Interview with Kyle Nielsen
Kate Conlon (KC) First off, can you give us an introduction to your practice and talk a bit about what your thought process is like in the studio?
Kyle Nielsen (KN) I’m into using painting as a way to connect to people and figure out how we work together - or don’t work together. You know. A lot of my paintings illustrate concepts or ideas about feelings. Like they are already these really abstract things that we’ve made up this whole vocabulary for. At the end of the day, you can’t really put a finger on some of them. I think abstraction is a good area for that.
I make paintings abut how voids are formed. Emotional voids like a relationship ending, or moving to a new place, or having something that you like disappear all of a sudden. How do you paint that? How do you figure out how to get that message across? Sometimes you can’t. Not ‘can’t’ necessarily, but sometimes you succeed and sometimes you fail.
For me, painting is more about trying to communicate abstract things that are universal to everybody. Like they have nothing to do with gender or race or age or geography - and I say that knowing that, well, I’m a white male and I grew up in the United States so my experience is a particular one, but I do think of general things like heartbreak or happiness or a good interaction with a stranger or meeting a goal – just simple things - things that bind us together instead of differences.
KC You’ve described some of your previous work as portraiture. Do you think of the paintings in Alone Together as portraits as well?
KN Yea I guess, in a way. They’re centered at the bottom. They have a kind of – from the chest up – like a bust-like feel.
KC So they represent specific individuals?
KN I don’t know. There were one or two that I’ve worked on that were definitely about this person or this time, or maybe I’m thinking about specific people while I’m making them. But, for the most part, I try to keep them general enough so that there’s nothing really unique to my life. They can kind of go anywhere or anyone can get the same feeling.
KC What is the energy like in your studio? Do you work quickly or slowly? What does it look and sound like?
KN It's weird, I’ve always worked with music – I’ve always have music on or headphones on. But, at the beginning of the year I started working at a bar. I was doing like 40 hours a week all summer and it’s so loud there that when I got home and had space to paint and time to paint – I just started working in silence. For me, it’s always been a very relaxed process. There’s no sense of urgency – there’s no sense of ‘oh this has to get done.’ And I think that’s partly because, a lot of times, I don’t know where the painting is going. I wake up in the morning, make a cup of coffee, walk out here and, you know, paint in my pajamas for like an hour. And then I go smoke some cigarettes or listen to a record and then come back. It’s very laid back.
I work on multiple things at once though, so I can juggle things. I’ll have 4 or 5 paintings going at the same time so that if one’s not working or I don’t know what to do with it…actually I never think they’re not working, they’re always doing what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s just me trying to figure out how to match it up with what I’m seeing in my head. Sometimes I’ll start with an image or an idea of a place, or a shape and I’ll put that down and its not the same – you know it doesn’t feel right. So at that point I end up following the painting. There’s this trade off – do I follow the paint now? Or do I follow the original idea? That’s the exciting part about painting – that’s where it becomes interesting and fun and explorative.
KC Is that also what keeps it challenging?
KN Yea, totally. One of the things that I ran into after my studio visit with Fernwey was – oh I’ve kind of figured out how to make these paintings. Now how do I forget that?
That’s when stuff gets really boring – when you’re making something good and you don’t know where it comes from – it’s exciting and keeps you painting. But once you get some feedback from people like, “oh I like this” or, “I relate to this,” your brain automatically starts trying to make more of that. That’s where the work hits a dead end and you have to get back to exploring something new. Destroying what you know about how to make the painting is what keeps it interesting.
KC I’m curious about how Alone Together relates to the other part of your practice, painting murals in public spaces. Do you feel that you have different obligations when you work on mural projects?
KN Yes. People have to live amongst a mural – Its almost like they have no choice. It’s a completely different game, a completely different conversation, and a completely different audience. The people who are going to see a mural on 79th street are not the people who are going to be on Damen going to galleries. With murals, people want color – they want life to be brought to an area – they want something exciting that they don’t expect.
If I take the image that I painted on a wall and shrink it down and put it on a canvas, it suddenly becomes more intimidating to the same people. So that’s a weird dynamic.
KC Are there other artists who you feel close to or who influence your work?
KN I would say that music has a bigger influence on me than visual art. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Sade. I listen to a lot of Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Nina Simone… I listen to a lot of stuff with soul in it - stuff that feels authentic. I think that’s the case with all art that I’m attracted to – it feels very earnest. Nobody’s trying to play a joke – there’s no gimmicks – its very straight forward, stuff everybody can get with.
KC Do you think about style?
KN I think about lifestyle. I guess if I had a style it would be leisurely. (laughs) I move pretty slowly – I keep to myself – I reflect a lot.
KC Can you give us a little information about the title, Alone Together, and why you chose it for this show?
KN Alone Together is the title of an old jazz standard. The first version I heard was by Dizzy Gillespie. It was an instrumental version – about 4 minutes long. I just picked up this record – I think it was the first Gillespie record I ever bought. I came home and put it on and it was the second track on the first side. I was sitting in my room and listening to it and just melting into it. It felt really sad and then the last 40 seconds there’s this build up where all this energy comes back into it and there’s this resolution – or I felt some resolution.
So I started looking for other versions. Like Louis Armstrong did a version with Betty Carter where there are lyrics and it was interesting to me because the Dizzy Gillespie version was so sad – it made you feel just empty for a second. The Betty Carter and Louis Armstrong version is a love song. It’s a duet about these two people being able to conquer whatever and how deep their love goes and stuff like that. So I thought that was super interesting. I think of ‘alone together’ as this sentiment of “I’m never going to be able to fully connect to you no matter how hard I try.” We all inhabit the same space – we’re all working together toward something – or not working together. That’s the flip side, the negative view of it – we’re alone and were just lumped here. So there’s some sort of unity in it but also this breaking apart. I don’t know – it’s good and bad and happy and sad at the same time. There’s optimism in it but also some pessimism. I think the work is sort of like that. They’re not all the same – they don’t all look the same they’re not using the same color palette but they’re all occupying the same space.