Frame 61

Nicki Cherry

Frame 61
Nicki Cherry

"I think of my sculptures as bodies with individual personalities, desires, and motivations."


Your work seems to describe parts of the body, but with a mysterious almost alien appearance. Could you tell us about these sculptures and the meaning behind them?

I think of my sculptures as bodies with individual personalities, desires, and motivations. Although they aren’t fully anthropomorphic, they have enough of a sense of bodiliness to build a rapport with the viewer. The most recent works have increased the contrast between abstract and figurative elements in my work. For example, in Aspirational Prosthetics I wanted to contrast four elements: a very abstract and organic bulbous mass, an abstract prosthetic “arm” for the mass, an obviously anthropomorphic leg, and a back-scratcher. From the front of the piece, it seems as though the arm—with the back scratched extended upwards—is physically attached to the softer mass. When the viewer walks around the piece, they see that these two forms are in fact disjoint and the arm is dependent on its own prosthetic—the plaster leg.

Colour and texture are also integral components that contribute to the works’ uncanny bodiliness. I layer materials ranging from plaster to polyurethane onto fabrics to build up a tactile skin on each form. The colour of each piece is frequently a reference to exaggerated, over-saturated undertones of human skin—greens, blues, purples, and pinks.

The way in which each piece is made references various processes by which humans alter their body. They are carved and bound; they have accessories and hair implants. Although many of the forms can teeter on the edge of the grotesque, they carry a sense of humor that makes them more affable.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practising artist and where did you study?

I went to the University of Chicago for undergrad. Initially, I was studying physics and mathematics to feed my interest in how physical matter can be described through abstract principles. My life-goal from the age of 10 was to become a particle physicist. I took painting and drawing classes in high school but never thought of art as a viable path. At the beginning of my third year at UChicago, I accidently enrolled in a sculpture class. Sculpture was mind-bendingly challenging; the possibilities that it offered felt limitless, which was difficult to work through. Even though that class made me pull my hair out and cry, it was ultimately gratifying and resulted in me taking the plunge to switch from math to visual arts. I’ve been committed to sculpture for the past four years.

Since graduating in 2014, I’ve been living and working in Chicago. Right now I am gearing up to relocate to New Haven / New York.

I Own These Streets

I Own These Streets

Jambon bons

Against an Unexpected Platform

Assessing My Shape in 2008

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?

Right now, my routine is dependent on how busy my day job is. My job is remote, so I’m able to take advantage of slow periods between projects. If I only have a few hours of work and no meetings for the day, I try to get work done in the morning and then head to the studio in the afternoon.

My studio is very much a site of production—it’s messy, often coated in layers of plaster and polystyrene. Good music is important! The sculptures are all built in different ways, but it’s always a very physical process of wrestling with materials. Recently, many of my works have been made by carving foam and then covering the form in plaster, clay, or caulk. Once I get to the studio, I’ll warm-up by spending some time with the work-in-progress, mark parts of the figure that I want to change, and determine what I want to accomplish that day. After reaching a breakpoint, I’ll step away from the form to assess my progress. I’ll walk around the form to observe how it changes from different vantage points. If I haven’t determined what found object to incorporate or how it will be built into the form, I’ll play around with ideas. I usually go back and forth between making and evaluating a few times each studio session.

If I’m reading, writing, filling out applications, or thinking about the work from a distance, I like to work in coffee shops. It’s partially to avoid breathing in too much plaster and foam dust, but I also find it easier to focus on these tasks away from the distractions of the studio.

Some of your sculptures are attached to objects/appliances, could you talk about your thoughts these added objects?

I am interested in the ways in which objects act as extensions and adornments to our bodies. The objects that are incorporated into my work often fall in two categories: objects that act as limbs or supports for the body and objects that act as projectors of identity. In the latter category, many of these props are gendered accessories like hair clips or shoes. My sculptures, which don’t fit within a conventional gender binary, are able to reclaim these props on their own terms. All of the objects are not just supplementary, they are integral and inseparable components of their respective form. Each fragment is dependent on its counterparts. Sometimes—although rarely in my current work—the objects will be so physically infused to the forms that they may not be immediately recognizable.

Generally I go into a piece knowing what object will be used, but sometimes I delay making a decision until the form is built and I can assess what sort of object the sculpture needs, or how the reading of the sculpture will change by including such-and-such object. I might play around with a few different things until I land upon a matching that feels right. My studio is littered with weird objects and materials—shredded tire, a thrifted fireplace bellows, a bright pink children's umbrella, human hair clippings—that I collect for potential work.

Amisexy and Bella Bronze

Amisexy and Bella Bronze

Acrobat Lifting Their Cauldron

Mindblowing Tips for Hips

Aspirational Prosethetics

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

Rachel Harrison—my number one art-world crush—had a fantastic show at Greene Naftali in Chelsea a few months ago. Each work was filled with so many visual surprises as you walked around them. The large purple work titled Bear Ears was my favorite. The abstract concrete form was leaning on a green cart in this very jaunty, confident manner that was filled with personality. 

Another sculpture show that struck me recently was Tania Pérez Córdova at MCA Chicago. I loved how the materials lists for her works revealed often romantic stories behind the work (i.e. “Bronze, Swarovski Crystal Drop earring, and a woman wearing the other earring”). My BA thesis advisor instilled within me a strong sense of responsibility for the social implications of materials, so I’ve always been very specific in both picking materials to incorporate in my work and also in writing materials list. It was exciting to see Tania using her materials lists in such a literary manner.

Although it’s not a gallery show, I have been obsessively watching the new Twin Peaks. Without revealing plot details, I will just say that that so far parts of episodes 3 and 8 have been burnt into my brain. It’s fascinating seeing how Lynch is approaching so many scenes from the language of painting; color, blur, and framing are all so precisely applied. His attention to sound—especially in the moments that lack music—has caused my skin to crawl in the absolute best way possible.

How do you go about naming your work?

Since my work does involve various levels of abstraction, titling is a way for me to very lightly disclose some of the things I was working through with the work. Sometimes a piece will sprout from a concrete experience or thing, so the title serves as a way to call back to those starting points. Names can also add to the figuration of the piece—for example, the title of Acrobat lifting their cauldron makes it clear that the sculpture is an individual.

When organizing my work for grad school applications I noticed that the majority of my recent works start with the letter A, which I promise is entirely coincidental!

Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

I’m starting my first semester of graduate school at Yale School of Art this August. During the next two years, I hope to act out on my impulse to explode the work, make it fill more space, be composed of more parts. It may not end up working out, but I’m excited to see where experimentation will take me! My MFA cohort’s first show will open in mid-November.

All images courtesy of the artist
Publish date 01/08/2017