Nicole Pietrantoni’s artists’ books and paper-based installations take an experimental approach to the book form. Her bookworks explore the representation of beauty in times of loss, as well as how we read, reproduce, and disseminate text and images.
Nicole is the recipient of numerous awards including a Fulbright to Iceland, an Artist Trust Fellowship, the Manifest Prize, and a Graves Award for Excellence in Humanities Teaching and Research.
She has been awarded residencies at Meta Open Arts, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and the Venice Printmaking Studio, amongst others. She has given over 30 lectures about her work and her art has been in over 100 national and international exhibitions. She is currently represented by Long-Sharp Gallery.
She received her MFA and MA in Printmaking from the University of Iowa and her BS in Human and Organizational Development and Art History from Vanderbilt University. Nicole served as the President of SGC International from 2016-18, the largest professional organization dedicated to scholarship in printmaking, book arts, and papermaking in North America.
Nicole taught printmaking and book arts for over a decade. She is now working as a full-time studio artist in Prague where she lives with her husband and daughter.
"My artists’ books and installations explore the representation of beauty in times of loss, photography’s role in producing memory, and humans’ relationship to the environment. Taking an experimental approach to the book form, my art asks how the book and printed matter can both enable and undercut humans’ active role in constructing and idealizing images. Rather than a fixed site or single image, the fragmented paper columns, text, and book forms engage the world as an unstable accumulation of processes, perceptions, and narratives.
I make inkjet-printed accordion books on Japanese papers that expand to create large-scale installations. It is this tension of creating works that are both/and that interests me – work that is both print and book, both 2D and 3D, both static and dynamic, constantly in flux, slipping between categories. All of the work is rooted in an interest in an expanded definition of the book and its metaphoric potential at a time of all-things-digital. I see the book (and the subsequent pages, folds, fragments, and surfaces) as sites of inquiry to explore our experience and the construction of knowledge.
In my work I print with CMYK halftone dots and use other interventions like cuts and folds to draw attention to the production of the printed image – to point to how the image is created, framed, and embedded in culture. While nature has often been the subject matter of my work, I also explore photography’s inability to document what we see and experience, question how we use beauty in times of loss, and have developed a deep interest in abstraction and color.
In each work I take apart and compress photographs of hyper-colored sunsets, weeds I see on walks, and flowers from urban garden beds. I print my photographs on rolls of delicate Japanese paper and then bind them into books or adhere the images onto bent steel armatures. I spray the back of each column with a neon red paint that casts a glowing pink color on the gallery wall. This color calls to mind both the natural – the pinkish-orange light of dawn – as well as the highly artificial – the neon orange of traffic cones and hazard tape. All of the color, folds, fragments, and shadows point to an image that is at once beautiful but also broken and highly constructed."
Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the arts.
Having been an educator, curator, administrator and leader in the arts for almost two decades, I have finally made the leap to being a full-time studio artist. A radical move, but one that has opened up a more joyful, creative life for me and my family. Like many artists I’ve worked in numerous roles that serve the careers and creative process of others. These have been nourishing and skill-building positions, but took a lot of energy away from my artwork. I felt this acutely after having a baby in the middle of the pandemic. Now I can say that I’m grateful for all the skills and capacities I’ve built in those roles that now serve me in my own studio and life here in Prague.
I’m originally from the Midwest and grew up in a creative household but couldn’t see a path forward to being an artist. I went to Vanderbilt University thinking I’d be an art therapist, then moved into a double major with Art History and Human and Organizational Development. After my undergrad, I worked as researcher in a non-profit arts think tank, a curatorial assistant for a hospital arts program, and director of a grant program for a state arts commission before going back to school for my MFA.
When I got an MFA, teaching was never my goal – rather, I wanted to see what could happen if I gave myself the time and permission to be an artist. Through that process I discovered that I loved being in a community of other makers. Since then, I have taught printmaking and book arts for more than a decade as a tenured professor at a small liberal arts school.
Before starting my teaching career, my love and appreciation for living and making art overseas was sparked by a year in Iceland on a Fulbright grant. Since then, fellowships and residencies have played a significant role in my development as an artist and my capacity to build a life and studio practice in another country. My family recently relocated to Prague where I’ve slowly built a studio and have a deep appreciation for the time I have to be an artist and mother here.
What kind of work are you currently making?
I’m working with local fabricators to create bent steel accordions for me. These bent steel pieces function as armatures on which I wrap digitally printed Japanese paper. Along with this work, I’ve also started experimenting with powder-coating the steel and spraypainting the backs of the accordions with a fluorescent red to cast a glow on the gallery wall. Lots of explorations with color, light, and shadows. I also continue to make works on paper – now that I found a local artist who does contract large-format printing, I’ve been working on a new series of bookworks that stitch together snippets of my photographs and reproductions of found images.
What is a day like in the studio for you?
My time in the studio is one of the highlights of my week – it’s my livelihood and I treat it as such. I arrive early and get straight to work. Depending on where I am at in a project, I might be hand cutting long strips of paper, folding accordions, binding books, or installing work. My work frequently involves repetitive processes based in the bookbinding tradition. When I’m not doing these things, I might be at my computer prepping files or picking up prints from a local printmaking studio where my large-format prints are produced. I’ve kept my studio somewhat lean – this means I stay very focused and collaborate or reach out when I need specialized tools, assistance, or fabrication. It helps me to meet other artists (and practice my Czech!) I am lucky to be in my studio almost every day of the week – now that I have steady childcare, I arrive at the studio around 8am and then go home for lunch and spend the rest of the day with my daughter.
What are you looking at right now and/or reading?
Artists I return to again and again:
And a few specifically from Prague that are inspiring me:
Jenny Hladova, a Czech textile artist working in the 60-70’s, whose work was recently featured at the Design Museum of Prague
"In Praise of Risk," Anne Dufourmantelle
"Skipping School, Learning the Fire of Things," an artist book by Katarina Poliacikova
Where can we find more of your work?
Representation: Long Sharp Gallery
Solo Exhibition at the Turchin Center for the Arts in July
Masterpiece London in June with Long Sharp Gallery