Studio visit – April, 2021
Nicole Dyer and I have both been in Baltimore for over ten years, and it’s been such a pleasure to have a front row seat to her work. This summer she will start her next chapter in New York, so we squeezed in a long overdue interview before she starting packing the studio. Dyer paints food along with the pains and joys of daily life. Her humor and unique methods for disarming viewers when it comes to heavy topics like disordered eating have brought many recent accolades. Artsy named Dyer one of 17 artists that are reimagining still life in 2020, and she will have exhibitions in Korea, California, and New York, all in the coming months. We talked about her ever evolving studio practice as well her tactics for figuring out how to relax in a pandemic.
Interview between Amy Boone-McCreesh and Nicole Dyer:
A: Where did you grow up? Do you feel your formative years have any effect on the work you make now?
N: I grew up in Lakeland, FL, which is the middle of the state. It’s a bunch of strip malls and trailer parks. It’s one of those things where I don’t think about it that much, but also have a theory that it affects everything.
How has your studio practice been shaped throughout the pandemic?
I have a live/work space, so my studio is in my room. This year I had to build a wall because it became too hard for me to separate working from relaxing.
The past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to go on residencies so the live/work space didn’t bother me. It felt convenient for when I only had a short time here. Plus then I only had to worry about subletting one space. Obviously we couldn’t go anywhere in 2020!
So after being stuck in one place for an entire year and having a hard time both working and not working.. building the wall helped, but ultimately I realized it doesn’t work for me and I have decided to move. I think the pandemic helped me to realize that.
As far as my practice goes, I found solace in relaxing my definition of what “my work” is. I found fun in doing things like watercolors or marker pieces that I could complete in a day. Which was great because I got to learn a new material which ultimately gave me new ideas for big works. Reminding myself to have fun and play was important for getting through this time.
How long have you been in Baltimore?
I’ve been here about twelve years. I came here in 2009 for school at MICA. I stayed after graduation because it’s really affordable and there’s a great community. I think for the past six years I’ve wanted to move, I just didn’t know how to go about doing that, so I just kept leaving Baltimore for residencies which worked out well for a time!
I feel like our generation is ingrained with not wanting to settle in one place. I both love and hate that I know everyone here. It’s got such a small town feel. So I’m moving to an even smaller town called Millerton, NY. It’s on the Metro North line, so I can still go to NYC. I learned about Millerton through my residency at the Wassaic Project. The town is really cute and whenever I visited it I just really liked it. I definitely had a few moments where I thought, I could move here. The best thing was that I could go to NYC when I wanted to, but I could also leave when I wanted to. I’m really excited to have the opportunities to pop down to the city for the weekend, look at art and see people, then go to my studio in the middle of nowhere.
What do you feel your work is about, in really simple terms? What are you hoping to communicate?
My work is about disordered eating, at the heart of it. Ive been on a diet for seemingly forever like I put myself on weight watchers (I wouldn’t pay for it so I just researched the hell out of it and made it up, as an 11 year old). My mom and I would diet together and eat pre-packed meals like Lean Cuisine. I’m still working on my relationship with food and probably will be forever.
I really love it when people connect with that in my work on a deeper level. The pieces are bright and colorful but have a darker meaning, which is part of my vibe, but it makes me feel really good when people understand it and open up to me about their own experiences. I’m happy to talk about this topic that is hard to talk about but I think people really want to.
It seems like you are doing a lot of commissions and even design work, was this always a part of your practice?
No and yes. For the design work, I started working for Lane Harlan in 2019. She has a wine bar and wanted posters for events, so eventually I became the designer for her event promotions. It was completely unexpected. I took one illustration class in school and hated it so did not expect to become a pseudo-graphic designer/illustrator/sign-painter, but I figured it out along the way.
Her projects are really fun because I just get to draw. I was a drawing major, but my practice is no longer drawing, so it brings me back to something I really enjoy.
The commissions started because of the pandemic. I got laid off of my restaurant job–I’ve been in that industry on and off since I graduated. I started thinking about if and how I could make money from my paintings to sustain myself. I started proposing doing custom still lives for people through instagram. I had a friend help me promote it and I got a list of names going.
I’m happy to be painting all the time. I don’t normally paint at this frequency. Normally I would work for maybe three months, then take a break, or take a mini break between each painting. I can see that I’m becoming a better painter because of it. At the same time, I don’t have time for my own work, so I am trying to find a balance.
What are some of your favorite materials? Your work is often mixed media, it looks like a fun but also tedious process.
I’m primarily an acrylic painter and I make sculptures out of papier-mâché. I’m obsessed with experimenting with new materials and using a lot of techniques in one piece, whatever is the best way to portray a specific object I’m working with.
For example, I was interested in being able to watercolor on my paintings because when I went to Berlin I primarily used watercolor and it was new for me. I really enjoyed it and wanted to figure out how I could have moments of watercolor in my acrylic paintings and then I discovered Golden’s product Absorbent Ground which is specifically made to make the canvas more like paper. I still have to play with it a lot more and find the right ratio of product to water, because it can be too absorbent.
Once I figure it out I feel like it could open up a lot of possibilities. I worked on paper all throughout college. It’s such a different surface from canvas and I feel like I started painting rather differently when I made the switch. It’d be cool to bring back some of the possibilities that working on paper provides!
How do you keep going when it gets tough to work? A big part of me starting this website was to normalize the struggle associated with creative lifestyles.
I love being real about the struggle. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies in here! I both love and hate my work and my chosen profession all the time. Art making is really vulnerable and taxing.
Burnout is something I am often encountering and it’s a struggle figuring out whether to push through or take a break. I’m a really big fan of taking breaks (although not necessarily good at it). I feel naturally inclined to work almost in semesters, probably programmed from years of school. I naturally want to take a break throughout the summer and the month of December but then feel really creative come September and January. I work really well in the span of 3-month periods with a week or more in between of rest. Its definitely not always/at all an option when rent needs to be paid or there’s a gallery show coming up but it would be my ideal. Unfortunately our society doesn’t really value rest as much as its necessary.
I’m trying to be better about knowing whether my lack of motivation is burn out and I need a vacation or if I just need to push through. Sometimes you’re stuck and need to go on a hike and sometimes you need to get in the studio, put on your big headphones, and blast Greenday or something. Its all about turning your brain off in whatever way you need!
This past year its been important for me to learn how to schedule days off. Im still working on it though, theres been plenty of days Ive dragged my feet to the studio and mostly scrolled my phone or something. At the end of days like that I always think – wouldn’t it have been a better day if I just did that non-studio thing I really wanted to do?
A great quote a friend gave me on residency once is “It’s better to be at the beach thinking about the studio than to be at the studio thinking about the beach.” – Agnes Martin
Do you have any shows, projects, etc. coming up you’d like to promote?
Sure! I’m currently in a show in Chicago at Carrie Secrist Gallery called, Usual Goods. I have a piece in a show at Dinner Gallery (formerly VICTORI + MO) in NYC, opening May 21st, the show is called In Good Taste and should be great.
In July I’ll be showing a piece in Vessels at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco.
I also just dropped a bunch of work to be shipped to Gana Gallery in Korea so… Something should be coming from that soon!
Top pandemic picks? TV, movies, podcasts, music etc.
TV is having the best year ever–I’ve watched The Vampire Diaries twice through. I started putting it on in the studio, which I’ve never done before, but I just needed people talking in the background. It’s actually really helped. I also like Lucifer and Bones for studio TV.
My other top pick is grabbing an iced coffee from your favorite local coffee shop (I love Sophomore Coffee in Baltimore) and crocheting during down time!!