Larissa Nowicki

Larissa Nowicki’s sculptures and weavings are formed from the printed pages of books, sliced and intricately woven to form new works that cannot be read in the traditional sense. The loosely assembled grids and reductive forms invoke a vocabulary of minimalism, creating a link with the work of Agnes Martin, whilst their tactile construction references the work of Anni Albers.

The process of weaving is, at the same time, both controlled and random. The final outcome is determined by series of rules and systems imposed by the artist, who often then chooses to exhibit the back of the weaving, where the effect produced is random. Nowicki’s choice of source material is increasingly specific and its selection contributes to the overall meaning of the work. Purged of metaphor, and yet loaded with sophisticated layers of signification, the titles become a crucial element to understanding the work.

The fragments of type and images used by Nowicki in her earliest woven works imply the process of thought, reason and receiving of information. There is something almost Platonic about the interrelation between metaphysics and epistemology. In ‘Annunciation’ (2009), the densely woven grids of letters and words are punctuated randomly by blank squares empty of print. The blanks that appear on the horizontal weave are highlighted with gold leaf as if to create silent and reflective moments within the noise of daily life. By splicing up original texts and weaving them together to create a new composition, Nowicki seems to be grasping towards an ideal Form of beauty and knowledge. The direction is from the particular to the general. There is also a sense in which Nowicki acknowledges that what our senses deliver in relation to the work is not ultimate reality. The ideal Form towards which the work is pointing cannot be experienced in a sensory way. As Agnes Martin wrote, ‘When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye it is in the mind. In our minds there is awareness of perfection.’(1)

One of the challenges presented by Nowicki’s work is the extent to which it demands the direct presence of the viewer in order to be properly understood. Reproduction images fail to capture adequately the detail and fragility in the work, whilst an extended temporal experience marked by close observation does not fail to reward. Nowicki deliberately draws on as many original texts as possible to ensure that there are multiple layers to discover in the work. She is particularly fascinated with how individual letters and words from different original texts weave together to create new words, sentences or messages by chance. These multiple layers take time to digest, thereby encouraging the act of perceiving to become part of the viewing experience.

This deliberate slowing up of the viewing experience also drives Nowicki’s interest in duplication, multiplying, doubling, pairing and editioning. Works exhibited in series look similar at first glance, but upon closer inspection, the differences become apparent. This is clearly demonstrated in some of her earliest works including ‘What you don’t at first see (on the surface)’ (2006), ‘Sutures’ (2007) and more recently in ‘Untitled’ (2009), a series of magnesium printing plates mounted on cherry wood. For each of these works, Nowicki scanned the surface of one of her finished weavings and then transferred the scanned image to a metal printing plate from which she took a further print, or simply exhibited the plate as a sculptural piece. There is a neat circularity about the way in which work that started out in the printed medium returns to it again. By commenting on its own process of production, this work raises questions about the cultural value and significance of the written word in both its original and new context; questions which are amplified further by the decline of traditional printing processes and print artifacts in favor of digital formats and readers.

In the past couple of years, there has been a progression in Nowicki’s work as she has started exploring printed images (as opposed to text). One of the earliest examples of this can be seen in ‘La Vierge Reconsidered’, a series of seven weavings that appear at first glance to be identical. Each individual weaving is made using a different copy of the same specific set of pages and color images from the same original two books. Because each book was stored apart within diverse environments, the paper has aged and deteriorated differently. These differences are further enhanced by the way in which Nowicki has incorporated color and gold leaf into the work. It is not possible, simply by looking, to work out the system she has used – but by spending time closely observing the work, it is possible to make visual comparisons and distinctions between the individual weavings.

The pages and images that Nowicki chose for this work are significant. The section that she chose contained the callout printed large: “…and the Virgin assumes the appearance of the most beautiful women of the day” and “…and princesses replace saints.” From this, the pages that she shredded to make the horizontal strips included 6 black and white images of the Virgin Mary painted by Lippi, Vinetti, Crivelli, Botticelli, and Cosimotura, each of which varies significantly in their representation of the Virgin Mary, and the words “feminine beauty occupies an increasingly important place in Quattrocento painting as, under the influence of platonic ideas, a secular conception of art develops and luxury in private life increases.” The pages that were shredded to make the vertical strips include a painting of Eve on the Foscari Arch by Rizzi and part of a fresco showing the crowning of the elect from Orvieto Cathedral.

For the second stage of the weaving, Nowicki turned to the reverse side of the work and generated a system to weave color strips into any section where a blank horizontal strip occurred, and gold over any squares where text appeared. The color strips were sliced from Botticelli’s ‘Allegory of Spring’, from a section of the painting where the three women are touching hands.

