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Nicholas Nyland’s ‘Reliquary’

A merging of painting and sculpture at Feast Arts Center

Glazed ceramic sculpture by Nicholas Nyland

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Nicholas Nyland has been showing art around Tacoma for quite some time, and I thought I was familiar with his work, but the raw stoneware and terracotta earthenware in his show "Reliquary" at Feast Arts Center offers some things I've not seen from him before. His explosions of primary colors and jagged, chunky forms are typical of Nyland, but I've never seen such forms and colors combined with clay that has not been glazed. Or, to be more accurate, clay that is glazed only in strategic areas.

Predominant in the colors he uses are a soft baby blue combined with dark metallic grays and blues, delicate pink and lavender in at least one of the wall-hanging pieces, and in a few pieces a clash of every primary and secondary color on the color wheel. He contrasts these colors with the natural clay in exciting ways.

There are ceramic works best described as plates and relief paintings (descriptively, not literally) that hang on the wall, and there are freestanding ceramic sculptures displayed on tables, and paintings and drawings on paper and canvas. I think it would be accurate to describe the three-dimensional works as painterly sculpture or sculptural paintings.  Imagining Jasper Johns painting on ceramic sculptures by Peter Voulkos might give you a mental picture of these works. 

The forms are rough, and the colors are bright and highly contrasting. Many of them have a look that I associate with Mexican art, primarily because of the colors and the exuberance, which is, of course, not typical of all Mexican art. 

The art is abstract but inspired by the real world. You might not be able to identify what is depicted, but you might well sense the presence of architecture or playing cards or animals. The title of the show, "Reliquary," also hints at what inspired many of the forms. There are solid looking containers that look like they are made to hold relics, and the decorative surfaces on some of the wall-hung pieces look like either symbols on shields or coat-of-arms. 

In a written statement, Nyland explains, "I'm particularly interested in bringing antique motifs and elements of craft or applied art practices into a fine art context."

One of my favorite pieces looks like a beast of burden, a burro perhaps, that is wrapped with golden looped chains upon which have been stuck pendants of many colors. The beast's head is a color wheel. What I like about this is that it hints at representing something recognizable without giving away what it is -- more importantly, perhaps, without the meaning of all the reliquary items being made clear. I get the feeling all the connected items have deeply held personal meanings, but an element of mystery remains.  

The drawings and paintings have much the same quality as the sculptural pieces. They look vaguely like interior scenes, but items in the scenes are not recognizable in every instance. There are a couple of large works on paper that have as central figures what looks like a drum sitting in front of a window or door. There is a distinctive Matisse-like quality to these, but they are sketchier and more loosely painted. But yes, they do look quickly thrown together, but in an expressive and exciting way.   

Feast has limited gallery hours, so I suggest planning your visit ahead of time, and by all means, make it a priority to see this show.

NICHOLAS NYLAND'S "RELIQUARY," noon-4 p.m., Saturday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday, and by appointment, through Aug. 12, Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, 

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