September 2016: Near the west coast of Iceland
May 2016: Journey to Fiji
AT LARGE magazine issue 4, December 2015
Cover and portfolio
Interview by Anne Hunter
Where is your favorite place in nature?
Iceland, without a doubt. I have never felt the energy from nature like I have felt it in Iceland. It is so raw and exposed. Also, one of my fascinations with Iceland is that the people who live there have really learned to work with nature and let it do its thing. Living in sync with it, so to speak. In a sense it’s nature putting us in our place, letting us know we are only a small part of this huge ecosystem that we call earth. I think it’s important to feel that kind of energy in life. That feeling is the one that I always get in Iceland and that is the feeling that always draws me back.
What is the favorite photograph that you have taken?
I don't know that I have a favorite or piece that I like most. There are a number that I am happy with, but I often reflect back to see those things that could have been done much better or improved upon. The addiction to being in places where all of my senses become awakened, that is what shuts down my mind and has a calming affect. Nature and the ocean and a few horses that I have been trying to work with have taken me on expected trips of awakening. So, I don't have a favorite, rather I treasure the moments along the way that have stayed in my mind because of the experience.
When did you begin taking self-portraits?
On my first trip to Iceland, I drove to the south of Iceland and found a beach that I wanted to explore. The beach was only accessible at low tide, because it was gated by large cliffs that wrapped around either side and left the beach exposed with no entry or exit by land. I took a tripod with me and ended up shooting some images of myself totally naked on this beach looking off into the ocean. I lost track of the tide and stayed for hours until I ended up getting trapped and barely made it to safety. I remember carrying my camera overhead and waiting for the right moment when the tide was drawing out to sea, then I sprinted into the North Atlantic trying to get around the point and back to safety. It was a good lesson of what not to do when shooting alone in a location. I was almost swept out to sea by the current, which was what scared me the most.
When I was back in my car, I sat with the heat on full and looked at the photos from the day for the first time. The few photos that came were the first self-portraits that I had taken in nature and they triggered the idea of using myself as a subject. In my art, the depth of the self-portraits seemed to carry a lot more weight and depth to start a conversation about man’s relationship to nature.
How did your childhood influence your art?
My grandmother, Carmen Z. Simpkins, was also an artist, a painter from Germany. I grew up around her and did not realize until much later in life that she would have a strong impact on me. Not so much on my work directly but on understanding the mind of an artist and seeing the world in a different way and what it means to be truly dedicated to your art. On top of that, I was home schooled as a child until high school, when I moved to France and spent the remaining time as a teenager there in school. This had a large impact on my perspective on the world but also my views on people and cultures and our relationship to nature and each other. I was actually in France during 9/11 and that made me really see things from a different perspective than it would have had I been in the States at the time. I wasn't aware at the time how much some of my childhood and high school years would impact me until later on especially when looking in depth at human nature and our instincts and behavior.
Tell us about your relationship to horses.
Horses have had a large influence on my life not just in art but also in learning to understand my own nature and how delicate we are as humans. My connection to horses is very much a personal one. From a young age I have felt an understanding and calmness around them. They seem to carry some of the most pure and sensitive emotions of any animal. This has always kept me wanting to be part of their tribe or their species, perhaps more so than the average horsemen.
Why did you begin including yourself in photographs with horses?
My relationship to horses is a complex one, but I’m not sure the focus should be on horses, rather on nature itself. Horses just became the personal choice through which nature seems most represented in the way I see it - strong and powerful and full of sensitivity and beauty. I think the subject of nature itself is a complex one not easily defined by man. Horses represent one of the most noble and strong creatures that have bonded with man throughout history. I actually started by shooting women with horses trying to capture something visceral that went beyond just capturing beauty or a pretty image with horses or in nature. I found myself never content and felt like I was projecting these emotions and sentiments on somebody else, and, then I began shooting myself with the horses.
How does your connection to horses and nature conceptualize the synthesis of human intellect with animal instincts and how do these principles guide your own life?
I believe man is an animal in his own right, not a blended species. I think we carry with us instincts that are animal in nature because our roots and our bodies and emotions are all based on human/animal nature. I don't think we humans are separate from animals or nature; we don't live in nature - we are nature. We are all part of the same ecosystem. Since I was a child I think I have been very in tune with nature and animals. There is something calming about it.
