Art professor featured at Downing Museum

Professor Michael Nichols has several buon fresco works on exhibition at the Downing Museum at the Baker Arboretum in Bowling Green. Matt Lunsford/HERALD

Megan Cole

Mike Nichols, art professor of 12 years at WKU, opened his new exhibit, titled “Refresh,” at Downing Museum Monday, Sept. 19, seeking to advance upon the concepts of creative thought and boldness. 

In his featured pieces, Nichols takes a new spin on Buon Fresco, an art technique of painting onto wet plaster. The paint fuses into the plaster, essentially creating colored limestone. Through modern techniques, Nichols made the ancient practice contemporary in his work.

The exhibit includes modular pieces of fresco projecting from the wall and a focal piece, “Limelight,” designed to bend and conform to the shape of the room.

“If light were to come into the room from a stained glass window, it would hit the wall and floor,” Nichols said. “So, you see that the installation bends. I wanted to celebrate that and the blues that come with stained glass.”

The exhibit also features portraits made by silverpoint, a technique involving fine metal rubbed over a textured surface.

“They look really still, yet the silver on the surface of the paper is actually oxidizing right before our eyes,” Nichols said. “But we can’t see it because it’s a long process. In a couple of years, it will gradually grow warmer, which initially contradicts between its appearance and the underlying nature of the thing. I like that.”

This follows the idea of shifting edges, and how we never know when things begin or end, Nichols explained.

After attending a workshop at the Los Angeles Fresco School, taught by founder iLia Anossov, Nichols felt it was his duty as a contemporary artist and professor to push the medium in a way that made it approachable for contemporary art audiences.

During his 2014 sabbatical leave, Nichols received a grant from the Research and Creative Activities Program to dig into contemporary Buon Fresco, which is when he began some of the pieces now in his “Refresh” exhibit.

Nichols said he wants viewers to come see the exhibit with their own perspective and to look at it the way they want to see it. Most importantly, he said, he wants visitors of the museum to be able to get what they want out of the experience.

“A lot of people will ask me, ‘why don’t you just make pretty paintings in fresco,’ but I feel very satisfied seeing if I can push the boundaries a little bit more, and see if I can think of it in a new way that it hasn’t been thought about before,” Nichols said. “That’s important to me.”

This is the first time the Downing Art Museum has offered an exhibit dedicated to the fresco art form before, according to Jack LeSieur, interim director of the museum.

LeSieur said Nichols was chosen from a series of artists to showcase their exhibits; and this is just one of many exhibits Nichols has under his belt.

“His whole purpose is to provide the viewer with something new and a fresh perspective of the practice, and he follows through with that through the Refresh exhibit,” LeSieur said.

Reporter Megan Cole can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected].