A Chat with John Nicholas Hutchings

by Michael Westfried

Nick, I hear that you are a professor at Brookhaven College? What subject do you teach and do you feel that being an art professor has influenced your artwork?

Well actually I am the full time Sculpture lab tech at Brookhaven and teach 2D design on Saturday I also and teach fundamental drawing and 3D design on the weeknights at UT Arlington. So all in all a pretty busy schedule, but I love to teach. Teaching allows me a space to engage students at the foundation of their aesthetic journey. This begins at the foundational level of art and moves deeper as the student progresses to develop critical production of art. At this foundational level, there needs to be a development of skills and an understanding of materiality, so that they can begin to sharpen their own aesthetic and place themselves within the context of contemporary art. Beyond this I hope to foster critical thinking and facilitate the acquisition of life-long learning skills, preparing students to function effectively in an information culture, and develop problem-solving strategies to engender change within that culture. These skills are the basis for the development of an intuition, whereas the further the skill level develops the more the artist is able to rely on their own intuition. This intuition is essential to the artist in the moment-by-moment choices in production of an artwork. Through this development of intuition the students are able to make conscious decisions about their work and ultimately their voice in the world. In short I think that the aesthetic discourse will influence all the parties who are engaged in the conversation and I have a lot of very bright and talented students that continue to inspire me.

What is your creative process? Do you take time out to think about you are going to do and what it means, or do you just go, work and wonder what it means as you go along or perhaps you are continuously thinking about what it means before, during and after?

Well I guess that depends on whether or not it is an installation, sculpture or a drawing. I guess on a broader sphere I consider all of my work drawings but there is definitely different approach to whatever method I decide is best for the conceptual idea or kernel of idea that I am wrestling with. For example my drawings are more of an intuitive pursuit responding to the space in which I am working and I my own conscious engagement with the aesthetic. The sculptures and installations may merely begin by viewing the space where it will be installed or as in the case of the “Allusion of Memory” I walked around in the creek behind my parent’s house until I found the “aesthetic” object. So it really varies from piece to piece. The value for me is in the wrestling with the ideas and how do I translate those ideas and I haven’t found a formula yet.

Can you tell us a little bit about your fascination with liminal space? What do you mean when you say liminal space?

Similar to the Haiku, my artistic method is to remove the superfluous elements within the work to speak in a more succinct and powerful voice. This voice is a quiet interruption into the noise of distraction, creating a space where the viewer can be still and reflect on their presence in relation to the artwork. This liminal space is bounded by the tension between the artwork and the viewer. Therefore in this context liminality can be defined in the body of work as the threshold of presence or the space of passage. This threshold is the in-between space the doorway or gate. This space of passage is manifested through the process of this work and inspired by my faith in the presence of God between and interwoven within the aesthetic. This work is an active exploration into being present in this threshold space between the spiritual and physical experience of making art.

It’s clear from your artist statement that you are influenced by the work of philosophers like Heidegger. Can you tell me a little bit about which philosophies have become a part of your own worldview?

Though I don’t particularly agree with the vast majority of Heidegger’s worldviews being that he was a Nazi and all, but what he says about the boundary is quite interesting.

He states “The presence of space is something that has been made room for––something with boundaries. A boundary is not a thing at which something stops but, as the Greeks recognized, a boundary is that from which something begins: its presence. The concept of the horizon is a boundary that is circular, which gathers around itself––and space is, in essence, that for which room has been made, that which is let into its bounds”.1

The phenomenal elements within the space therefore correlate together forming a boundary that defines the presence of space. The fullness of the elements within the space correlate with the perceiver and it is through this exchange that a boundary is created. The boundary is what gathers space together giving it presence but it is also what gathers presence to what is less likely to be perceived. The engagement between the perceiver and the “artwork” is like the “tension” needed between the multiple anchor points that suspend a tent. It is not to break apart but to set within its bounds. I find that in my own work the liminal space exists between the correlations of all of the works perhaps throughout my entire life and artist endeavors. Like the “Heideggerian Horizon” the individual works act as points on the horizon giving way to a liminal space. I try not to separate art and life into distinct spheres but rather we exist interwoven with both.

Would it be fair to say that an attempt to depict something spiritual through the physical or the connection between the physical and the spiritual is an important part of your work as an artist?

I would say that it is the foundation and structure of my aesthetic pursuit. The aesthetic experience is that of perception not limited to the realm of art. It is consciously dwelling within the world and that art and life are saturated agents within experiencing this conscious presence and the two are divinely entwined.

What kinds of materials do you use in your artwork and how do you decide which material to use?

With each material and mark I seek to foster a relationship with my own presence within the boundary and translate that experience through the artwork. The materials I use, whether wood, charcoal, dirt, or gold, gather a trace of my own internal presence into the physical material, engendering a trace of presence between the mediums. If I am constructing a space it is to grant context to the aesthetic space in which the artwork is perceived. I take careful consideration to each material that I use in my practice because with certain materials there is conceptual baggage. So I try to find the medium and the visual language that is closest to my concept.

I noticed that at the Xue exhibition you used white and black a lot. Is there a particular reason why this is the case?

I am not trying to set up the dichotomy between black and white or good and evil or whatever they may imply but rather I am trying to simplify the visual language with my art. I find that color can be very conceptually loaded and must be used with discernment and exactitude at least as it pertains to my work. I am not opposed to color but rather I feel it must be the exact color and it must be the right fit for the artwork. I like work that can be passed by and go unnoticed. It like when you find that beautiful treasure and it becomes a discovery. Perhaps not everyone will notice the work, but hopefully those who do will take something from it and give something back in the “encounter” with the aesthetic.

Which artists do you think have had an impact on your work?

Wow. So many artists have influenced my work. Janine Antoni, Rachel Whiteread , Jamie Lee Byers, Michelangelo Pistelletto, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Francis Alys and too many others to list. Not to mention my colleges at Brookhaven College and University of Texas at Arlington, and Washington University in St. Louis.

Do you have any shows coming up that you would like our readers to know about?

I am in a group show this summer at Meramac College in St. Louis called “Nests, Shells and Corners” curated by Ken Wood including the artists Carlie Trosclair, John Early, and R.C. Sayler. Also the readers can check out my website for any upcoming exhibitions www.jnhutchings.com. Thanks again for everything and its been great talking with you.

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Filed under Arts, Crave, Gallery, Michael Westfried

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