EN ROUTE WITH GEORGE NICK
|By Christopher Chippendale|
|Original Article, Art New England Febuary/March 1998|
YEARS AGO, GEORGE NICK SAT WITH
a small group of
graduate painters at Boston University whose work he was critiquing, and
told them, midway through the evening, a fable. The cautionary note of
his tale was one that he obviously relished, Just as he obviously relished
conveying the tale itself/ He spoke directly and vividly, without rhetorical
embellishment, and with the same straight talking immediacy that has for
decades characterized both his unmannered speech ("nickspeak,"" we used
to call it in the classroom) and his equally unmannered painting. On this
occasion, a telltale hurried edge in his voice conveyed the clarity of
moral conviction that underlay his works.
The fable told of race cars and their drivers, and of a curious onlooker, Nick himself, who stood "transfixed for five hours" alongside a treacherous S-curve in the track. Nick described how, with his eyes riveted to a single spot of pavement by a barrier, he calibrated by fractions the inches separating each driver's successful negotiation of the turn from "catastrophe." Thus depicted, driving seemed an act of defiance, wildness, precision, and will, with drivers steering a thin line between peril and potential victory. Then, midway along his course, Nick stopped, and said emphatically to his audience of young painters, "Now that is...concentration!"
Nick's exclamation carried with it a thinly veiled but nonetheless clear-cut warning and directive. Casualness in painting can have dire consequences. Strive to be in peak form-technically and mentally. Paint in the present moment, and become capable of reacting with precision to the here-and-now perilous curves of painting. Clearly, Nick's fable was meant to be instructional; but it was also deeply revealing of the artist himself.