If you find yourself in Terminal 7 at the Los Angeles International Airport, you can’t miss Timothy Nolan’s new public art project, a series of large-scale prints, made from collages that incorporate images of maps, galaxies, and other ephemera from the days when we looked things up in encyclopedias and used atlases to find our way. I wondered how Nolan, who is represented by CB1 Gallery in LA, got the commission, how his installation relates to the rest of his work, and what it was like working in an airport.
Sharon Butler: Tell me a little bit about your work. Did you propose a project that you felt would reflect something about that specific site–an airport? Did you want to make work that you felt would appeal specifically to people who are in transit?
Timothy Nolan: In my current work, I start with handmade collages, combining photography of unique geological terrain, outdated scientific graphics, and Art Deco patterns. These are scanned, digitally and manually marked, cut, and re-collaged. The larger works are then printed on aluminum or vinyl (in the case of the recent wall mural.) The results marry my interest in abstract painting and Pop Art with my fascination for quantum mechanics and astrophysics. The work alludes to natural phenomena and the intersection of culture and nature. I invite viewers to consider themes of transitioning ecosystems, and the quest for discovery beyond the visible realm.
[Image at top: Timothy Nolan, “Like Sound Going Sideways.” Photo credit: All images via PanicStudio LA]
I thought these themes were pretty relevant to travelers who either just got off a plane or are about to board one and travel at 30,000 feet. I know when I look out the window of a plane, I’m always thinking about what’s out there, both above and below. As you descend into LAX, the juncture of nature and culture is front and center: rugged mountain ranges, the Pacific Ocean, and miles of sprawling development.
I designed the mural for the specific walls in the hallway. I conceived of it as a diptych, with one half on the wall that is set back about 18 inches from the other. The imagery was in line with what I had been working on for a few years, which I thought would resonate with air travelers and their view from up there. But I also managed to sneak in an aerial view of the airport’s environs. I found this book of Landsat images taken from NASA satellites in the 1970s – pre-Google Earth! I liked the arc of the coastline; it seemed like the perfect counter to the nebula in the left hand panel.
SB: Tell me about the process of having your work selected for this project. What kind of proposal did you have to prepare?
TN: The LAWA Art Exhibition Program puts out a call for proposals every two to three years. I proposed this project in 2013. At the time I was just making small collages, but I knew there was a way to blow the images up and print them. The proportions of those collages were akin to roadside billboards. They were invented landscapes that suggested expansive panoramas, but they were only 7 x 15 inches. So I proposed blowing one up across a large wall.
I knew that once I was awarded the project, installation timing would be impacted by a number of factors at the airport. Other than coordinating the appropriate locations for the types of work and artists they choose for their program, the LAWA arts team has to work around airport and airline schedules, as well as various construction deadlines.
In early 2014, I was awarded a 200 foot hallway in Terminal 7, servicing United Airlines. This large expanse of running wall allowed me to include six large scale aluminum prints, a six foot lightbox, and some straight collage work.
I got the go-ahead to prepare for the project in May of 2015, with a tentative installation date of March 2016. I planned carefully, choosing the materials and fabricators well in advance, completing all print tests early in the process, and even printing and framing the balance of the work to be shown.
In short order, because of that occasionally unpredictable scheduling at the airport, the project was expanded at the last minute to include a second area in the same terminal. For this wall, I produced a triptych which includes three 6 x 6 foot panels printed on aluminum, and it floats above the newly built United Airlines ticketing area.
SB: I have always thought that making public work entails a lot of bureaucracy and meetings. Is this true? Was it difficult to get to the installation phase?
TN: I guess it depends on your tolerance for bureaucracy. Considering we’re talking about one of the largest and busiest airports in the world, I didn’t find it too bad. There were a few site meetings, and lots of emails back and forth. I had to sign a contract and hit benchmarks like submitting an exhibition plan, an exhibition checklist, and text for the didactic panel. This all happened over a two year period, although most in the months leading up to the installation. The program has grown a lot in recent years, which is really great for the city and its artists.
SB: Explain how you installed the work at the airport. Did they pay for your parking?
TN: Ha! Yes, parking was validated. But installing work in an active airport is very different from installing in a gallery. Everything has to go through security, and the installation crew has very set hours, so it took a week. But they did a bang-up job getting everything up behind the requisite Plexiglas panels. The ticketing area had to be installed after hours, so that was a midnight to 5 A.M. install.
SB: What is it like having work at a major metropolitan airport? Would you do it again? I think the show should travel to other airports!
TN: It’s staggering to think about the number of people who will see my work during the run of this exhibit – exponentially more than all the people who have ever seen my work in galleries over my 20+ years of exhibiting. In fact, on the first day of installation, I saw three friends and art colleagues who were passing through the hallway on their way in and out of L.A.
This exhibition at LAX is presented in partnership with the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, and is meant to be site-specific. Of course this does not mean the work couldn’t be reconfigured, referenced, reimagined, or partnered with new work as part of a different public project. All large airports and other public spaces have their own requirements and application processes, so I continue to apply for similar projects. But if there’s an airport out there who might be interested, let’s talk!
In the end, art is a mode of communication, and I feel very lucky to get the opportunity to communicate with such a large audience. Granted, many may not have the time or inclination to look closely, but I’m grateful for whatever impact, no matter how subtle, the work might have on an unsuspecting viewer.
Finally, translating my design into a 40-foot mural was a real thrill. I had a pretty good idea the work could hold at that scale, but seeing it come to life after dreaming about it for three years was truly transformative for me as an artist. It really opened up a whole new world for me in the studio. So yes, I would do it again in a heartbeat.
“Timothy Nolan: Like Sound Going Sideways,” Los Angeles World Airports, in partnership with the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, as part of the Art Exhibits Program at LAX. Terminal 7, Los Angeles International Airport. Through January 2017. Nolan’s work is also on view in “Measure, Gesture, Form,” at the Portland Museum of Art through August 7, 2016; and in “Summer Reverie” at CB1 Gallery, Los Angeles, through August 28, 2016.
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