Nicola Tyson’s work is perhaps best known for being explosively colorful, so it’s interesting when an exhibit focuses mainly on her graphite drawings, which is the target of her new (and tenth) solo show at the Petzel Gallery, ‘Works on Paper,’ running until April 23rd 2016. However it’s this particular juxtaposition between color and grayscale, canvas and paper, large scale and smaller works, that makes Tyson such an exciting artist, as she showcases her ability to not only represent various thematics in her work, such as gender, sexuality, and identity, but also various means of representing them. In fact, the contrast found in the Brit’s work is fitting of Tyson herself, with vivacious red hair, minimalist clothing, and a charming personality that balances intellect and humor. As Tyson herself put it when we asked her if she prefered color or black and white, “I’m a monochrome dresser—mainly in black and white, but a colorful painter. So that’s an impossible decision!”
NeueJournal: The exhibition Works on Paper presents some of your sketchbook drawings. How do you differentiate when a graphite drawing is a sketch for a color-based piece, and when the sketch is a finished piece in and of itself?
Nicola Tyson: I never know what I’m going to draw until I start drawing, and this is often in sketch books, where I work fast, letting the image organize itself until it’s ‘done’. This can result in a finished drawing—that needs nothing more—or one that begs to be developed further through the introduction of color. Those sketches I would work up into paintings.
LEFT: Portrait Head #36 2003 | RIGHT: Portrait Head #65 2004
NJ: What was the hardest part about interviewing yourself? What was the best part about it?
NT: The bifurcation was tricky—making a monolog into an absurd conversation…. and who doesn’t enjoy laughing at their own jokes?
LEFT: Full Moon Bloom 2015 | RIGHT: Grazing sheep and sky object 2015
NJ: This is your tenth solo exhibition with Petzel Gallery. How does each time change? How is this exhibition significantly different from the other shows?
NT: Well, I’ve only had two works on paper shows in the past—although drawing is a huge part of my practice—because such shows are hard to stage in a gigantic Chelsea gallery. However, Petzel’s smaller uptown space—which opened just a year ago—is an elegant, pre-war apartment and is the perfect intimate setting for viewing this type of work. I prefer gallery spaces that are human scale—I know a lot of artists do!
LEFT: Portrait Head #36 2003 | RIGHT: Portrait Head #67 2004
NJ: When did you realize you are an artist?
NT: In elementary school I noticed that I drew people with their feet pointing outwards—in opposite directions—instead of both the same way, like my classmates were doing. Neither of us were correct anatomically, but I felt my ‘people’ were more realistic —which mattered to me then—and less likely to fall over!
NJ: Your work often deals with issues of sexuality. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about the topic throughout the years?
NT: That anything can be sexualized and certainly any part of the body. Sexuality is not only about genitals, and I find imagery with that emphasis kind of boring and conventional. It’s way more complicated than that!
LEFT: Portrait Head #64 2004 | RIGHT: Red Self Portrait 2002
NJ: If you could give your younger self-advice, what would it be?
NT: Just ask if you don’t know!
NJ: Which do you prefer: Coffee or tea? Sweet or salty? Morning or night? Color or black & white?
NT: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. I don’t have a sweet tooth, I’ll take the cheese plate every time. Mornings—sunny ones preferably. I like to work in the morning. I’m a monochrome dresser—mainly in black and white, but a colorful painter. So that’s an impossible decision!
NJ: What is the last book you read?
NT: Remake Remodel: Art, Pop Fashion and the Making of Roxy Music 1953-1972 by Michael Bracewell. I remember when I heard Pyjamarama for the first time. I was thirteen and transfixed —it was perhaps my first ‘art experience’!
LEFT: Pollen 2015 | RIGHT: The Sweater 2015
NJ: What is the first thing you see in the morning?
NT: My cat Cyril’s face or rump, depending which way around he decides to sit on my chest…. usually the latter.
NJ: If you had twenty-four hours to do anything you wanted without any repercussions, what would you do?
NT: Hmmm ‘repercussions’…does it have to be illegal, or will dangerous do? Other than eradicate evil and save the planet, then go on a massive spending spree, there are certain powerful, ancient hallucinogens that I’m curious about. So I’ll sign up for ‘a day trip’ —as long as I come back totally enlightened—and not merely frightened—with, of course, no hangover!
Artwork: Nicola Tyson
Portrait Photography: Mitchell McLennan for NeueJournal