Nolan Preece: Chemigrams, Photograms, Cliches-verre

Walter Wickiser Gallery

Oct. 1, 2024 - Nov. 12, 2020

Virtual Exhibition:
New York, 10001
Phone: (212) 941-1817

Nolan Preece: Chemigrams

A chemigramist and photographer for over forty years, Nolan Preece has devoted his work to understanding and mastering the challenging techniques of early photography and conceiving of new photo-based processes at the same time. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, his fondness for experimental photography led him to originate a photographic abstraction process that employed chemical masking techniques and staining in conjunction with a printed image. Preece called his resulting prints “chemograms,” but after recently engaging with a group of artists using similar processes—most notably Pierre Cordier of Brussels, Belgium—Preece has taken to using the term “chemigram” to describe his prints. Chemical graphic structures and coloration play an important role in much of this work by providing a visual uniqueness for environmental themes.

Preece’s interest in nature has always been a constant, from growing up in the deserts of eastern Utah, to being a river guide in Grand Canyon, to working as a field photographer for environmental impact statements, to creating an on-going series of landscape photographs and chemigrams. Douglas Collins with the Manhattan Graphics Center has summed up his chemigram landscapes in an article he recently wrote. “Somehow – you have to stare at these pictures for awhile for the sensation to grip you, but it will – he manages to draw the viewer into a ragged, moon-struck environment at a level that is close to the ground; we feel the way a small breathing creature must feel, a bird darting in the brush, a small snake, a muskrat, though none are seen; it is a world under our eye but totally alien to our species, devoid of humans. In this way it becomes uncanny, and this in turn is responsible for its strangely compelling hold on us. We should get used to it he seems to be saying. How does he do this? By his choice of colors for one thing: inverting what we expect in a representation of nature. There are no angels here. It is a primeval scene that could go either way. Nothing stirs. It awaits our signal, our consent, perhaps our involvement. In the years I’ve been following him it has only been with this work that his twin passions, darkroom tinkering and recognizing our stewardship of the earth, have come together in an unapologetic fusion that is of the most potent art.”

Preece experiments with everyday materials such as acrylic floor wax and common photographic chemical solutions and papers to produce his images. He often moves beyond the one-of-a-kind chemigram print by employing digital manipulation. Belgian photographer Pierre Cordier, who is widely respected as the founder of the chemigram field, referred to Preece in 2012 as “without a doubt, one of the outstanding practitioners of the chemigram.” After meeting Cordier, Preece was inspired to invent the use of acrylics and other substances as resists, beginning a very productive phase in his art and he has continued to create images of surprising complexity and beauty, exploring new methods. In 2016, Cordier endorsed him as a pioneer in the chemigram field by stating “You work like a painter who controls the forms of his work but you use masterfully the chemigram technique to make images that no one has seen before.”

A special thanks to the Nevada Museum of Art for contributing to this essay.

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