Thursday, October 25, 2018

Another look at Preece's west

Preece, Mesa, 2017

Nolan Preece is giving us more of what we want for the fall season to set us thinking about the natural environment - more chemigrams.  His second show at the Wickiser Gallery in New York, ten beautiful 16x20" prints on Epson Velvet, closed a few weeks ago, just as a new one was opening a thousand miles away at the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, Florida (October 9 - November 24).  It helps to have frequent flyer miles to keep up with him.  We described in previous posts how his work in recent years has shifted from fearless displays of pure darkroom savvy and abandon ( to a thoughtful treatment of the high desert of Nevada where he lives and which he cares most passionately about, along the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada range.  No one I know of has been working in chemigrams longer, or more assiduously and uninterruptedly, than Nolan, and it shows in the refinement of his methods.  Against what we thought were the odds, he has brought chemigrams to bear on ecologic concerns: very few other chemigramists have dared undertake such an effort and none of those few have come near to achieving Nolan's success, or his drama.  He has made this ground his own.

Preece, Highlands, chemigram, 2017

The unfamiliar viewer should not confuse these images with guidebook pictures.  They are the opposite, they are not landscapes but dreams of landscapes, nightmares of landscapes, hallucinations, double-takes, and riffs.  They are emotional above all.  Nolan, who sees the future, is working under the duress of his knowledge.  If you've never seen an emotional chemigram you should look at Highlands, or Mesa - although to be fair we must make exception for Nikolova's powerful work in this regard as well.

Preece, Arroyo, chemigram, 2017

Preece, Cascade, chemigram, 2016

In vain do we seek human presence here, in these canyons and arroyos, so bleak yet so beautifully detailed, but then we realize the enormity of the geologic forces shaping what Nolan has given us.  Men would be nothing, they have no place in it.  Understanding that may lead us to a kind of reverence, if we let it.

Preece, Sierra #2, chemigram, 2016

If you press me for my favorite, I will go with the one below.  Rich in almost boundless mystery, it still has time to leave a wisp of dark mauve in the upper slopes, if slopes they are, as a sign of hope or prophesy, pointing to eons beyond all knowing.

Preece, Peaks, chemigram, 2017


  1. 'Mesa' is one hell of a great picture. I wonder how much of it is planned. I suspect not much, but hats off to Preece for sticking with it .

    1. With chemigrams you learn to roll with the punches and to turn them to your advantage. The randomness is such, and the unforeseen - both act majorly - that you really have no choice, because generally the method doesn't allow you to go backward as you can do in painting or drawing. Thus the best chemigramists, accepting this, choose to retain evidence of accidents or mistakes, for this in a way is the signature of their authenticity; they don't fight it but instead draw inspiration from it and continue creating in the suggested random direction. I imagine Nolan was alert to these things in making 'Mesa' as well as in the others.

      Your thoughts on this are important and in my opinion go to the heart of the chemigram enterprise . Thanks for commenting.

    2. To the SF photographer:

      Franco Marinai, in his post on Tuscany (March 2018), makes this point very well - I should have mentioned it, and now I have. Cheers!

  2. Congratulations to Nolan! A really superb group of works - intricate and monumental all at once, these landscapes resonate with a sense of timelessness and fragility.

  3. Looking at Nolan's chemigrams, I'm astonished. Nolan is presently one of the best artists in our fraternity. He has his own methods and applies them meticulously. He uses the effects of randomness in matter (a characteristic of the technique) but dominates them, which is what sets him apart from the hundreds of amateurs who show their first efforts on the internet. Nolan has a project in mind before embarking on it, he foresees what will happen - much like a painter, like Max Ernst, the artist to whom he is closest.

  4. I woke up this morning to be pleasantly surprised by this. It is so nice to be complimented in this way. I am truly humbled. Thank you Pierre!


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