Lyle’s Note A | Drawing in real time of the bench on the train directly across from me. As a passenger got off and another got on the rule I made for myself was continue to draw from the same point I left off. Non-outline style of drawing is to emphasize the impermanence. Pen on paper in sketchbook. 2006.
≈| a conversation between Rebekah Lovejoy and Lyle Nisenholz |≈
RDL | Lyle, do you draw your images more from internal motivation or external model?
LN | I spent the last two years going from a very vast, wide-ranging, open art, to a rather restrained small reproducible object. They are both informed by my external reality, and struggling against what is possible. But, the image content is usually from internal motivation. Except for a series I made in 2005/06 of people riding the train in Tokyo.
RDL | You did a series of work that you posted around Tokyo in various neighborhoods. Did you document these pieces? How often did you go back to check on them? How long did they last? Did you learn anything about yourself as an artist from displaying your work anonymously?
LN | I had just fled a traumatic break-up separation experience with my former wife. I was living alone in Tokyo in a small, old temporary “foreigner rental” during the pit of Summer. I craved romance, love, and intimacy, and felt great freedom. But there was no one.
I think I found intimacy in this process. Drowned deep in the maddening heat and humidity, and at night following the inky Kanda canal — the artery of the city — I found what it meant to confide in myself to the farthest point in my life. So, I was confident that this process was romantic and provided adventure and completeness as well. At first I just made them. I was terribly afraid. Of course it’s not so radical, but considering what was emotionally at stake for me it seemed really revolutionary. From gathering the cardboard to sneaking out around the neighborhoods to placing the pieces, the process was entrancing to me.
Later, I began to document. The images are available to see on my website under the heading “Fun With Archive.” I photographed the images, and included the address plate of a nearby building, then finally placed the images on Facebook. I always forget to put my name on my artwork already. By the time I finish making most of my art, not only this series, I hardly care who made the work. So, the anonymity came naturally to me.
I was not obsessed with returning to see the status of the art, but if it was on the way to another destination I’d go check on it. The longest survivor was about six months (not including the stickers I put up last summer; those are still stuck). I slowly lost interest in the project as I found creating the work inconvenient, and the “revolutionary” sense was being replaced by a sobering realization that the process wasn’t so radical, and its effectiveness seemed hard to appreciate. It’s ironic that with the last couple of outdoor projects the toilet paper and leaves were perhaps truly confrontational.
LN | I want to make something I like to see. I like to see lots of details sometimes. I seem to have lots of little ideas. Think of it as a doodle you make while chatting on the phone, or hearing a lecture, but all on one page, and make them work together by layering them. It’s like watching my brain and freely associating on one page with the minimal amount of interference. Just a pen and paper. When I inject music or caffeine into the process the hypermania can be euphoric creative associating. However, it’s hard to get to that place.
RDL | Your use of paint in your work has been sporadic and experimental, sometimes as a medium for body printing or as a wash to shade your pen and ink work. Do you ever think about doing a series completely in paint?
LN | Yes, I want a studio. I want my complete uninhibited freedom to make just any crap, and see where it goes. In color paint, I think. I made some paintings when I was hanging work in the city, and also the exhibition I had in Summer 2013. The former caused a sub-Keith-Moon-level destruction of the temporary apartment I was staying in, and the latter was done with great care and long set-up and take down time to prevent mess. But I’ve never had a studio. I don’t know what it would be like to have one. I’m imagining it’s like some man-cave you just slag paint around and leave messy. I’ve been living small and making with what is handy and useful. A studio and painting and mess seems like Baskin-Robbins for artists, maybe Studio 31?
I did a residency a few years ago, just a week. That was the closest I’ve been, I think. Man, you can get so much done when you just make art all day every day. Should try again sometime.
LN | Yeah, it’s improvisation. So, intuitively is the answer. My Dad is a Jazzer. I consider improvisation some kind of zone that lies between complete abandonment and the cannon of art practices. I think improvisation and intuitive drawing is legit. I’d like to make a deliberate cartoon or some drawing that has deep social impact and speaks to everybody, but I have a hard time feeling that strong on any issue. Maybe ecological degradation — I feel pretty righteous on that matter. But my views become so nuanced with age, its like the catcher in my brain is signaling me frantically to drill fast balls but I keep nuancing curves and knuckles.
RDL | What is the effect you are looking to achieve with your book pieces?
LN | A lot can happen in a compact package. It’s kind of what you were asking with your first question, my internal practice of improvisation and free association in the framework of the external model of no studio, tiny space, and lack of venues. The result is the minimal possibility for a vast artwork that needs no requirement of a studio or gallery for its creation and appreciation.
RDL | Do you think your books are more successful as fine art pieces? Could they be mass-produced? Or is the nature of a handmade unique object a part of your design?
LN | This is in regards to the Tokyo Book Fair: I did make a series of each book, and it was a pain in the butt and boring. The mass produce-ability of the books is a point of conversation among my art group — taking into account that you shouldn’t get into this fair thinking of making money, but you must immediately contradict yourself because you are making a product for sale.
When my art group decided to do this show we had an entire meeting on pricing. We were “reasonable and realistic.” But when you get to the book fair and find all these college kids who could care less about breaking even on their booth investment, making fine little books for a pittance, it makes you realize that being reasonable is futile. (I should add here that the book fair is huge, the largest in Asia.) Nonetheless, I threw myself into the process again and made smart, easy-to-format and create books, honed them down to minimal requirements, and hammered them out as quickly as possible using some home office HP printer/scanner, and photo manipulation freeware.
Come the last book I produced, bonobobook 7, I finally made a sort of breakthrough where I cut up, shredded, and pasted each book together in a unique way. I felt a bit vindicated, as I had satisfied myself that the production itself could be an art. However, by that point I was moreover just bored with the tedium of hand production. So, come the next book fair my newly much-lower-priced books were just as easily overlooked.
As much as I’m thankful for the few buyers, there is no reason to do this to myself. It was an experiment and I’m through with it. I have an online shop that accepts my work — booklyn.org — so if I get motivated to make a few more they will try to sell them for me.
RDL | You have been steadily developing the techniques that you often use in your drawings since I met you in 1989. At several stages, you had major shifts in your process. What would you say is the catalyst for these shifts? Is it situational, or psychological, or…?
LN | Oh, how flattering! You think I’ve had “periods”? Cool. Hm. Do you think that’s a dichotomy, situational or psychological?
I think shifts are informed by my situations. I wonder if my work has psychologically matured in any way? I have deliberately made choices in my life in regards to moves or relationships, the type of reading or music choices and such that are intended to impact my art in some way. I don’t know if that really works. But I tend not to think, “Oh, I’m so inspired by this or that so I’ll make art about it.” It’s usually, “I wonder what type of tweaker I’ll become if I do this or that to my life?” Then I suppose I imagine some new art will emerge.
Lyle Note B | An early large scale drawing. Lots of free association and improvisation are coalescing into a complete image. 1997
Lyle Nisenholz regularly posts current work at his website tokyobonobo.wordpress.com.