Downing Museum Visiting Artist Exhibition Program
In Her Words
Statement of Intent
In Her Words features works on paper by Kentucky-based artist Leslie Nichols. An Artist Enrichment Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women supported the work in this exhibition. Through image and text, In Her Words presents women who are working for positive social change in the community of Bowling Green, Kentucky. In addition to depicting women living in the area, the portraits in this exhibition visualize the historical context of American women’s lives and convey a sense of social heritage. With this content in mind, it would be ideal for the exhibition to take place some time in March during Women’s History Month.
The exhibition includes large-scale acrylic paintings on paper and small-scale typewritten works on paper. The large-scale portraits depict women who are social activists, cultural workers, and artists in South Central Kentucky. These women actively shape our community through their work and actions. Each woman’s image emerges from her own words as well as words of other women who have inspired them to action or creativity. A study for one of the works I propose to show was awarded first place in the Downing Museum’s 2016 Jack Lunt Memorial Exhibition. In the Juror Statement, Ronnie Criss wrote, “One Big Human Experience by Leslie Nichols delicately combines text and color to produce a truly inspirational work.” Alongside the colorful large-scale works, intimately-scaled images of contemporary artists and scholars materialize from typewritten historical texts. As a whole this exhibition presents images and words of inspiring contemporary and historic women who impact the social conditions of our lives.
The texts in my visual work offer a unique opportunity for visitor interaction. To engage visitors I will indicate which texts appear in each portrait and create a small reading area to invite visitors to explore the original historical texts that appear in the works. Additional resources for this reading area will include information about projects these women are passionate about including local food access, the Fairness Campaign, and multicultural art education.
As an extension of the exhibition, I welcome the opportunity to engage with the public through events related to the content of the show and women’s history month. If appropriate, I would be happy to provide a brief introduction to the exhibition for community groups or women’s organizations that want to meet at the museum during the exhibition.
I look forward to discussing how my proposal can enhance the Downing Museum’s mission to engage the public through art. Please feel free to contact me if I can provide any additional details. Thank you for your consideration.
In Her Words
The presence (or absence) of women in textual productions of culture is central to my creative work. In her essay “The Laugh of Medusa,” Helen Cixous implores women, “Write your self. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring forth.” In a culture where women and things associated with them have been marginalized or limited in possibilities, how do women “write themselves,” speak their own words, and form their own stories? This exhibition of portraits is a space to envision women as the authors of their lives.
My primary medium as a visual artist is a manual typewriter. I use this early tool of secretaries and other textual mediums such as letterpress and stamps to craft images of women with words. My choice to use the typewriter, a machine with a gendered and technological history, is a cue to a developing metaphor and conversation through time. Significantly, the typewriter was first a woman’s tool as a typist, or secretary, to transcribe the words of men, but became a tool for women to write (or in my case draw) the essence of their lives. Portraits that materialize from text allude to the idea that our lives are the creations of our minds and social construction.
The large-scale portraits on display depict women who are social activists, cultural workers, and artists in South Central Kentucky. These women actively shape our community through their work and actions. Each woman’s image emerges from her own words as well as words of other women who have inspired them to action or creativity. In more intimately-scaled typewritten works, images of contemporary artists and scholars develop from historical and classic social texts, just as individuals develop in a specific context of time and place.
As I layer words to create a portrait, I balance literary meaning with the visual character of letterforms. Although some portions of the text are readable, most words dissolve in visual marks embedded with literary content. Some of text appears unusual through irregular spacing and at times it becomes unreadable as the layered words transform from literary markers into visual material. I combine my source materials to create an object that exists at the intersections of visual art, poetry, and typography.