Portrait of the Artist

Terence Nicholson

Exploring Exploration

By Noelani Kirschner | August 22, 2022
Crosstown Beef, 2022, acrylic on canvas.
Crosstown Beef, 2022, acrylic on canvas.

Several years ago, multimedia artist Terence Nicholson, known for his large-assemblage sculptures, began to explore painting on plexiglass and collaged canvas after the pandemic left him without a studio space. “I just allowed myself to play and not take the act of art-making or myself too seriously,” he says, “although some of the themes that are in the work are serious to me.” Those themes include Covid-19, the murder of George Floyd, the forced assimilation of Native-American children, and gentrification in the District of Columbia, where Nicholson was born and raised. “I walk through this world, and whatever sticks to me, sticks to me,” he says of his work. “Whether it’s through art or a song, it’s going to come out.”

A recent solo exhibition at the Strathmore Mansion in Bethesda, Maryland—titled Pivot, after Nicholson’s new direction as an artist—featured 20 of his recent paintings. Nicholson approached each one, despite the gravity of the subjects, with a wink and a nod at the composition’s absurdity. One painting, Body Politics, shows a wrapped body being poked and prodded by flying nasal swabs. Another, Adams Morgan 2003, features a large gorilla about to destroy several yellow cranes hovering over new buildings in a rapidly changing neighborhood. Of the latter, Nicholson says he’s questioning why developers often remake historically Black neighborhoods as destinations for wealthier white people. “I’m kind of a smartass,” he says. “And so a lot of my work is humorous because things that bug me, I tend to couch them in kind of humorous ways.”

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