Which philosophers do you study to support your own ethics concerning human nature?
Nature, by design, is in constant conflict. From the very beginnings of evolution and growth, things are pushed to grow or evolve. I most align with Thomas Hobbes who very much believed that man was an animal in the sense we have to live under some form of rules or regulations, or else we will be in complete conflict with each other.
What do you appreciate most about Hobbes’ philosophy?
Hobbes seemed to realize that humans, when left to their own devices, will almost always end up on a path to turmoil and self or social destruction, which is how the idea of social contract theory and an elected government or authority was conceived. I find it fascinating that amid all the current social and political problems and opinions, when we strip away the extraneous layers, we see exactly that the real root of the problem is our own animal instincts. Whether it’s from people fighting for more power, for more money, or more control, it all boils down to some pretty basic emotions that are unharnessed and let roam free.
The word philosophy is taken from the Greek word, (phileo) meaning "to love" or "to befriend" and (sophia) meaning "wisdom." Thus, "philosophy" means "the love of wisdom". Does your art embody a certain philosophy?
Through art, I am striving to have a conversation about man’s instincts and relationship with the natural world. Horses for me have become the link to the natural world. I am not sure if there are rules of civilization, but I want to explore the ideas of how closely linked we are to nature and explore my own animality and how it relates to the culture of today. Nature is my philosophy – that’s probably the easy answer to the question.
What is your view of humans in nature?
I personally believe humans have the ability to control our nature and emotions, yet the mind, which is our valuable tool as a human; however, is also our most dangerous tool because controlling the mind is far more challenging than one would think.
The idea that human beings can become "overhuman" or that we can overcome ourselves is an important one because that is what makes our intellectual minds slightly more self aware than certain animals in nature, but this idea of altering ourselves is also a key problem in society today. We are aware of our abilities as species yet we still sink back into the same problems or fall short of overcoming some of our natural instincts that in the past have led us down a path of destruction.
Human intelligence I believe is like a double-edged sword. Intellect has lead us down a path that has the potential to be revolutionary and powerful, but we tend to try to ignore our natural instincts or animal instincts, which almost always will lead us astray via emotions that we find very difficult to control. Or, we choose to ignore the red flags that we are doing something potentially dangerous for ourselves, or worse, for the earth and our entire population.
Have you mastered your own animality to allow an unbridled expression to come forward through each encounter with your subjects?
I’m not sure I have mastered my own animality. In fact, I think I struggle with it fairly often. Being aware of these emotions or being aware of what are the roots of my feelings is important. I think the more "overhuman" I become, the better equipped I am to create works that deal with the conversation on a meaningful level.
Where will your explorations take you?
I do want my work to keep evolving and consider some patterns in the natural world and physiological elements of modern society. How do we relate to nature and how does the man made ecosystem of cities and towns interact with nature? The current conversation about our complex relationship to nature and climate and how the world is evolving is also part of the conversation.
AT LARGE magazine issue 2, March 2015
Collaboration cover and portfolio
Man of the World issue 9, September 2014
Essay by Max Blagg
Nick Turner’s evocative delineations of the classic form of the horse, its muscle and blood, skin and bone, are in the tradition of a long line of artists who manage to evoke the truly mysterious and noble qualities of the animal, a line that stretches from Susan Rothenberg, Joe Andoe, and George Stubbs to the unknown artists who decorated the walls of prehistoric European caves.
Turner grew up around horses, living an itinerant life with his family in northern New England, where his artist parents home schooled him, and where he came to know something of the solitary life. He now divides his time between New York City and a studio almost off the grid, deep in the Maine woods. There he paints alone in an unheated barn through the winter, an act that would seem to verge on masochism if you are familiar with winter in Maine. Smoke from a thousand woodstoves perfumes the air, someone is buying a quart of oil and a pint of vodka in the One-Stop at 8 a.m., snow is falling, cows’ ears are snapping off in frozen meadows. Through the long winter nights that begin around three p.m., the only sounds you may hear are tire chains churning the tarmac. This icy solitude well suits a guy who sees man as animal, and defines nature as ‘a state of war’.
