Nathaniel Smith Talks with Artists Nick Howard & Terrence Payne About Their Upcoming Exhibition Cake In Le”Toile Magazine

Check out this great interview in Le’Toile with this months artists about their new exhibition, how they did it, why they did it and more!


Friday, October 11th

Art & Vision: Bitter Pills With Sweet Icing

by Nathaniel Smith

Terrence Payne and Nick Howard are two of the strongest visual voices working in a Twin Cities art scene that is full of them. Members of the artist-collective/exhibition space Rosalux (which is still holding the crown for Best Art Gallery in the Twin Cities), the two bring their work together for one of the most anticipated exhibitions of the Fall season. On the eve of their opening, l’étoile speaks to the artists about systems, social and financial hierarchies, and how they can be summed up by the deceptively sweet nature of Cake.

Go For It by Nick Howard, I Had The Keys To Heaven But Ended Here With You by Terrence Payne

Go For It by Nick Howard, I Had The Keys To Heaven But Ended Here With You by Terrence Payne

Artists struggle for their entire lives to develop a style, a voice which allows their work to speak on important themes and concepts, be recognizable instantly, but adaptable so as not to grow stale.  This makes a two-person show inherently difficult – because even if the artists share themes, they can only deal with them in their own style. These almost always clash, even when it works.

Initially I was surprised by the idea of combining Nick Howard and Terrence Payne. Both are recognizable and near-ubiquitous visual voices in the Twin Cities arts scene, but aesthetically make much different choices in their work. Howard almost always groups the figure in tense multiples, while Payne typically has a small, focused number of figures in his works. Howard tends to use a limited palette, and even his more recent pink-hued pieces are not a direct match to Payne’s sugary-soft colors. Yet there must be more that connects their work than the Rosalux two-artist show scheduling. In a series of conversations with the artists, I asked about them about these similarities and differences, and how they have been working towards presenting a cohesive exhibition together.

Inspection by Nick Howard

Inspection by Nick Howard

 Conflicting Visuals, Combining Themes 

Art-historian Paul Ardenne swears by the solo exhibition over group showings, saying ” Collective exhibitions…create clashes, narratives, and synesthesia.”  I mostly agree with this theory of presentation, but the shows in question are generally large group shows, binded by a particular theme, and often, by a curator (an outsider). For Cake, Nick Howard and Terrence Payne selected each other to work with, and spent months meeting, exchanging ideas, and problem-solving. In short, if Cake is a success, it will be because the amount of time Payne and Howard spent discovering and reacting to the similarities and differences in their work. Payne says, “Something Nick and I both do do with our work is describe systems and groups within society using repetition and figurative elements.  We thought it would be fun to take a common theme as a starting point and see where that would take us.”

It's No Use Fighting Over Chicken Feed by Terrence Payne

It’s No Use Fighting Over Chicken Feed by Terrence Payne

Beginning with the loose theme of how social and financial hierarchies affect this country’s population, and in turn how that effects their interactions with each other, both artists kept in contact to see how the other’s work was progressing. Howard’s own work had been concerned with systems of economics and consumerism, and from that, the psychological implications of individual and group-thought. Payne’s work had been experimenting with individual pieces versus grouped pieces, and how each work is perceived differently by a viewer, and often through their own societal lens. Though each had their own starting point, both artists are quick to point out the relationships visible in their work. Payne sums up my realizations from our discussion, “Our styles are so completely different in so many ways and similar on less obvious levels…”

The Sound by Nick Howard

The Sound by Nick Howard

Continues, Terrence explains,”The biggest difference is style probably.  Nicks work tend to be much more graphic and masculine than my own, which veers off into the decorative and absurd at times.  I really wanted to see how much soft color and pretty I could use to describe some awful thoughts and actions.” Howard sees another connection, one that initially escaped me as a viewer. Howard explains, “As far as differences and similarities, besides a lot of obvious ones, Terrence and my work both have a level of humor to them. I think Terrence intentionally tries to incorporate the humor in his work, while I try to be super serious but I think my work kind of ends of being funny.” This level of humor and a balance of light-hearted visuals with heavier, more thought-provoking motivations is probably the strongest connection in their work, a sweet and bitter metaphor that is explained in the shows title.

You Can Take It From Me But I'll Just Steal It Back by Terrence Payne

You Can Take It From Me But I’ll Just Steal It Back by Terrence Payne

Let Them Eat Cake, and Titling An Exhibition

So what to call the intersection of two artists paths from a loaded jumping off point? Both say they had kicked around several ideas, eventually settling on Take. In conversations that most art-viewers are not privy to, both artists began to analyze, then over-analyze, all of the connotations, perceptions and possible meanings that could be gleaned from the titling of a show (which most would admit is generally quite arbitrary anyways). Payne explains, ”Initially we started with some very specific assumptions, but as we met from time to time leading up to the show we started to get a better understanding of these relationships and how really nuanced and subtle things could go and decided we needed to change the title to reflect this change in attitude.” As their dual focus changed, they began to rethink the aggressiveness inherent in the word Take. Howard says, “I think it was just too harsh, and Cake is just much more inviting.”

Connotations to cake are myriad – delicious confection lacking substance, celebrations, bonding, and Marie Antoinette’s famous exclamation. Payne adds as an (hilarious) afterthought, “We chose Cake because it still referenced the initial disparities we wanted to point out but it also suggested a naiveté that we wanted to highlight as well.  For my own part, I started to see how an individual’s own attitudes towards the subject matter was really shaped by their own perception of who they were based on the needs and excesses of those they were observing around them and how the behavior of other influenced and shaped their own.  I suppose you could say we started out as a couple of self-righteous dicks and ended up just as confused and vulnerable as everyone else, typical artist shit.”

Cake, featuring new works by Nick Howard and Terrence Payne, opens Saturday, October 12th, from 7-11 pm at Rosalux Gallery. The exhibition runs through October 31st, with a special collaborative performance with Chris Schlichting and Kenna Cottman on Tuesday, October 22nd. Click here for more information