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Sistler’s work often includes visual puns, as shown in Accommodating Enclosure, the print at left. ”I like that both images are blurred with motion. In one, there’s the euphemism of beating, and in the other, of beating off. There’s some fluidity between them.”
To hear the Chicago artist Nicholas Sistler talk about his latest series of prints—a work five years in the making—you’d think he was recounting a visit with a porn collector. “I had certain ideas of things I thought I’d be interested in before I got there, primarily the extremes of sexual behavior: fetish things, bestiality, sadomasochism, bondage-discipline, transvestism,” says Sistler, sitting in his Bucktown home studio.
In a way, he was visiting a porn collection—Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s. Kinsey founded what is now the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University in 1947. The Bloomington facility maintains one of the world’s largest collections of vintage erotic photographs, many of which Kinsey, a onetime zoologist, acquired himself. (He died in 1956.) It’s not widely known that the archives are open to researchers, including artists, and that 48,000 photographs, mostly taken between the 1870s and the 1970s, are cataloged there in the documentary collection. You mark a list of 44 categories—from “analinctus, heterosexual” to “zoophilia”—and aides bring you boxes to sift through.
“I’ve always been drawn to expressionistic stuff, visually and existentially—noirish visual elements, with shadows and a light source,” says Sistler, 56, a Hyde Park native and School of the Art Institute grad. Since the mid-1990s, he has drawn praise for his miniature paintings, which show exquisitely detailed room interiors from skewed head-on-the-floor angles. In recent years, he has painted in scenes from film noir and other preexisting photo images. The results are pictures within pictures that question ideas about art, truth, and fiction.
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