As countries go, the United States is fairly large, both in population and area, and in our history of art there are often “regional” artists worthy of note that don’t receive the attention they’re due.
This seems to particularly apply to artists from those areas of the country that some of the societal elite in New York and California like to refer to as the “flyover states”.
This comes under the heading of “You don’t know what you’re missing”, and as a case in point, the Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art in David City, Nebraska has organized a traveling exhibition of work by Nebraska (and David City) favorite son Dale Nichols, titled Dale Nichols: Transcending Regionalism.
Nichols studied at The Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago, lived and worked in Chicago for a number of years and taught at the University of Illinois. He eventually travelled extensively, finally settling in Arizona.
All the while, however, he painted “remembered” scenes of his native Nebraska, resisting all pressure to bow to the modernist establishment. His paintings were based on an artistic philosophy that didn’t change much over the course of his long career. He did, however, stress the geometry of his landscapes, with flat areas of color forming sharply defined planes, and even trees having a sort of geometric “wrapper”, an effect I particularly enjoy in his work.
Nichols was noted for his snow scenes, and reportedly got his areas of flat color by applying oil color in thin layers with watercolor brushes.
Sometimes he mixed his Nebraska scenes with elements from his travels, leading to paintings in which mountains and tropical vegetation from his trips to Central America appear in a Nebraska farm scene.
Nichols was also an illustrator and printmaker, working in woodcarvings and lithographs. His lithographs of Nebraska farm scenes are strongly graphic and wonderfully evocative of light and mood.
Unfortunately, I can’t find a large repository of images of his work on the web, though I’ve listed what resources I can find below. One of the best sources is Christie’s past lots, of which many images are zoomable.
There is a book accompanying the traveling exhibition, Dale Nichols Transcending Regionalism, published by the Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art, and a Facebook page devoted to the book and exhibition.
The exhibition is currently at the Georgia Museum of Art, where it will be on view until February 27, 2011; it then moves to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts from March 17 to June 17, 2012.
[Suggestion courtesy of John Derry]