Fine Arts Work Center visual fellow Nick Fagan knows the power of a good, weighty blanket. The bright colors and soft textures are a balm for troubled minds in turbulent times.
“Lately, I’ve been interested in found blankets, especially crocheted ones,” says the 30-year-old Virginia native, who has scoured thrift stores Cape-wide and beyond in search of his trove.
Trained as a sculptor, with a B.F.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University and an M.F.A. from Ohio State, Fagan has spent his FAWC residency expanding his use of textiles and pre-existing patterns, which he cuts and hand sews into a patchwork of giddy patterns to create a certain “vibe.”
“I like the idea of using sincerity — the raw, nostalgic, sincere — and I think these blankets denote that for me,” he says. “I’m looking for a specific palette: ’70s colors like burnt orange, white, and brown, with a real mustiness to them — that weird sense of nostalgia, the feeling of instantly hitting a basement.”
Fagan says that he is interested in the “identity of things,” and the “sincerity in banal objects.”
“I usually think of these crocheted objects as gifts,” he says. “They’re not utilitarian. Someone usually makes it and then gives it to somebody. I’m trying to talk about my own sincere issues through that.”
For Fagan, those “sincere issues” include a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and severe dyslexia at a young age. “I started doing art as a way of expression when I was a kid,” he says. “At that time, I felt like I didn’t have a voice.” He adopted a visual language to communicate.
Today, that conversation is open and self-aware, his work laced with warm humor and free from stigma. It’s there in his titles: I Can Feel Everything Off My Meds and Holes in My Brain, though he cautions that his work is not “a therapeutic thing.”
“It is almost like a cathartic act in that it’s a way of dumping out emotions,” he says. His ups and downs are “totally part of the work,” though you might not know it. His work feels sunny and celebratory without being saccharine.
Fagan stretches the blankets before cutting out shapes in a process that’s quick and precise. A wrong decision is potentially disastrous. “It’s confidence in your move,” he says. “There’s a nice challenge to that. It’s scary but it’s fun. Once you start, you can’t stop.”
He fixes the material with safety pins before painstakingly sewing it into place. Fagan considers sourcing his materials an act of “curation,” expressing a “soft appreciation for the level of craft and skill,” he says. “Since you took your time on these objects, I’m going to take my time, too. Something about that becomes intrinsic and meditative.”
One of Fagan’s earlier series used old moving blankets. (He once worked as a mover.) This new series with the crocheted blankets is a development he was not expecting. “Originally the challenge was, ‘Is there a way to paint with fabric?” he says. “Is there a way I can make this feel more like a painting?’ ”
The work using doilies especially has an “almost psychedelic quality,” with patterns that teeter toward collapse without ever falling apart. His work explores graphic designs, optical illusions, and odd gradients. Full of what he calls “wild design choices,” the work is busy and vibrant, but fixed by vessel shapes.
“The vessel is usually a caricature of something I’m feeling, like guilt or sin,” he says. “I use that almost like a character stand-in. It’s not complete abstraction. That form anchors everything. From that I can build off and abstract as much as I want. I’ll have maybe two or three rules that I put in place for myself, but beyond that is just my free will going.”
Sidestepping categories of masculine and feminine, art and craft, Fagan’s work honors past lives while creating a new one. “A lot of these blankets are at the end of their life,” he says. “They’re in thrift stores, and I want to show appreciation to the former author.”
In the middle of his studio floor, Fagan has wrapped cut blankets around a three-dimensional floor-to-ceiling armature shaped like a bottle. Titled Mother Vessel, the work’s attendant cap sits on a table, swathed in a patchwork.
“I can get a sense of physicality out of the blankets,” he says. “They can hold a character. But I wanted to give them a feeling of figuration, as if you could come up and hug them.”
Gallery and museum etiquette precludes direct contact, but Fagan wants viewers to engage physically with the work in other settings. “You can touch these, and I love that,” he says. “That’s what I want: different textures, the residue of things like blankets to hold and hug. It’s personable. It’s warm.”
Touch the Art
The event: A show of works by Nick Fagan
The time: By appointment; Friday, March 11 through Tuesday, March 15; reception Friday, March 11, 5 to 7 p.m.
The place: Hudson D. Walker Gallery, Fine Arts Work Center, 24 Pearl St., Provincetown
The cost: Free