In ‘La Vierge Reconsidered’ the images of Mary (horizontals) are juxtaposed with images of Eve (verticals), and Christian imagery is juxtaposed with Botticelli’s Pagan imagery. Yet, in each context, the women are depicted to symbolize fertility, marriage and love. Through these juxtapositions, and perhaps also through her use of weaving which is traditionally considered a feminine craft, Nowicki raises poignant questions about the depiction and contemporary role of women in art.

Nowicki’s most recent work, ‘The Taste of our Time’ (2011), focuses exclusively on the re-use of printed images. Its title derives from an eponymous series of 34 monographs on individual artists, published by Skira between 1953 – 1968. Nowicki has used each monograph to create two color weavings representative of that artist’s lifelong palette, and mounted one weaving on each of the front and back cover of the original monograph. Finally, she has connected all of the 68 panels into two quilt-like structures that give an overview of all the artists’ ‘color palettes’. In this new work Nowicki is exploring the way in which color that has been printed on paper is intended to replicate the color of an original painting or artwork. Just as the paint and materials used to make the original work is unstable and may change over time, so the color images within the books age and deteriorate over time.

Similar themes are explored in another recent series of collaged works, which compare the color of sky in different reproductions of paintings by Canaletto. These Canaletto works are exhibited together to show how differently each book reproduces Canaletto’s sky colors. The different factors that come into play are the age of the book, when and where it was printed, what it was printed on and how the book was maintained.

These latest works invite the viewer to look longer and deeper to see subtle differences in the work; to question the validity of what they are looking at and to consider how ‘truthful’ the source reference was. Their exploration of color also references the work of artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, Theo van Doesburg and other proponents of Hard Edge painting and Geometric Abstraction. These are works that finely balance their contradictions – order with disorder, imperfection with precision, veracity with divergence and stability and control within moments of complete vulnerability. The temporal and sensory viewing experience that is required of these nuanced surfaces is all about digging for what you don’t at first see (on the surface).

(1). Martin, Agnes, Writings, edited by Dieter Schwarz, Winterthur: Ostfildern, Cantz Verlag, 1991

Born in 1972, New York, USA
Lives / works in New York, USA

2006: MA Communication Art and Design, Royal College of Art, London, UK
1993: BA, Graphic Design, Rhode Island School of Design, USA

Solo Exhibitions
2013: ‘A Series from Within’. Man&Eve, London, UK
2009: ‘In Waiting’, Man&Eve, London, UK

Selected Group Exhibitions
2013: ‘Remix: Selections from the ICC at the Katonah Museum of Art’, Katonah, New York, USA
2012: ‘Pulse (Man&Eve)’, Miami — ‘Continue to Continue’ CES Contemporary, Laguna Beach, California, USA — ‘Remix: Selections from the International Collage Center’ The Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Sedalia, Missouri, USA — ‘Material Measure: Use and Reinvention of Maps’, The Institute Library, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
2011: ‘In the Great Process’, Man&Eve pop-up space, London, UK — ‘Origine(s)’, Maison Particulière, Brussels
2010: ‘Dig Down in Time’, Man&Eve Project Space, London, UK — ‘Book Ends’, James Fuentes Gallery, New York, USA — ‘Illiterature’, CSU University Art Gallery, California State University, California, USA
2009: ‘Illiterature’, Frumkin Gallery, Santa Monica, California, USA — ‘NADA Art Fair’, Miami Beach, USA
2008: ’8 1/2 × 11 / A4’, James Fuentes Gallery, NYC USA — ‘Illiterature’, LIMN Art Gallery, San Francisco, CA USA — ‘RISD NYC Biennial 2008’, Brooklyn, New York, USA — ‘Group Exhibition of Gallery Artists’, Man&Eve Gallery, London, UK
2007: ‘Paper-thin worlds’, Man&Eve, London, UK — ‘Storytelling’, Man&Eve, London, UK — ‘Year_07 Art Projects’, London, UK — ‘Aqua Wynwood art fair’, Miami, USA
2006: ‘Recent Graduate’s Work’, group show, Conran Headquarters, London — ‘The Show’, Royal College of Art, London, UK — ‘Encyclopedia Typographica’, Royal College of Art, London, UK
2004: ‘The Blue Room’, Royal College of Art, London, UK

2012: Residency at The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, USA
2011: Pulse Miami Prize. USA
2006: Augustus Martin Memorial Award, Innovation in Print Media, Royal College of Art, UK

2012: ‘Remix: Selections from the International Collage Center’ — Published by the International Collage Center, USA
2007: Author, ‘Who Needs a Client’, The Woodhill Park Critical Forum — Ed. Nick Evans, published by The Royal College of Art, UK