Nicola Tyson, Beyond the Trace

The Gaze, 2015

Nicola TysonThe Gaze, 2015Graphite on paper, 19.1 x 19.1cm



“When I begin to draw, I have no idea what’s going to appear. I work swiftly, to stay just ahead of the cage of language, the linear mind and rational decision-making. I just let the forms grow themselves, self-organize…”

Drawing Room presents Beyond the Trace, an exhibition of works on paper by British born, New York based artist Nicola Tyson. Predominantly known as a painter, Tyson also works with photography, performance, the written word and more recently sculpture. Drawing is the foundation of all her work.

Beyond the Trace is the first solo exhibition in the UK of Tyson’s drawings. The exhibition includes two new large-scale works on paper made for the exhibition, a suite of new colour monotypes and a series of recent drawings. Working intuitively and from memory, Tyson's gestural works are a reimagining of the female body; they are highly animated, androgynous, self-contained and surreal.

Isolated on the page, or positioned against lightly drawn lines – suggestive of a landscape – Tyson’s ‘self-organised’ pencil figures hold a strong presence. Appendages that are part human, part animal morph; lumpy torsos sprout spindly legs or a bird-like beak;  a hollow-eyed figure might look out from under a heavy cloak-cum-body part.  In Tyson’s work, a piece of clothing possesses as much figurative potential as a body part.

“The frock is my ‘vacant muse’, as are pelmets, fringes, knickers, bed skirts… all are cathected and repurposed with my pencil”

Tyson’s drawings are intuitive; by working fast, the hand takes the lead, providing the spontaneity she requires to be surprised and unnerved by what unfolds. She has spoken of drawing as “mapping around with a pencil” – a means to give and find form on the page – a subconscious cartographic process that allows the freedom to conjure images from nothing. Once an image suggests itself, she begins to build the detail, the shading and shadows, using lightly and heavily worked graphite or ink pen.

In all of her works, figures stand tall, peering out to meet our scrutiny. Each figure, in its absurdity and humour, expresses the vulnerability of the body subjected to our gaze.

In the late 1970s and early 80s Tyson was involved in London’s post punk music scene, taking photographs in underground clubs whilst studying at Chelsea College of Art.  For a short time she worked as a journalist for the music press, returning to study painting at Central St Martins in the mid-1980s. She moved to New York in the early 90s.  

Nicola Tyson(b. 1960, London) has exhibited internationally. Recent solo exhibitions include: A Tendency to Flock, Sadie Coles HQ, London (2017); The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, St. Louis (2017); Living Dangerously, Cleveland Institute of Art; Petzel, New York, (2016).  Group exhibitions include Mutual Admiration Society, Corbett vs Dempsey, Chicago (2017); The Marked Self: Self-Portraits between Annihilation and Masquerade, Neue Galerie Graz, Austria (2015); The Nakeds, Drawing Room, London (2014), toured to De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, Sussex, and The Cat Show, White Columns, New York (2013).

Nicola Tyson’s work is in the collections of Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; The Corcoran Gallery of Art at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C; UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Tate Gallery, London.