Strange Terrain: Aaron McIntosh & Nick Clifford Simko


Strange Terrain considers themes of queerness, obscured histories, man’s relationship with nature, and the role of decorative textiles in culture. As the exhibition represents both artists’ first venture into joint art-making, Strange Terrain surveys both their recent collaborative pieces as well as their own individual works.



We stopped into Nick’s studio to shoot a few photos and ask him a couple of questions about his new work and collaboration with Aaron:



Where does the creative process start for you?

For me the creative process starts after I’ve seen a work of art that I love or listened to a song that moves me or read a really great poem or a piece of intriguing research. I think about where the material comes from, and then I think about how it might relate to some aspect of the present. I love finding connections. I start to write out words and do loose drawings, and then I play around in the photo studio with different compositions and subjects that play into the idea I’m thinking of. Almost always my imagery concerns the human form. For me the body is an ideal vehicle to translate an abstract idea into a visual result (i.e. allegory, personification, metaphor.)


In your previous work Taxare Figurae you are looking how contemporary readings of the history of the art in the past can create new meanings, and in the work The Anxiety of Influence you are examining and comparing the ideal and real male body. How did the current work come in to fruition in relation of the previous work?

The work in Strange Terrain is related to my previous work in that it’s considering art  history and bodily ideals but is more closely bridging them to contemporary visual culture. In our collaborative tapestry pieces The Archers & The Quarry Aaron and I created a tapestry diptych that is half art historical reference and half idealization of the body. The right panel references an eighteenth century painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds that depicts two young men hunting at the Tate Britain Museum. We read the curatorial statement after looking at a JPEG of the painting online and it was interesting to us because their relationship seemed so mysterious. It was a way to put ourselves in their place since at that time we were at the beginning of our collaboration. It was like we were hunting in the woods: the whole experience of working together was foreign, exciting, and frankly we didn’t know what we would discover.

The left panel was an expansion of the picture plane from Reynold’s original piece so that the viewer could see what was being hunted. We went with an interpretation of Saint Sebastian, who has been historically linked with homoerotic culture (he’s depicted as a beautiful, half-naked young man tied to a tree and being filled with the arrows of Pagan soldiers.) Instead of making the figure from a single body we perused gay porn magazines and collaged the most interesting parts from a large group of different bodies. It was a funny exercise because we chose all the best pieces but ended up with what we have referred to as a “Frankenstud.” Though I’ve thought about these things in my work before, I think thatThe Archers & The Quarry are a direct response to the fact that Aaron and I, as artists, in this exhibition, are a part of this lineage of queer artists in culture. At the same time we are citing contemporary media expectations of the male body instead of Classical ones. Such a direct relationship to the present is relatively new for my work.


Could you elaborate a bit further about the process it takes to create the tapestries. What are the first steps for creating the scenes for each image? Where do you gather all the imagery for the work? Do you have a certain image in mind when you start to combine all of the materials together?

All of the elements of my tapestries are shot individually in the studio, or if I need something very specific (like a certain statue, architectural element or landscape) I will shoot on location. I usually begin by making digital photographs of the figure, and then I determine what sorts of pieces need to situate it in the picture plane. I use the figure as a foundation because it is the central core that carries the rest of the image, and then from there I look for other elements and forms and colors that are in conversation with it. Once everything is shot I bring it into the computer and cut everything out in Photoshop. Afterward I layer the pieces together in order to attain varying degrees of cohesion. Any given tapestry design can be made up of dozens of unique elements, so it takes some time to get these works how I want them.




Most of your work is made in the photographic realm. How would you describe the transition into creating work within the 3D world?

I have never worked in sculpture before Strange Terrain. The transition was somewhat difficult for me at first because I love making digital images so much. You can’t undo your mistakes as easily with a sewing machine or a wire armature. Luckily Aaron has been really patient with me and his ability to teach was very important in this part of our collaboration. Instead of giving me purely automated tasks he encouraged me to own what I was making; and by the end I was very proud of what I had contributed to our collaborative sculpture! I’m definitely more aware of material craft now thanks to this process and I’m thankful for that, too.




Aaron McIntosh is a cross-disciplinary artist whose work in textiles, sculpture, installation and photography address the intersections of material culture, family tradition, identity, and sexuality. His work has been exhibited nationally, internationally, and most recently in “Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community” at the Leslie-Lohman Museum in NYC. He lives and works in Baltimore, MD, where he teaches Fiber at the Maryland Institute College of Art.



Nick Clifford Simko is a conceptual photographer. His work examines how literary devices like allegory and metaphor shape visual culture. He recently presented his essay “Robert Mapplethorpe’s Italian Devil as Self-Portrait” at the Society for Photographic Education’s regional conference. His work has been exhibited in Baltimore, Richmond, and Washington DC. For the past year and a half he has been a member of EMP Collective.



Strange Terrain runs November 14 – December 21
Gallery hours TBA