2005 Rakow Commission Artist: Nicole Chesney

Nicole Chesney (2005)

Present - Nicole Chesney


Nicole Chesney (American, b. 1971)
United States, Cranston, Rhode Island, 2005
Sandblasted mirror; oil paint
H: 172.8 cm, W: 203.2 cm, D: 5.1 cm
2005.4.162, the 20th Rakow Commission

The space in which we spend our nocturnal hours has no perspective, no distance . . . and the skies we soar through are wholly interior.

–Gaston Bachelard

In her investigations of light, space, perception, and imagination, Nicole Chesney has been inspired by the writings of the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1885–1962). Bachelard's books Water and Dreams (1942) and The Right to Dream (1970), a collection of essays on visual art and literature written between 1939 and 1962, have had special meaning for Chesney in the development of her "Sky/Water" series, to which Present belongs.

In the "Sky/Water" series, Chesney studies Bachelard's interest in the cloudless, empty sky, a sky that he calls the "unsilvered mirror," which refers both to the exterior sky and the "interior skies of dreams." These skies are the "landscapes of the soul . . . infinite like space and time . . . landscapes without features, living in gentle, changing colors, like memory."

Nicole Chesney

Present, a waterscape or skyscape, is an abstract, dreamlike depiction of fog or clouds, a poetic visual interpretation of the union of the elements of air and water. Like glass, air is transparent, and like glass, water is reflective. Using glass as her canvas, Chesney achieves a luminosity, depth, transparency, and reflection that no other material affords.

Chesney's panels are not literal depictions of a specific skyscape or landscape, and this is not her aim. Present can appear to be a section of a cloud in close-up, or it can represent a distant sky. In this contradiction, allusion is made to Bachelard's idea that "a space that has lost its horizons draws in on itself." Like the vast sky that we look into, and the borderless space of the dream, there is no perspective and there are no moorings in Present. The space of Present reflects both interior and exterior space, imaginative and physical experience.

Present is meditative and reverie-inducing, and this is the artist's intent. The goal of meditation is the awareness of the present, where, in the absence of the fear of the past and the future, there is security and repose.