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  • AT HOME & IN THE STUDIO WITH
    NICK CAVE
    Visual & Performance Artist, Chicago
    STORY AND IMAGES BY TARIQ DIXON
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  • Nick Cave - famous for his otherworldly performance art costumes known as 'Soundsuits' - says he's a messenger first, artist second.
    Considered by many to be among the the most influential, living, American artists, Mr. Cave humbly denies such adoration as his primary motive or aspiration. Instead, he considers his work a vehicle for a broader agenda - a medium for social commentary and community building. From his ongoing presence in Chicago neighborhoods to his recent work in Dakar, Senegal, Nick's decades long career and portfolio of work speaks for itself. While Mr. Cave's mission as a messenger and artist requires no defense, I still found his sense of purpose most strongly conveyed through his own words - but even more honest and convincing than the content of the dialogue was the earnestness of his voice.

    When we visited Mr. Cave at his Chicago home, he was somewhat reserved at the onset - understandably so, as he very graciously invited two unfamiliar people into his private home. His caution, compounded with the natural intimidation that comes from meeting a contemporary art legend, left me a bit clumsy. I nervously stumbled, attempting to quickly capture a suitable portrait shot in order to relieve Mr. Cave of his modeling duties.
    However, after only a brief exchange of words, Nick seemed to very genuinely warm up to our presence - embracing us not only as welcomed house guests, but seemingly, as good, old friends. Throughout the visit, we found ourselves laughing in hysterics and exchanging childhood stories - bantering as if we shared far more history than our actual brief interactions.

    Nick walked us through his extraordinary art collection, which he began years ago as fledgling artist - sometimes even foregoing the timely fulfillment of fiduciary responsibilities at the merciless captivation of an artwork. From Barkley Hendricks to Kehinde Wiley, Mr. Cave's vast collection simultaneously tells the evolution of 20th century African-American art, along with his own personal journey.

    Take a tour of Nick's Chicago loft, studio, and shop products inspired by his wildly imaginative sense of design.
  • Does your process often start with a material that provokes a specific thought?

    What triggers or inspires a new idea is being open to this sort of search - this hunt for an object that provides multiple readings. I'm always looking - I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but when its there, it has a different sort of pulse. The vibration, the intensity of it, is very present, so I sort of know. I may not know how I'm going to use it right away, but I know it has the proper ingredients to be transformed into something.

    I'm amazed when I find an object and I'm not yet sure of its use, but the object is so grand in its presence and ability. You know, I've had things for years and then all of a sudden, Parts B and C appear in the world. Then I bring them here, and it all just comes together like magic. So it's an ongoing process of recognition and response.

  • How does the meaning of a Soundsuit change when its displayed as sculpture versus in a performance?

    I think I've sort of come to an understanding with these two ways of responding to the work. I used to go to the Met or the Museum of Natural History and see artifacts that I'm forced to look at in a sculptural role - yet these objects played such significant roles in culture and society. That's when I came to a bit of an “Aha” moment in realizing that yes, it can be a sculptural object, but it has the potential of being brought to the body and activated.

    That's what I like about what I do - that it can be a sculpture, but then activated for a performance, video or even still photography. Its about the ability to negotiate and navigate as you move through the process. Five people could wear one suit and respond to it completely differently, so I'm always learning about the work and its potential. There's never really a resolution, which is perfect.

  • There was a definite a social message with your original sound suit. Does this theme persist throughout the entire collection?

    From my perspective, the work is very political. It may not appear so on the surface, but as you spend time with the work and investigate, its very dark. The first sound suit was in response to Rodney King, and its ironic that I'm now working on a new piece that deals with Trayvon Martin. It's interesting how it all comes full circle.

  • I have my own thoughts, but how is your work transformative for the viewer? How does it promote social change, if at all?

    I'm an artist with a conscience and a civic responsibility, and I want my performance-based work to be a vehicle for change. I bring my work to a community, and hire the community to build the performance - interfacing with performers, dancers, musicians and thinking about ways of working together. It's really about letting my work fall into the hands of individuals, and building a celebration around the experience. It's not something that I really think about, it's just what I do. That's the messenger part of what I do. I'm a messenger first, artist second, professor third.

  • I'm always looking - I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but when its there, it has a different sort of pulse. The vibration, the intensity of it, is very present - so I sort of know.

  • Can you recall a moment when you first recognized an interest in becoming an artist?

    I've always done art, and I was always encouraged to nurture and manifest myself in that way - it was never forbidden. I grew up with six brothers, so our home was just sports-crazy. But for some reason, I was always a maker. I always made cards for my mother, and I think that's why I became so interested. She would make it seem like [those cards] were the fiercest f**king things in the world. Her reaction made me wonder, "This little thing is that impactful?" So I started to think about the effect - what effect this could possibly have on the world.

  • Success for artists is often preceded by turbulence. Were there ever any moments of doubt?

    I do remember what it was like when I sold a piece and thought "RENT!" There were times when the phone would be disconnected and mother would be screaming "what is going on?" But I wouldn't change a thing. It's nice to be able to wake up to your destiny everyday. I wake up and this is what I do. Even job wise, no matter what, it had to be creative. Otherwise, I wasn't working. I can't wear a suit to work. I'm just not made up that way.

  • I started taking this idea of collecting really seriously. It really became about what I want to look at everyday, and what is important to have around me. The work may be loud, in some cases, but something about it also is very calming.

  • What has been your process for assembling this incredible art collection?

    Since I've been 19 years old in graduate school, trading with friends - that's when the process starts. And so as you grow up and mature, you're able to sell work, and then put money into buying work. Then it becomes an interesting, sort of cycle that's really quite nice. You bring in a new piece, but then you find it may not necessarily sit well next to this, so you find that you're moving things around. Its about relationships within the space - putting the physical body within the space and making it a part of the environment.

    This is how I started taking this idea of collecting really seriously. It really became about what I want to look at everyday, and what is important to have around me. The work may be loud, in some cases, but something about it also is very calming.

  • What's the first piece you were able to purchase as a collector?

    It's a painting of John Kirby titled “Black, White and Gray.” When I saw it, I didn't buy it right away - I literally could not not buy it, but I thought about it everyday for like three months. I said, “I'm going to work toward getting this,” even though I didn't know how, where, when it was going to happen.

    Three months went by, so I called the gallery to see if it was still there - and IT WAS. I asked them for the price, but when they told me all I could say was “Sigh.” So I emailed them back and asked, “What can you do?” They know what that means...When they finally responded, they asked “What would you be willing to pay?” I sent them a price and he emailed me back saying “No.” Just “No.” I was so distraught. My studio assistants thought someone had died. But then, maybe two weeks later, I got a message saying “Sir, you can have it.” I was like, “Oh my god! The celebration started!”

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  • It's not something that I really think about, its just what I do...I'm a messenger first, artist second, professor third.

  • I'm always learning about the work and its potential. There's never really a resolution, which is perfect.

  • SHOP THE STORY
  • It's nice to be able to wake up to your destiny everyday. I wake up and this is what I do.