Michael Nicholson

b. 1916

"Michael Nicholson is an artist who has worked in sculpture, painting and video. Born in 1916 into a branch of the famous Nicholson family of English artists that include: Sir William, Ben, Nancy et al and with an engineer father and an armament manufacturing uncle, Michael spent his early years at boarding schools and on military service. At the end of World War Two he found himself demobilised, confronting the future with a wife and two small children as well as a deep felt need to find something more mentally stimulating than his military experiences to nourish the spirit and put bread on the table.

The fates, together perhaps with a pinch of genetic influence, decreed an adventure in the Fine Arts: Camberwell; the Euston Road Group; postgraduate studies and a lectureship at the London Central School of Art and Design, followed in due course by his small tribe's escape from the horrors of immediately post war London to what seemed idyllic conditions: immigrant status and a secure job at the Auckland University in New Zealand. Michael's project was to run a programme with lecturers from the schools of Architecture and Art, offering an alternative take on the visual arts field to the standard romantic painters perspective on which the art school then held a monopoly.

Michael's work was shown in the influential Object and Image exhibition arranged by Colin McCahon at Auckland City Art Gallery in 1954. This was the first public exhibition in NZ of abstract works and his works were shown alongside those of McCahon, Milan Mrkusich, Kass Jackson, Ross Frazer and Gabrielle Hope. This commitment earned for Michael, late starter as he was, a period of stability in which to develop his own individual progressive style; then a year of study leave in Australia led to a resignation from the Auckland job and relocation for himself and his family to Sydney, NSW.

This move marked the end of what he had thought of as his apprenticeship and the start of a full on career in the domain of Visual Language Games, which were to be realised in two and three dimensions with whatever means happened to be available in the particular place at the particular time. The trajectory of the Australian practice was to begin with something which Michael thought of, at the time, as the orchestration of defined architectural space with things; site specific sculpture, a way of working which was made available to him as a consequence of his studies in the interaction of art and architecture during his time at Auckland University.

Turning his hand to this sculptural practice, he executed important sculpture commissions and exhibited in shows such as the Mildura Sculpture Triennials, the Sydney Biennale of 1976 and at Watters Gallery in Sydney. At the same time he was sponsoring various audience participatory sculpture events under the Rational Hyphen Absurd rubric of his studio, with student participation.

Opting to simplify his lifestyle Michael then transposed his project to a twenty hectare block of rock and gum trees in the Maroota State Forest, west of Sydney; paying his way when cash ran out with night shifts at Sydney Yellow Cabs.

In 1986 he re-established ties with New Zealand and in 1988 returned to live and work in Wellington in the company of his partner, the artist, writer and publisher, Janet Paul.

Michael's engagement with the electronic media has been opportunistic. While working as artist in residence at an up country CAE in Australia in 1977 he had the good fortune to find a Scanimate Video Synthesiser interfaced with a computer. Working with its crew, he was able to produce the raw material for what was eventually to become the Visual Music Project Stage: 3. Thanks to a few years working with virtual forms of Visual Music and through Janet's daughter Jane, who works at the New Zealand Film Archive, Michael was able to complete the project with a screening and installation at the Archive in 2008.

His engagement with life in general has been less opportunistic. Michael notes that any of the countless forms of human practice sufficiently differentiated to have its own name may be, and usually is, played as a game. Games, as he says, have rules 'doing it proper' - and they demand skill of execution. Their aim is to succeed without being caught cheating, although that is where the breakthroughs usually occur. Some players keep their score in money, others in tries scored, others again in artwork successfully brought to life.

Michael Nicholson says that he continues to play, with as much determination and finesse as he can muster, the game that he has chosen: the Visual Language Game, as Yin to the Yang of his routine existence, because there seems to be no reason not to."

- text supplied by the artist

Recent Exhibitions 

Rear Window Project, Dunedin Public Art Gallery