This year's Conrad Lecture is titled "Investigating Built Environments" and features artist Nick Combere, whose work is currently displayed in the Phillips Museum Curriculum Gallery as part of the River Relations exhibit.
Nick Conbere utilizes landscape, seen through the lens of personal experience and narrative, as a means to consider human/nature relationships. Through drawing and other related media, the work presents ideas of documentary, allegory, and envisioned futures.
We sat down with Conbere to learn more about his process and what exactly inspires him!
PMA: What was your source of inspiration behind River Relations?
NC: In the River Relations project, I was interested in applying ideas I had used in other projects in a way that responds to a specific environment. We chose the Columbia River because it had both visual appeal (vast scenery, change of environments over the course of the river) and also the dams represented issues that were in the regional public spotlight, but also represented a complex, and in some ways problematic, approach to using natural resources.
PMA: I've noticed that a lot of your work centers around nature. What sorts of things do you look for in nature and what determines your selection? How much does your initial selection determine your final composition?
NC: In nature, I'll usually have a destination in mind, often places that represent an intertwining of natural and human history. Once I'm at a chosen location or region, I often sketch or photograph anything that captures my attention, without filtering imagery or deciding in advance what to do with it.
PMA: What can you tell us about your process; anything special about your technique? Anything noteworthy about how you approach to capturing your environment?
NC: I think my process is notable in that it starts with direct observation. It comes out of drawing classes in which I'd have to draw from a figure model or a still life. That process always seemed accessible, something one could do without being overly concerned with final concepts or products. From the direct observations, I aim to create works that evolve from the sketches done from observation.
PMA: What do you find most challenging about your work and how do you keep yourself motivated?
NC: One challenging aspect to creating artwork is that my process is time-consuming, fairly slow. Initial research as well as creating the artwork all seems to take a long time, so it can take years to build up a body of artwork.
PMA: What is the best piece of advice you have been given when creating work? What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
NC: My advice to aspiring artists is to work incredibly hard and be persistent. In watching others succeed in various ways, a commitment to a studio practice seems to one of the most important elements for success. In my life, setting aside regular time for studio work can be a challenge, but, for me, the commitment also helps make art feel meaningful and enjoyable.
Be sure to swing on by the museum to see Nick Conbere and John Holmgren's collaborative work in River Relations: A Beholder's Share of the Columbia River Dams.
For more information and to view more of his works, visit Nick Conbere's website here!