Clad in a survival suit, careful not to let the paint freeze, Turner engages with the solitude and the cold. He says these extreme conditions connect him to the primeval the way riding a horse connects you not only to the Kentucky Derby but also to battles and slaughter, warriors descending on defenseless peasant villages to pillage and burn. His imagery promotes these antediluvian memories, backed by an imaginary soundtrack of Patti Smith raving about ‘horses, horses, coming in from all directions/white shining silver studs with their nose in flames...” Do ya know how to pony, Nick? Yes Nick can pony, his exquisite renditions of the horse’s shapely contours, unchanged through thousands of years, conjure a creature far removed from the grinning banality of the famous Mister Ed, one closer to the anthropomorphic, hyper intelligent Talking Horse who canters through Edward Dorn’s epic American poem, Gunslinger.
Turner has studied the contours of this elegant animal up close since he was a child exploring the Maine woods. Throatlatch, fetlock, pastern and croup, he knows each animal’s parts by heart. And he can tell you at a glance how many hands that mare stands. Turner’s fluid line in his ink and charcoal drawings contains hints and echoes of the animals drawn by the first hunter gatherers on the walls of caves fifty thousand years ago, examining the pure synchronicity of man and beast, ancient connections to the first horse in its wildness, and then to those that moved in obedience to a man’s command, becoming the first conveyance, shortly to be followed by the wheel that would engender the cart and a life of servitude for future equine generations.
He came to NYC a few winters past, adapting to the harsh contrast of summer heat and scrambling multitudes, hoping to carve out a solid path in the nebulous art world, keeping it real, solid as the ice on a winter pond up North. Nick’s own well-developed upper body matches the powerfully muscled beast in these photographs. Both man and ride have the kind of torso that might, to paraphrase Raymond Chandler, “make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window,” not to mention incite a long list of photographers to freeze and frame them in their lens. Why not? Physical beauty is so ephemeral it must be caught on the hoof, laid down in pencil, paint, and prose, on film and digital, as rapidly and purely as possible. And besides, these days you need biceps as well as concepts to muscle your way through the art world.
The artist shivering in his unheated barn thinks of the 19th Century English artist George Stubbs in his slaughterhouse of a studio, studying the decaying musculature of a dead racehorse, careless of the stench. Turner hunkers down and works on, equine mysteries materializing from the tip of his sable brush. Spring will come, the ice will thaw, and horsemen will ride.
High Tails Capricious, New York, September 2014
High Tails is an eclectic volume of photography celebrating horses and commemorating Capricious’ tenth anniversary in publishing and supporting emerging and underrepresented artists. High Tails is a 250+ page book of photography—including iconic images of horses throughout the 20th century alongside work from contemporary and emerging photographers, over 80 artists in total.
Aaron McElroy / Alex Marks / Alexandra Vogt / Anders Petersen / Anna Kleberg / Anna Sulikowska / Anne Hall / Anouk Kruithof / Barbara Simons / Beni Bischof / Bianca Pilett / Brianna Capozzi / Camille Vivier / Carl Hasselgarde / Carolin Leszinski / Charlotte Dumas / Charlotte Gyllenhammars / Clemence Chatel / Fiona Crott / Etienna Malapert / Collier Schorr / Corey Towers / Dorothea Lange / Eamon Mac Mahon / Elspeth Diederix / Erika Larsen / Ernst Haas / Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky / Francesca Tamse / Hagar Schmidhalter / Hanna Liden / Helene Schmitz / Helmut Newton / Ilona Schwartz / Isabella Rozendaal / Jeanine Oleson / Jill Greenberg / John Francis Peters / Julian Wolkenstein / Karen Knorr / Kat Slootsky / Krista van der Niet / Kurt Arrigo / Landon Speers / Laure Et Sarah / Lena Kholkina / Lindsay Blatt / Lindsey D'Addato / Loulou D'Aki / Mark Borthwick / Max & Doug Starn / Melanie Bonajo / Michelle Groskopf / Mimi Plumb / Morgan Levy / Muybridge / Nan Goldin / Nick Turner / Nikolina Archini / Pernilla Zetterman / Perry Ogden / Petra Collins / Richard Prince /Risk Hazekamp / Robert Mapplethorpe / Ryan Foerster / Ryan McGinley / Sarah Bilotta / Seth Fluker / Sophie Morner / Susan Surface / Tamara Caldera / Tim Flach / Tim Walker / Tom Szustek / Viviane Sassen / Whitney Hubbs / Yann Gross /