It’s been written by me on these pages many a time at this point, but, for years now—since my late high school/early college days, at least—artist Nikki McClure has been producing material to make both Katie + me swoon, be it in her vocal-forward, radically personal music in the early + mid nineties or in her later visual work with traditional paper cuts. We’ve spoken with Nikki before about her work and how much we appreciate it; on the occasion of her first exhibition in Los Angeles since we’ve lived here, we wanted to catch up again and find out how things are going for her, how her work’s changed in the past few years, and what she’ll be showing at the exhibition, which opens this weekend (details at the end of this interview and on Giant Robot’s site).
raven + crow: Alright, so, it’s been a little while since we last spoke. What’s been going on for you in the past four or so years?
Nikki McClure: Four years. I could have been President. But instead, I’ve been making dinner, getting the kid to go to school (today we took a walk and then went to school, late), making new books, books, books, sailed to Alaska, swam off Japan and Santa Cruz, learned to scuba dive, built a house, swam across the inlet, wrote cranky emails, made crankies, and witnessed eagles mating every one of those four years.
Eagle voyeur, eh? No, I’d personally say that beats leader of the free world. Who wants that kind of responsibility? We’ve been enjoying all of the book work you’ve been doing of late too. Our cat, Allister, very much enjoys How to Be a Cat and would like to know if a particular cat inspired the book.
When I bought a house in 1998, with every last dime I had, there was a cat left behind. “That’s Bud. He lives in the garage. Don’t worry, the neighbors feed him.” Well, eventually I fed him and even let him on my lap though he was a stinky tomcat, blind, with a festering wound that would never heal because he had cat AIDS. He was Bud. I needed to make some more dimes after buying the house, so I made a cat calendar to support myself. The calendar became the inspiration for the book. My publisher was happy to just reprint the calendar, but I had changed a bit since 1998, so I added a kitten to the story. I’m happy to hear that your cat enjoys it. People send me pictures of their cats with the book, often in a sunny spot. I’m not so sure if it’s the book or the warmth that the cats are digging.
Both, right? I noticed you’ve started doing a lot with large format prints—both digital + screen—and selling original paper cuts via BuyOlympia too—what inspired those moves?
Someone asked for a big print and BuyOlympia got a big printer and was already making prints for other artists. It seemed a way to make a nicer print than the offset mass produced ones that I sell. Plus, people have been framing the cheap prints and treating them like art, so why not up the ante and provide Art art for the people? The silk-screens are experiments with colors. I made some on wood for my last LA show. I will be making a silkscreen print for the Giant Robot show in LA of a 2016 calendar image. LA is Futureland, so why not? I discovered a cool printer here in Olympia, Justin Crawford. I liked what he was doing with color and ink and paper and images. It’s fun!
Yeah, I just took a look at his D.A.R.E. style shirt—nice. Is it tough for you to let go of those originals though?
Usually. But one of the first originals I sold was to a family with a little girl. My image would hang in their dining room. She would look at it every day for 12 years. It would become her visual memory, burned into her mind (I should laugh evilly here, but it makes me pretty happy and quietly humble). I keep one from every series. Now I let my son decide which one he wants. They will be his someday when I’m gone.
I had Justin Crawford print them up. I wasn’t happy with the cover of the 2015 calendar. TOO YELLOW, yet I wouldn’t let myself freak out with colors like I really, really wanted too. I’m pretty strict about my image making rules: one piece of paper, all connected, color to add meaning, one color added. So the rainbow color pallet of sunset didn’t fit into the rules. And when I tried it on computer…it looked weird and computer-y. But I really wanted to give it a go in a manual way. Silkscreening gave me that chance. The colors started out vibrant, then faded over the printing evening, just like the real sky was fading. I like that it shows time through the printing process. It also seemed that Japan would understand.
