Through a practice of photography, video and sculpture, Nick Albertson reinvestigates the usefulness factor of existing objects and re-inserts new meaning into them.
Albertson’s work strips utilitarian objects, such as paper clips, paper cups and rubber bands of their intended functionality. Albertson then examines the tension that exists between the inherent uniformity of these mass-produced materials with that of his composed and re-aestheticized landscapes.
Referencing themes prevalent in modernist sculpture and painting, the resultant work intends to offer an equally indelible visual impact.
Nick Albertson (b. 1983, Boston, Massachusetts) received his MFA in Photography at Columbia College Chicago (2013) after completing his BA in Photography at Bard College. His work has been exhibited in Chicago, Portland, Seattle, New York and internationally at the Pingyao International Photo Festival. In 2014, The Center for Photography at Woodstock mounted Albertson’s first institutional solo show: One Hundred Count.
Tell me a little bit about your interest in becoming an artist?
My father went to school for painting (which he continues to practice), and made a living doing graphic design. My mother works as a painting conservator at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. I was surrounded by art and museums from the moment I was born. In high school I started taking photography courses and haven’t looked back since.
I find your work to possess a particular aesthetic, similar to that of core design principles. Yet, you are abstracting these utilitarian objects and stripping away the functional qualities that were originally designed to them. Do you think your father’s graphic design practice may have held an impact or influence towards the creation of your work and concept?
I’m sure it had an impact, but it’s hard for me to estimate how much. To some extent, I would actually say that I am pushing against my father’s idea of what art is or can be. He sees graphic design as a very separate endeavor from art, whereas I see them as much more closely linked.
photography is so much about the surfaces of the world around us. For my practice, I am interested in navigating between the inherent referential nature of photography and my desire to explore the compression of space onto a flat plane, and color and form.
In your statement you explain how you seek out ways in which to abstract and manipulate a photograph, “much in the way a painter manipulates paint to create a brush stroke.” What is your interest in making a photograph more painterly?
Since photography was invented there has been a dialogue between painters and photographers. Photographers used techniques to make their photographs more painterly (soft focus, blur, painted backdrops). Later, painters made photorealist works, referencing the precision with which a lens can see. More recently, photographers like Jeff Wall or Cindy Sherman have used historical painting as references in their works.
Clement Greenberg believed that the modernist project was to strip a given medium down to its essence. For painting, that meant a flat two-dimensional surface. Rather than fight with the medium, painters should embrace the lack of dimension and abandon creating illusionistic three-dimensional space on a flat plane.
Photography is an interesting medium in this context because it too is a flat two-dimensional surface, but the use of a lens is perfectly suited to creating the illusion of depth. While painting is about materiality of the objects directly used in the making of the object (the pigment, the canvas and support), photography is so much about the surfaces of the world around us. For my practice, I am interested in navigating between the inherent referential nature of photography and my desire to explore the compression of space onto a flat plane, and color and form.
What direction do you see popular contemporary art moving into?
That’s a pretty big question, and one that I do not feel equipped to answer. Instead, maybe I can use this moment to comment on a couple of trends in photography that I think I dovetail with. Many photographers are making these improvisational still lifes with common objects. Artists like Jessica Labatte, Lucas Blalock, Kate Steciw, Jessica Eaton come to mind. Although I have varying degrees of understanding about each artist’s’ concerns and interests in making their work, I read these works broadly as being about the prevalence of photographic imagery and its various uses in the culture. Some of the work uncovers and examines photo manipulation in the making of images, while other work foregrounds the photographic materials and tools used in photographic practice. I see this as a form of the modernist impulse of self-critical investigation of the medium mentioned earlier, engaged at looking behind the photograph and into the creation of it.
So, would you say that most contemporary photographers are trying to free photography from it’s traditional subservient role as a realist mode of representation and are raising questions of its use in today’s culture?
Well I’m not sure that I’d say most contemporary photographers, but those issues are definitely being investigated in a wide range of methods by many artists. John Szarkowski, in his 1978 exhibition Mirrors and Windows at MoMA, identified two dominant modes of picture making since 1960, which he termed mirrors and windows. The idea was that photographers used the camera as a mode of self-expression (mirror) or to show the world to the viewer (windows). These methods of picture making are definitely still prominent in contemporary photograph, but there is also a medium-critical investigation occurring. It isn’t (generally speaking) particularly personal or diaristic, and it also isn’t about showing us the broader world. Instead it is photography as object and subject. It prods the many facets of how a photograph exists in all its contexts, from a computer screen to a physical object that one holds in their hands.
Do you have any galleries or museums that you frequently visit?
Obviously the gallery that represents me is on the top of my list, Aspect/Ratio. But aside from that, Chicago has a pretty vibrant art community. I love the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Contemporary Photography. The Hyde Park Art Center does some really great things. As far as commercial galleries go, I like the programming at Kavi Gupta and Western Exhibitions quite a bit. And of course there is the Art Institute.
What would be your biggest accomplishment as an artist thus far? And what are some of your goals in the coming years ahead?
I graduated from my graduate program in the spring of 2013 and since then I have attained gallery representation as well as a few solo exhibitions. My goal is to continue to make work and see where it takes me.
See more work by Nick Albertson and view upcoming shows / exhibitions @ nickalbertson.com
Last modified: July 28, 2015