Glitchy kisses

Pub date December 9, 2009
WriterMarke B.
SectionArts & CultureSectionVisual Art

VISUAL ART "I’m interested in the destruction of everything. I was the kid who screwed up all his toys," Toban Nichols ( says over the phone from his studio in Los Angeles. The longtime San Francisco resident and multimedia artist is still unpacking from his recent move to the capital of schmooze, but he’s been frantically yo-yoing up to the Bay to attend three concurrent gallery openings, a "trilogy of terror," of his work here. "It’s been very weird, to put it mildly. I moved to L.A. partly out of frustration with my lack of traction in the San Francisco art world, and then as soon as I get down here I’m offered three shows at once. Maybe I should have moved sooner."

Maybe he should have, although the gay club scene sure misses his smiling presence and that of his DJ husband, Jonathan. Slyly undermining notions of camp and kitsch with painterly electronic fuck-ups, Nichols’ work is as varied as it is entrancing. And the exciting threesome of shows introduces a trio of delectably unique lines of aesthetic inquiry that will tickle any deconstructivist’s — queer or otherwise — mental bone. Shall we count them off?

JIGSAWMENTALLAMA This sundry group show at David Cunningham Projects contains works from Nichols glitchy-smeary "Lockup" series, summoning contemporary architectural forms and based on machine error. If Gerhard Richter appropriated Amon Tobin CD covers, you’d probably get something like Nichols’s Giclée prints "Appaloosa" and "Unicorn," both from 2008. Other entries in the "Lockup" series keep the sharp and sensuous rainbow smudges but introduce fields of gray or black hatch marks that bring to mind both industrial metal ramping and early post-punk 12-inch single artwork. Nichols trained as a painter, but moved on when he felt painting "wasn’t speaking" to him. "I now start with a photographic image —and through a computer process I discovered completely by accident, overtax the output until it’s corrupted in a way I like," he says. In a wonderful related series, appropriately titled "Overtax," which you can see at his Web site, Nichols eerily haywires a Windows force-quit error box into an apocalyptic sleigh ride.

Through Dec. 19, free. David Cunningham Projects, 1928 Folsom, SF.

"THE TRAGEDY COLLECTION" Bewitched, bothered, bewildered — the "Tragedy Collection," five pieces of which are on display on the fourth floor of the LGBT Center, hilariously filters televised camp iconography through Nichols’ handheld: "I wanted to create something accessible to show I could do it, so I took pictures of the TV with my crappy cell phone and printed them." Dynasty‘s Joan Collins gnawing on a chicken bone, Tyra Banks’ legendary Top Model freakout, Bewitched‘s Agnes Moorehead hissing like a cat on a rack … the prints somehow update queer histrionics while burying traditional camp sensibilities deeper than Susan Sontag.

Through Jan. 10, 2010, free. San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center, 1800 Market, SF.

"OPPROBRIUM" Nichols’ show at Adobe Books, opening Dec. 11, is a meditative compression of Vogue’s Book of Etiquette and Good Manners (Conde Nast, 1969). "That book is so funny. It’s completely outdated, full of advice that’s so alien to contemporary readers. When you read it today there’s all kinds of complex humor from a feminist and class perspective. But that humor was on too many levels for me, I wanted to shrink it into a single joke. So I thought, ‘Why not hire an engineer to write an algorithm that replaces every third word with PUSSY?’ So I did." Two copies of the book will be on display as well as a deliberately loopy video of Nichols’ artist statement — "Who wants to stand around and read something long on a wall?" — featuring a voiceover by comedian Deven Green of Brenda Dixon parody and "Betty Bowers Explains Traditional Marriage to Everyone Else" YouTube fame, "plus some random images, whatever".

Opening reception Thursday, Dec. 11, 7 p.m.-9 p.m, free. Through Jan. 10, 2010. Adobe Books Backroom Gallery, 3166 16th St., SF.