Nik Nerburn creates magic with art exhibit at the New London Little Theatre
A New London exhibit showcases Nik Nerburn's photography and sculpture work, which melds fine arts with arts and crafts.
NEW LONDON — For the next few weeks, visitors to the New London Little Theatre Auditorium will have the opportunity to view the art of Nik Nerburn — from photos of miniature spaces to cast-metal sculptures of a ball of twine and a potato.
"A lot of my work is about kitsch, tall tales and jokes that tell a secret," Nerburn said, agreeing that one can call his art experimental. "It's about making it as weird as possible. This is not meant to be understood; it is meant to be seen and enjoyed without words."
The exhibit, titled "Invoke all the Magic You Can," debuts at 6 p.m. May 26 at the Little Theatre with an exhibit opening. Vincent Mische will perform at 7 p.m. The exhibit will be at the Little Theatre until June 10.
Nerburn said the name of his exhibit comes from an uncle who was a Franciscan priest, who explained why people believe in superstitions such as burying a small statute of St. Joseph outside your home to help sell the house. The priest didn't believe in those actions, but explained it as a way for people to try and make sense of the world around them by using any good luck, or magic, they have on hand.
"Something about that struck me," Nerburn said. "The theme of a lot of my work is family secrets, desperation, lies. And, to me, that phrase kind of sums up how we cope with these things."
Growing up with two parents who are writers in Bemidji, Nerburn was surrounded by stories. As an artist, he first told stories through film as a documentary and experimental movie maker. Over the past few years, though, Nerburn was drawn away from film making and toward new types of expression.
"I got sick of sitting in front of a computer, especially during COVID," Nerburn said. "I kind of exploded what I did as an artist."
As he worked to obtain his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Minnesota, he focused on photography, which allowed him to get out and find art. Photography suited his needs during the pandemic, and also helped him realize what it was he actually wanted to do as an artist and a storyteller.
"My joy is looking through the camera," Nerburn said. "Photography is a lot more like painting than film making."
Nerburn takes inspiration for his art from his life and surroundings. In his Little Theatre exhibit, Nerburn will be showing a selection of photos from his dollhouse collection, which he said are inspired by his family stories and history. The photos are of scenes staged in dollhouses or miniature environments. In the photos, Nerburn likes to break the illusion using larger pieces within the scene, illustrating how people try to hide a secret or lie in a carefully crafted illusion but don't quite succeed.
"I like miniatures because it is really easy to play with scale," Nerburn said.
Another medium of art Nerburn will be exhibiting is sculpture. While earning his MFA, Nerburn spent quite a bit of time in the wood shop and metal foundry, making sculptural pieces. His art began to take on a more handmade quality, sort of a middle ground between fine art and crafting.
Inspiration for his sculpture went back to his childhood, growing up around people who make yard art or the engaging and amusing roadside attractions such as huge Paul Bunyan statutes or large balls of twine.
The frames that surround his photos are a work of art in and of themselves. They are made in the tramp art style, a type of woodworking that is made using wood from such things as cigar boxes or shipping containers. It is then carved and shaped using woodworking techniques such as chip carving and layering to create things such as boxes and frames.
Nerburn researched the art form extensively, and then began to create his own.
"I'm very interested in handmade processes, very interested in wood and very interested in framing," Nerburn said.
All of Nerburn's art, and much of the inspiration for it, can be considered outsider art. The yard art in someone's front yard, the gigantic road side statue, or Nerburn's own tramp art frames and miniature scene photos might not be the art found in the marble halls of the great art museums, but they are just as important. Nerburn's definition of outsider art parallels the name of the exhibit.
"It is one of the great American, Midwestern traditions," Nerburn said. "The person who is trying to make sense of their environment and their life with whatever tools they have lying around."
Following his exhibit in New London, Nerburn said he has a few more shows planned with his current art. However, he is already moving on to his next artistic journey. Nerburn said he loves to have a beginner's mind, where everything is fresh and new.
"I am currently making some paintings. Something new from me, totally new. I have never painted before in my life," Nerburn said. "That is when I'm the happiest, when I'm a beginner at something."