I want to write a series of short stories entitled “Japan Would Understand”. Speaking of Japan…by way of LA, now you’ve got a show coming up at the Asian American punk, arts + culture zine turned gallery + store, Giant Robot here in Los Angeles. Congratulations, first off. How did that come about?
Eric from Giant Robot asked me. Plus, my son has been asking me “When are we going back to LA? You should have a show again at that cool place.” I’ve had a few shows there. I’ve known Giant Robot for many years. (A pause while I remember). Was it the mid-1990’s??? early 90’s?? WE GO WAY BACK. It was through music, then through art that we connected and have maintained contact.
Awesome! Los Angeles scores cool points with America’s youth! What are you planning to show at the exhibition this go ’round?
I’ll show the originals from In, my latest children’s book, reviewed in LA Times last weekend. I’ll also show some of the 2015 calendar paper cuts and then a few other mixed assortments of ideas for my next book. I will also have the new silkscreen print.
That all sounds really fun—we’re excited to see it all in person. And excited to finally meet you in person and have you visit our fine city again!
YES! That is the reason why I’m having the show, to go to LA to that cool store (and eat and swim and see beauty).
We can help you with all of that. Any other plans while you’re here?
Eat, swim, the Getty, maybe the Last Bookstore’s tunnel, get new Vans for the kiddo, hook up with friends who will also be in LA.
Aw, I’d tell you to come to the vegan shoe store we run in Silver Lake, but we don’t carry kids’ stuff. Definitely back you up on the Getty plan and the Last Bookstore. Nice choices.
It’s funny, I feel like places like New York, San Francisco, and around Portland + Olympia usually have fairly strong opinions of LA—they love it or they hate it. Most of my life in New York, I was running off some pretty out-of-date estimations of a city I’ve grown to love. Do you have any thoughts on Los Angeles?
I absolutely love it, for a few days. But after that, I never want to drive again and also want to leave before I see something violent (which I have lingered too long and too late and have seen in LA). LA is beautiful. There are avocado trees! And everything is so shiny and smiling and there is too much to do. I will notice the polluted air. I live in such a clean place. Portland is stinky and too many cars. Seattle is stinky and too many cars. Olympia is just right for me.
You make some pretty good points. Though I’d counter—visit our neighborhood, Beachwood Canyon. I just got back from a 6 mile run in the mountains with our dog. You can see all the way to the ocean and you’re surrounded by nature a short walk away from Hollywood proper. It’s amazing.
This might be a bit of a non-sequiter, but I feel like you’ve become this sort of ambassador to the idea of slowing down and enjoying life in a certain way. Did you reach a point in your life where you realized that had to become a priority? Or have you always had that perspective?
You are the second interview this week to think so…the fact that I have 2 interviews does not mean that I am busy. I’m just in a YES mood and 2 people were curious enough to ask.
Slow Life Ambassador? Hmmm…. It’s always been a priority to me to allow room in my life for spontaneity, to allow room in my life to LIVE. I’ve been lucky to find a way to be supported by so many people (all those calendar-buyers—thank you!). The work I do sometimes is Work work, but I can only physically cut paper for a few hours a day, and I can only think up so many creative thoughts before we have to go out to dinner because I’ve no creative energy left to think up what to make for dinner! There is no homemade pie those nights. I am addicted to gazing out windows or lying down on the sodden Earth and watching birds fly about. I have the only job that allows me to do that as part of my job! Slowing down, I haven’t pushed things along. I’ve let my life happen organically and that can be slow. Sometimes it is fast, things and projects sprout like mushrooms. Picking mushrooms and berries, swimming and hammocking: all these things take time and only happen one season a year. It would be a shame, and not living to let a season slip by without taking time, using time in other ways. I’ve said NO to a lot of things, but never NO to a walk, or swim, or blueberry patch.
I like that. A lot. It’s actually been a subject that’s been on my and my partner’s minds a lot lately—any advice for those of us trying not to buckle under the weight of everything going on in our lives? What do you do when you feel like things are getting out of hand or your spreading yourself thin?
