Interview with Toban Nichols

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3 Stars
On November 9, 2011
Last modified:January 7, 2013


About Toban Nichols we wrote some posts before. For sure, you know about Semaphore (of Dendroid Origin) a digital landscape and landscape photography project. We contacted the artist and here it is the result. Thank you!

1. Do you have some artworks since you were a child?

I’ve been making art since I was a very small child. After school I would walk to my Grandmother’s house where she would sit me down at her big brown desk, the one with crystal bookends that looked like horses. I’d stare at those horses and then start drawing.  I would sit there and draw any and everything that came to mind. It was a glorious time, she encouraged my freedom

and creativity more than any other person at that time, and I love her deeply for it. When she passed away I was given an old shoe box (she wore special shoes because one leg was shorter than the other) and the shoebox was full of those drawings, she had kept every one of them. It’s an absolute treasure.

2. Can you send us the first artistic manifests you had?

I will send along an image I did in High School. I was allowed to be in an advanced drawing class that took place at night and it was an experience that great enhanced my research and discovery as an artist.

3. When did you start working on this?

This drawing is from that night-time class I took as a teenager. I lived in a small town in Kansas so my parents were not worried about me being out at night. They were a bit worried that I was drawing ladies in Bras.

4. Why did you choose this medium to express yourself?

I began drawing in church, another place my Grandmother encouraged me to create. The only available medium was the offering envelope and tiny pencil provided on the back of the pew, plus the church program for drawing paper. I made some real masterpieces all those Sundays…(sarcasm)


5. When and how did you find your style?

I found my current style through experimentation and accident, with a more than a little frustration. Even when I was painting and drawing I was always looking for a way to distort the ideas of traditional art practice. I wanted to do more with the paper and pencil than it was supposed to, it took me years to figure that out and when I did, I abandoned traditional painting altogether. That is how my work became so digitally oriented. Basically, the move from physical to digital took place during a creative block, my first yea

r of grad school. It was quite an explosion…at least in my head.

6. How do you work?

I work feverishly on two or more projects at once, then when I’m finished I take a break and sort of survey what I’ve done and what has transpired in the making of the work. I try not to make that break last longer than a month before starting something new. But I definitely feel like I need that emotional separation or release between projects. When I’m working, I feel like a Scientist in a lab, experimenting, doing research and then digging in to make the work. I become very focused and spend hours hunched over in the studio.

7. What inspires you?

I am inspired by my surroundings. I am intrigued by wind, nature, trees, and color. Most recently, with my video “Semaphore” I was intrigued by Southern California. My Husband and I moved to Los Angeles almost 2 years ago and I immediately found it to be so much different than San Francisco and the Bay Area. I couldn’t wait to explore. “Semaphore” is very much about that transition. The “morphing” part of it begins in Northern California on Pacheco Pass and then moves the action to LA…sort of a progression.


8. What themes do you pursue?

I’m not one of those political artists. I’m not interested in making art about issues or standing up for my beliefs through my art. I’m also not trying to educate people or change their minds.I make art about destroying technology to make something beautiful. I’m interested in color interactions and most importantly humor. I become obsessed with things and want to make a statement about it whether it’s a snippet of video, a found photo, or sound bite. It’s not politically motivated, it’s all about the allure of it, it’s glitzy shine.

9. What’s your favorite art work?

My two favorite artists, the ones whose work I most relate to and admire are Pipilotti Rist and Christian Marclay. They both seem to work much like I do, by investigation. I appreciate the way Christian Marclay is so willing to take something apart and remix it into doing something it’s not supposed to and Pipilotti Rist goes balls-out in her video work.

10. Do make any difference between a work on a brief and your personal work?

There shouldn’t be any difference but for me there is. I don’t do a lot of commission work but when asked I employ those good ol’ design school skills and detach emotionally. It’s about the final product and the client being happy with it. A few years ago I was approached by a start-up website to design their icons around my style of work. First of all, I was very happy they came directly to me rather than ripping my work off for their company and secondly, I was flattered that someone liked my work enough to want to use it in that capacity. The way I worked it out in my mind was that my “Art Work” already exists and this commission would not diminish my original work at all. It was more like a side-project or spin-off into another realm. It was easier to differentiate the idea in my mind that way. And really, if I’m honest, at the end of the day I want to make a living with my art, everything is for sale and all ideas are welcome.

Here is the old piece of art from high school I mentioned earlier. 

More about the artist, here.


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