And then there were three! Wednesday night’s episode of Work of Art established which of our young artist-testants would have a shot at that $100,000 cash prize (and a likely premature solo show at the Brooklyn Museum).
The challenge was to draw inspiration and materials from nature. And after an impressive run, both Jaclyn Santos and Nicole Nadeau were sent home. It was definitely a jolt — we were all fairly certain that Nicole would make the final three. She took time out of her vacation in Italy to chat with us about her love of tactile materials, learning from her peers, and breaking into the brass knuckle market. (Jaclyn, on the other hand, declined an interview.)
As someone who works in a lot of different media, you always seemed a bit better suited for these challenges than some of the other artists. Do you think that gave you a leg up for a while there?
I think it kind of did. There were a lot of different ways I could execute a challenge, whereas the figure painters on the show — they usually take 50-plus hours to do a painting. That’s something that this game-show format didn’t really allow.
Do you think all artists should be required to have a knowledge of all mediums?
No, I don’t really think that. I think it’s what really speaks to the artist. I don’t think anyone should be pushed toward a certain the way of art-making or toward a kind of skill set. But on Work of Art, it’s definitely an upper hand to have these different cards to play. I’m also a very tactile person and I’ve always found this lyricism in different materials — finding that there’s so much history that goes into making something and the makeup of each material. It’s kind of silly, but it’s almost like a blessing to be able to work with different things and how differently they work. That’s why I have a lot of design influence in my work — that use of materials.
You were in the top several times — how did you find the judges?
It’s funny, because as we’re working you have no idea, until you get a crit or when you’re down there, who’s rooting for you because it’s really more of a collective conversation. But to hear someone respond positively to something so intimate to you is really nice, whether people want to admit it or not.
Did you learn anything from them?
I think I learned the most from having our studio nights. There are always different little things to pick up. We didn’t help each other but we kind of did. Like, how 'bout this or that or have a second eye take a look at what you’re doing. It’s funny, because it’s a competition, but we also treated it like a real studio where there’s a lot of advice and sharing and learning going on between the artists. On all the other shows they’re like, “Whatever — make your own shit!”
Did you think the concept of an art-based reality show did, indeed, hold up as well as fashion or food?
I feel like this was the first try at this kind of thing. It’s a similar framework to those other shows, but art is completely different from fashion and food. When you’re taking something and you have contestants making art in such a diverse way I think that the challenges were made because they were specific but still a little bit open-ended, so people could interpret them the way they wanted to.
What would you like to see change if the show were to come back for a second season?
I think they should come up with better challenges that are better suited for artists conceptually. Also, the painters were at such a disadvantage — maybe something more suited for that medium as well. But I think for me, knowing that I was going on this game show, knowing that there’s a structure and certain archetypes and certain controls of materials and time, I felt like these restraints and constraints could actually produce creativity. When I have the definition of making art about something specific, sometimes my mind kind of is able to work a lot more quickly. Because I involve some design influences in my work and go back and forth working with design and art, I think restrictions can sometimes even produce more creativity.
The crits, the assignments — some aspects of the show really sort of mirrored the art-school experience. Do you think art school prepared you for this kind of experience?
I actually went to school for industrial design because my parents wouldn’t let me go for sculpture! My professors wanted to kill me because I was always making sculptures and not making coffeemakers. I studied a lot of art history and illustration, and did some painting and sculpture and I took every advantage that I could to keep my creativity flowing. It was kind of scary and intimidating to participate in the show. But the critiques just felt like school crits. I looked at it as just what we do and tried to be cool and confident. Going into it like, “Hey! We’re just talking about art!”
You seemed super-confident about your last piece. Were you surprised by the judges’ reactions?
Yeah — I think it was a little bit misunderstood. I could have made hundreds of different things inspired by nature. I do feel like I got a little bit overwhelmed, but I wouldn’t have made my piece any differently. One thing misinterpreted were the seeds that formed the outer shell. I think the smallest things can often be the most important and most powerful. The seeds of nature are what we rely on to exist. It’s growth and life and pollination — there was this beautiful poetry in the acorns that in their death they give life. That’s what I wanted to echo in the piece. The Native American side of me was an undercurrent that was played up to be a major factor. My core of inspiration was more this idea of life and death.
So what’s life after Work of Art like?
I just finished a bunch of different projects, but there’s this one, particularly, that I did with my design collective called KNS. We just made these brass knuckles based on GPS topographical land maps. This one is specifically from the Himalayas — it’s from an exact longitude and latitude. I just loved the idea of playing the form of brass knuckles and different parts of the earth that we don’t necessarily think about all the time.