Art at Watson kicks off fall 2023 with innovative prints by regional artist Andrew Nixon

A new Art at Watson exhibition, "Andrew Nixon: Inventions and Discoveries," opens September 4, 2023, on the first floor of Stephen Robert '62 Hall at 280 Brook Street. An artist talk will be followed by a reception on September 26, 2023, in room 101 of 280 Brook Street at 5:00 p.m.

Regional artist and educator Andrew Nixon's Art at Watson exhibition, "Inventions and Discoveries" presents a new body of work that merges the spheres of old-world etching, contemporary digital image-making and traditional printmaking technology. It is on display now on the first floor of Stephen Robert '62 Hall at 280 Brook Street until January 12, 2024.

Finding peace in a difficult world

While his dreamlike landscapes and other nature-inspired prints will be on display at Watson throughout the fall 2023 semester, Nixon admits that, at first blush, they might not seem like an obvious match for Art at Watson. Nixon didn't tackle international relations or policy issues in the body of work compiled for the exhibition. "I'm a classically trained artist," said Nixon. "When I make art, I just sort of go to another place and I'm not involved with the news of the day." 

But he said he does feel a deep sympathy — reflected in his work — with the Watson Institute's mission to create a more peaceful world. Nixon noted, "The scholar William Ivins once said that 'all civilization grew out of written language pointing to a picture.' He also believed that some ideas can only be conveyed through pictorial means. The Watson Institute's mission is to promote peace in a difficult world. If Ivins is right, pictures can play a vital role in this enterprise."

"As a citizen, I feel a responsibility to follow the current events of the day closely," he said, "but for my art, I want to keep it separate and private. I think that, for me, that's restorative. I respond to our difficult world by going to my studio," Nixon said, "In this space, I can find the solitude necessary to refine my ideas and to attempt to make something new."

“ I want people to know that political art is not the sole response to an exhausting and worrisome world. ”

Andrew Nixon Art at Watson Exhibited Artist

Nixon said he hopes the sense of peace he feels in the studio can be extended to the exhibition space at Watson where students and researchers studying what sometimes feel like intractable conflicts and issues with existential implications can find temporary repose. "I like what Henri Matisse said about his paintings," Nixon said, "He wanted them to be 'rather like a good armchair,' and a 'soothing calming influence on the mind.' I hope that people who see this exhibition can share some of my experience in the studio when looking at my work." 

"I want people to know that political art is not the sole response to an exhausting and worrisome world," said Nixon.

Inventions and discoveries

The exhibition features 23 extraordinarily detailed prints that were created using Nixon's technologically enhanced update of traditional intaglio printing. 

Traditional intaglio printing, which dates back to 15th century Europe, is a slow and meticulous process in which an image is directly engraved onto a sheet of metal. A layer of ink is applied to the metal plate and then wiped off, leaving ink only in the grooves made by the incisions. A piece of paper is then placed on top of the metal and is compressed by a heavy roller which presses the paper into the grooves where it absorbs the ink.

One of the technique's advantages is the level of fine detail that is possible. In fact, since 1968, the U.S. Treasury has used a dry intaglio technique to print U.S. paper currency because the detail it produces is difficult to counterfeit.

Nixon said he has updated the intaglio technique using new technology. "These new works on paper were made using an innovative blend of old and new technologies," he said. "The printing process I employ is the age-old traditional intaglio form, which requires the individual hand inking of the plates." Nixon's process still begins with his hand, but rather than etching directly onto a sheet of metal, he noted, "My images are initially generated through an iPad using a popular software program." The digital images are then laser-cut onto acrylic plates. "These are then covered with a dampened sheet of paper and run through a heavy steel press," Nixon said.

Nixon utilized new technology to overcome some of the limitations of the traditional intaglio method. "The late master printmaker and fellow Rhode Islander Richard Benson suggested that the picture-making capacities of intaglio printing were overtaken by other technologies — photography, for instance — because intaglio was limited to the size of the human hand," said Nixon. 

"Essentially, this limit was on the amount of data, specifically lines, that could be used to make an image," he said. "Adding an iPad to the process rectifies this problem. By marrying the two technologies, I've found a way to think on a larger scale than was possible with traditional printmaking."

Nixon utilized modern data techniques in another innovative way. High-resolution scanning technology allowed him to replicate the markings of one of his favorite artists. "Wenceslaus Hollar was a Bohemian artist and he was masterful at creating marks," said Nixon. "And using the iPad I was able to replicate his markings by loading them as brushmarks in the drawing program I used," a process Nixon compared to sampling bits of music in hip-hop.

Nixon said, "The prints embody two separate meanings of the word technology. The first relates to the original meaning from the Greek, a sort of craftology. The second meaning of technology is the more common, contemporary one, referring to the use of scientific principles to achieve practical ends. I created a process that begins and ends with my hand, drawing on new technology and a traditional press."

There will be an artist talk featuring Nixon and an opening reception on September 26, 2023, at 5:00 p.m. in room 101 (True North) of Stephen Robert '62 Hall at 280 Brook Street. The talk and reception are free and open to the public.

Also on display: 'Endangered Animals and Their Ghosts'

Another new Art at Watson exhibition, "Endangered Animals and Their Ghosts: The Wish to Move Backward" by local professional mosaic artist Jess Regelson is currently on display at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. Based in Pawtucket, Regelson is well-known in the area for, among other things, having created over 30 mosaics with school children across Rhode Island.

With this exhibition, Regelson uses the ancient art of mosaic to explore the issue of extinction with full-color depictions of 10 endangered animals accompanied by ghostly white mosaics that represent their potential permanent absence. 

"Mosaics are among the oldest records of interactions between species," noted Regelson. "We have learned so much about civilization from them, partly because they were built from lasting materials. Through the eyes of our ancestors, we can see which animals were a source of terror, and which were guardians. Which were used to fight, and which were used to farm. Which were for eating, and which were for holding as beloved companions. Therefore it seems fitting to use mosaic to declare the fragile status of each of these animals."

Regelson's mosaics are on display on the second floor of Watson's main building at 111 Thayer Street until Friday, December 15, 2023.