William Nichols Sees Nature as a Conveyor Of Visual Beauty and Messenger of Meaningful Experience

Pools of light and tangled masses of shrubbery spill out in a steady stream from William Nichols’s oil paintings. The chaotic elements of his landscapes—criss-crossed leaves, splintered tree trunks, scattered water reflections—are tempered by a cool color palette.

Jeremy Ranch Aspens (2012) features a Klimt-esque thicket of silver birch trees punctuated by black bark divots and a smattering of yellow leaves. The forest is at once abundant and sparse—full of trees, but with slender trunks and branches that do not do much to conceal details in the background. Like many of his works, this piece seems to favor mood over a cohesive narrative. As Nichols explains, “I saw the landscape for its potential as both a conveyor of visual beauty and a messenger of meaningful experience.” And indeed, he captures both.

This approach is precisely how Nichols’s landscape painting commands its strength: as a personal response to nature. Gardens at Giverny (1990) features a pleasant array of plants at Monet’s iconic garden, evoking reference to the impressionist master and his thriving legacy. Vivid pinks, reds, and yellows illuminate flowers and light reflections on leaves. Nichols seems more interested in creating a sense of lushness and natural beauty than in necessarily articulating each plant structure, making his works seem more like watercolors than oil paintings.

With Hidden Pond - Door County (2013), Nichols dives into capturing a body of water midday, with shadows consuming the left-part of the painting and light entering the right-half. A tree branch emerges from under the water surface, effectively cutting the scene into three horizontal planes. What lurks under the water is left in the abstract, with short, gestural brushstrokes hinting at its forms. The scene is idyllic and calm, with a  sense of time passing easily with each rippling water layer.

A selection of Nichols’s paintings is currently on view at CK Contemporary in San Francisco’s historic Union Square area. Set against other contemporary painters’ works, Nichols’s paintings stand out as thoughtful meditations on his connection to nature and the viewer’s relationship to the environment.

Anna Furman

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