Walk. Take a walk together. Make time to walk because when you are done everything will be better and you’ll do everything so much quicker that it will feel like you made time expand. Have a 3 minute dance party if it’s raining too hard or you have something due in 1 hour and it is freaking you out.
Excellent advice! Except that it never rains in LA…sadly. Speaking of doing too much though, we started up this retrospective online music journal with a partner + friend of ours called Forgotten Favorite, where we sing the praises of some of our favorite 10+ year old songs—you should totally contribute if you ever have any interest. Anyway, it’s had me digging more through my old music, yours included, and I keep meaning to write up a Nikki McClure favorite. I know it’s sometimes weird, but did you have a favorite of your own?
Ha! I’ve been trying to listen to the new Sleater-Kinney album, but my machine is shuffling all their songs from all the years. I am flipping back and forth in time and age. …God, it is so sunny. I might just ditch this interview!
Hah! Wait, beforee you do—I always loved that song you did for the 89.3 KAOS benefit, “EGD (Pop God)”, which I think you did with Tae from Kicking Giant (another one we want to write up). Do you still keep in touch with K Records + KRS crowd at all? Has everyone moved on to…I don’t know, home goods and design firms or is anyone doing music any more?
Yes, no. I picnicked with Lois under the cherry trees at the state Capitol last week. I sometimes see Calvin about. Kicking Giant is going to play in Olympia in May. Tae is a book designer. Rachel Carns makes Magic Kombucha. I made a t-shirt of Bud the cat for the new Sleater-Kinney tour.
Back in 2011, we asked you about your apparent (and shared) fascination with crows. Since, we’ve moved to Los Angeles, where, in our area, we have an abundance of ravens, of all things. It’s awesome. But if you had to—had to—pick a favorite wild animal, what would it be? I’m guessing owl…..
The crows are calling “GOD DAMN DOGS!” That’s what they say here …or what I’ve taught them to say (that’s a long story). We feed them scraps of fishes and they are respectfully wild, yet curious about us in a way that is not quite tame. More equal in our animal-ness.
Oh, I still love crows. We do have a raven pair who who of shoof by in flight, two eagles too, and occasionally an owl. My son would vote owl or Bufflehead.
But those are birds…favorite of all animals? My husband, Jay T. and my son, Finn.
Now for the SUNSHINE!!! I might not need LA for sun after all. But I’ll go. I’ll swim in the warm ocean. Favorite swimming spots anyone??? Please share. Also Japanese food??? and ice creams. And another uniquely LA spots??
Ooh—the swimming’s only marginal, but the beach is amazing—visit El Matador State Beach if you can! And Japananese—Tastu near the gallery for ramen + Shojin in Culver CIty and in an awesome Japanese mall downtown for really good vegan sushi and super-nice staff. Then one of our favorite Brooklyn coffee + ice cream joints—Van Leeuwen—copied us and made the move out here. They’re still working on their west coast brick + mortars, but you can catch they’re truck around town. Check them out on Twitter for today’s as-of-yet announced location. They make my favorite vegan ice cream out of coconut + cashew milk. So rich + creamy.
Thanks so much for talking with us again—can’t wait for the show this weekend!
It will be fun. See you there.
15,000 Years Later, Nikki’s exhibition, opens this Saturday, April 4 with a reception 630-10PM at GR2 Gallery—Giant Robot’s gallery—located at 2062 Sawtelle Boulevard. Nikki will also be talking about her process at an Art Talk at the space at 5PM on Sunday, April 5. You can view + purchase much of Nikki’s back catalogue via long-time purveyor of all things Nikki McClure, buyolympia.com.
Below, Nikki’s studio + a work in progress; a storm water hatch cover she designed—”They are on all Olympia streets and my outdoor shower!”; a new print; bucolic Olympia; a lovely looking pie made by Nikki; and the artist enjoying some walking + gathering in the woods.