Almost every night my husband brings me home a fish. It’s been our ritual for a decade. A kind of seal on the day’s end. With the presentation of a fish, the workday endeth. Each fish gets a number on its back. Last night’s fish was #1362. That’s the total completed so far. Usually Rik’s fish are of the bright and colorful variety—made from repurposed materials like cookie tins and bottlecaps. They hang cheerfully, as these do, in various galleries and museum shops (e.g. The American Folk Art Museum shop) around the U.S.
In a spirit similar to that of Neo-Dadaist Jasper Johns’ variations of flags, targets, and maps of the U.S., Rik uses the fish to play traditional fine art/folk art expectations against consumer culture, setting up a natural/man-made dialectic from “trash.” After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Rik began work on a new group of sad-but-also-beautiful fish he calls CRUDE (The Oil Spill Series).
For us in the Inland Northwest, oil spills are tragic, yet distant catastrophes (even the Valdez spill in Alaska). It’s one thing for it to happen There and to empathize, but what if it happened Here? To our own waterways, beaches, flora, fauna, and economy? Translate such a catastrophe to our local fish, right in our own front yard. Might that be more of an eye-opener, have more impact on awareness and influence consumer practices? Don’t know, but I resolved to try to find out by taking my repertoire of fish forms and mutating them into a “school” of deconstructed/reconstructed oil-spill-despoiled flotsam. This effort has pushed my bas-relief fish forms to more sculptural representations. I’m continuing to expand this body of work until I have enough to offer it up for a show, a show entitled Crude.
Rik Nelson Rik Nelson makes art out of cast-off consumer objects, recycled remnants and cultural detritus, and the art reanimates the natural world threatened by the very detritus he mines for his work. His work is shown and sold at: the Crow Valley Gallery, Orcas Island, WA; the Ohio Craft Museum, Columbus, OH; the New Morning Gallery, Asheville, NC; and the American Folk Art Musuem, New York, NY. As you can tell from the introduction, he is married to NC Contributing Editor Nance Van Winckel.
I’ve known and appreciated Rik’s fish for years–I have one hanging in my house. But these: wow. I am stunned by the intersection of craft, art, politics, and outrage. Stunning work by a talented–visionary–guy. Glad to have seen these.
Thanks so much Tod. I’m humbled!
I am also a proud owner of one of Rik’s custom original fish.
This new shoal – beautiful, rusty reminders, surfacing from some deeper, darker more dangerous waters, just blow me away!
Thanks, Ros! Your beautiful pastels always an inspiration, too.
I agree with Mr. Tod. It’s wonderful, of course, that almost 1400 of Rik’s dizzily happy fish now hang on people’s walls, but these sad ones are the ones I love most. These hurt ones. They hurt me back in the best way. They will be spectacular in a show one of these days.
Beautiful work, Rik. Beautiful discussion, Nance. All of it powerful and unsettling in an important way. I’ll keep thinking about these sad beauties.
Thanks Anna for all your support over the years! You’re the best.
Rik, these are AWESOME!
Hey Joe — glad you got to see these and liked them. All the best.
I’ve seen the fish Rik makes about the oil spills and it would be horrible if the fish in my river had that happen to them. Rik’s fish make me want to prevent that from happening. I don’t know what to do to prevent it though.
Bart Mihailovich, Spokane Riverkeeper, will get in touch with you to address your concerns and to provide actionable information. You can keep your river clean!