work?
Nicole: Yeah, my mom’s work, but also a lot of like art history books at home as well. I remember being into Mark Chagall, which doesn’t really relate to my work at all but . . . Like Chagall, Aubrey Beardsley. I remember a big book of that really sexual drive stuff, which made a huge impression on me, like looking at them probably when I shouldn’t have been . . ..
Nicole: I don’t know, that sort of thing, and I think maybe just having just a lot of art around when I was a kid as well.
FC: Okay. In an interview with Jim (Kiely, co-owner with Marc Gurton of the 13Forest Gallery), you talked about going through a lot of different stages.
Nicole: I think also maybe that even goes back to what were my early influences in some ways because I think going to art museums, seeing heavy, chiaroscuro type paintings they really made an impression on me, even in a way made me feel that’s what art is and what I wanted to become myself in some ways. And I think that’s always kind of held on to me even as my work has changed over time and maybe I am kind of holding on to some sort of first impression of what I think art is, which would be like museum work and Rembrandts and that sort of thing and that type of muted deep color scheme.
FC: That Baroque period kind of influence doesn’t seem to be reflected in your current work.
Nicole: I mean, I think the deep colors, dark backgrounds of Baroque period work, that’s always been some part of my work. And I think I’m trying to pull myself out of that darkness in some ways, trying to focus on lighter colors, even challenge myself to bring things into a lighter color scheme in some ways. But it’s still definitely there if you look at my work. I think I’m drawing up a lot of shadow to the forefront and then working on top of that. It’s definitely still there. I still want it to be there, even though I’m trying to dispel it in a certain way.
FC: Your pen and ink is a little lighter though.
Nicole: That’s true, that’s true but I looked at a lot of French lithographs at that time. I was looking at Francois Bucher and I think that type of drawing leads to different ways of reading into that type of painting too, so even to using the same period in some ways.
FC: You primarily paint in acrylics?
Nicole: Um-hm. I was trained in oils, but I do tend to use it the same way. I use a lot of mediums which didn’t really used to exist in acrylics. I feel like there’s so many more are finishes you can get out of it that you couldn’t before. I use something called a self-leveling clear gel which spreads out on the surface and becomes as flat and shiny as possible, which really just evolved out of not having the space to use oils and to have good ventilation and that sort of thing.
FC: It’s clear so you put it over…?
Nicole: Yeah, it’s usually my final layer.
FC: I see, okay very cool. You’re quoted as once having said “I guess I’m amazed I can paint at all.” Do you still feel like that?
Nicole: Well, I think in trying to paint in any type of representational way you’re learning to paint over again in some ways. You don’t know how to create that texture, so you kind of have to teach yourself or go through a lot of examples and learning in the way that you want to do it through looking at other paintings and stuff like that. So I feel like I’m constantly surprised of the things that I’m able to do.
FC: Baby, I’m amazed?
FC: Well that’s self-discovery, isn’t it? That’s discovering new aspects of yourself and your art, yeah.
FC: That should be happening, I find that through my writing too. We touched on Baroque, but my perception is your current work is much more sensual.
FC: Organic, sensual, really more like nature and its imperfections.
Nicole: Okay, so what’s your definition of Baroque painting?
FC: Oh, Rembrandt . . .
Nicole: So you don’t find that work to be sensual?
FC: Not particularly .
Nicole: Okay, I mean, I find that work to be extremely tactile. I think in some ways I’m trying to pull out those aspects and to isolate them. To use smaller details and kind of pull out that kind of grotesque aspect that’s already in that type of work. But yeah, I think there is a sensual element to the work right now a lot of that has to do with the fact that I was actually creating a lot of these pieces out of clay before I painted them. Really trying to figure out the shadows, figure out the shape and the weight of things and I think that’s always an element, there’s always . . .
FC: That’s an amazing technique. That’s really cool that you did that.
Nicole: I feel like it’s the most difficult thing that I could have done to figure out. But at one point I felt that my work was very flat, and or flatter than I wanted it to be anyways. And I just tried to really think for a long period of time what would help that, and I think actually feeling out the form beforehand is the solution, for now anyway.
FC: Interesting, very interesting. When you start a new work, what’s the first thing that happens in your ideation before you actually start composing the work? What’s your stimuli?
Nicole: Oh I mean I’m always looking for imagery that sparks something else and I’m a big collector of imagery, I guess just a difference of the light in something. Just kind of trying to keep track of all different things that I might want to dissect and put into my work later on. I think that’s probably one of the beginning stages and I still keep a lot of sketches and stuff like that with me at all times, just because I’m apt to forget what that idea was. So I tend to try and draw it down even pretty rudimentary kind of way.
FC: But that might spark another idea where we combine with other imagery . . .
Nicole: Right, yeah . . .
FC: Which eventually coalesces into an idea . . .
Nicole: Yeah . . .
FC: Okay, very similar to writing.
Nicole: Yeah that’s probably true, having to hold on to small ideas because you don’t know where it’s going to . . .
FC: Which leads me to my next question. When comparing your painter’s aesthetic to other art forms such as books or film, who are other people whose work you like?
Nicole: I’m big into to Bruno Schulz, who was a Polish writer I believe, but he was also a painter. I find I’m always surprised when I come across like the art of different writers I love. But there’s very strange surrealist imagery in his books that I’ve always had myself but I think his still have had an influence, not maybe direct imagery that I’ve borrowed, but just descriptions, like flushes of floral and like rotted thing, stuff like that. That probably has lent itself to my work in some ways. I don’t know, a description of like a summer night being like having your whole head enclosed in a rose or something like that. I don’t know, a dark rose over your head. I don’t know; my last show here (at 13Forest) was called “The Night of the Great Season,” which was named after the last chapter of his novel, The Street of Crocodiles.
FC: Oh, okay. Any other writers?
Nicole: There’s a science fiction author . . . oh, J.G. Ballard. A lot of his imagery is something that I go back to, The Crystal World, and stuff like that. Yeah I think I’m also very inspired by film. It’s such a big part of my life but I don’t know if I could really pin down how much influence it’s had in my work. Maybe in the overall tone of my work in some ways, like when I think of my favorite directors like Whit Stillman. The Quay brothers’ clay or stop action animation. I think they have a lot of influence on my work earlier on but I’m not sure how much direct influence. That sort of thing; it’s always something. There’s maybe just like a characteristic or feeling that I think I use that.
FC: I enjoy noticing the different cinematography techniques that different cinematographers use as a medium of expression itself, separate . . .
Nicole: Yeah . . .
FC: Separate of whatever the plot of the movie is . . .
Nicole: Yeah . . .
FC: And the director . . .
Nicole: Absolutely. I think also the staging and frame of the shot, these are things I guess painters think about a lot. And I feel like it’s something that I’m still working on quite a bit in my work. But yeah, get in the right frame.
FC: Where do you see your career in ten years from now?
Nicole: Oh. I don’t know, I hope that ten years from now I’m still painting.
FC: And so do I. All right. Thank you, Nicole!
Nicole Duennebier was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1983. She received her Bachelor in Fine Arts at Maine College of Art with a major in painting. Her BFA thesis work was most influenced by research about the coastal ecosystems of Maine. In 2006, she was awarded the Monhegan Island Artists Residency.
On the island, she continued her work with sea life. Duennebier saw a natural connection between the darkness and intricacy of undersea regions and the aesthetic of 16th century Dutch still-life painting.
In 2008, she moved to Boston. She is currently exhibiting with the 13FOREST gallery in Arlington, Massachusetts.