A champion for local artists with artistic passions of his own, Eric Nord runs the nonprofit Leon Gallery with Eric Dallimore, a space that allows creatives to stretch out, unfettered by the business of selling art. In that role, Nord brings to Denver a sophistication straight from the heart of New York City, where he once worked in the arts, daring to treasure experimentation and the idea of the total artist — both as a gallerist helping others and as a thinker gone down the rabbit hole of his own imagination. Get an idea of how that works as Nord digs into the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Eric Nord: My creative muse is my own personal desire to see things I envision manifest. I think that is pretty much how most creative people operate. You’re inspired, you imagine something, and then you’re motivated to try and figure out how to realize it. More specifically, I am drawn to the challenge of bridging disparities and reconciling the seemingly incompatible, particularly with regards to left/right brain dichotomies, like reason and emotion, science and religion, math and philosophy. I have an uncontrollable impulse to try and resolve discrepancies between competing or conflicting perspectives or approaches to understanding the world. I have this sense that there could be some kind of Rosetta Stone or set of codices in existence somewhere, relating to the human experience, that, if discovered, would allow diverse people to understand and communicate with each other more effectively, in more subtle and nuanced ways. Good art succeeds at that.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Tilda Swinton, Elizabeth Fraser and my Dad. Tilda, because she’s beautiful, cool, unique and, face it, really is like some supreme being from another dimension. Elizabeth, because she has the most extraordinary voice of my entire generation, and I would give anything to have her sing one of my pieces. And my dad, because I would love to have him meet all of the wonderful, passionate, caring, courageous, talented, intelligent people I am lucky to call my friends, and for him to know that, despite the struggles, I have managed to build a deep, rich and fulfilling life for myself.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
The best thing about the local art community is the lack of overt politicking. Compared to NYC, Denver is far more organic and fluid, and far less pretentious or hierarchical. It’s also very supportive and nurturing of most artistic voices, regardless of pedigree. There can be a bit of clique-iness that happens here, and sometimes that can create tiresome and unnecessary barriers or hurdles for some artists to overcome. The worst thing about the local art community is the covert politicking.
How about globally?
The way the art world has evolved over the past twenty years has been strange and wonderful. It seems that now, more than any other time in history, more people are interested in art and exploring cultural experiences. However, there is also an unsettling trend toward populism, which borders on a lowest-common-denominator mentality, as though quantity equals quality. Here’s a perfect example of that bridging disparities challenge: How do you create a work of art that is at once accessible to a large audience but provokes that audience to expand and evolve beyond their default settings, their comfort zone, their standardized perceptions and their institutionalized tastes. Quality work reveals itself over time and is often misunderstood or met with resistance when first experienced.
As an artist and a gallerist, how would you size up the current climate in the local art world?
I think that what is happening in the local art community, from a creative standpoint, is wonderful, and worthy of much more attention both nationally and internationally. However, there is still a reticence from the more powerful and wealthy members of our community to acknowledge and support the local talent. Unfortunately, they are failing to see the potential in that which is close at hand, in their own backyard. Perhaps it’s because they feel the need for some sort of validation from other individuals or institutions that they perceive as having more authority or influence.
Admittedly, it is difficult for anyone be a trailblazer. To not only say you think a work of art is good, but also actively advocate for that work or that artist, and place yourself on record as believing the artist is important enough for others to take notice and also support.
At Leon we are trying to present programming that is definitely against the status quo, and sometimes the audiences aren’t sure how to approach some of the work we exhibit. It's a big world, and there is a lot of room for different voices and visions. I think that our track record has demonstrated that we have an eye for emerging talent. There are several artists we have shown that have proven themselves on a much larger stage, and I know that some of our collectors are wishing they had purchased work when we first exhibited them.
What’s your dream project?
When I lived in NYC and worked at the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I was incredibly fortunate to experience the amazing artistic output of visionaries like Pina Bausch, William Forsythe, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (the artist who Beyonce likes to brazenly ripoff), Lucinda Childs, Martha Clarke and Mark Morris. These artists, who strangely enough would all be classified as choreographers, were rigorously challenging the notions and expanding the boundaries of performative art at the end of the twentieth century. My dream project would be to have the financial support necessary to create and produce an original performance piece for theater that encompasses all the various artistic disciplines: music, dance, theater, film and visual art. I am definitely a proponent of Gesamtkunstwerk, and would love to play an integral role in developing a “total work of art” with a vibrant group of innovative cross-disciplinary artists.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Denver: Love it. Every city has its pros and cons. And there are days when I get frustrated with the city. But either the quality of life in this city is far better than the other cities I’ve lived in, or its energy is just more aligned with my own at this point in my life.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I have a whole slew of favorite Colorado Creatives. As a gallerist and executive director of the Leon Nonprofit Arts Organization, it is super easy to amass a long list. Several standouts who I believe possess the skill, the drive and discipline, the intellectual curiosity and the instinctual impulse for innovation, are Diego Rodriguez-Warner, George Perez, Douglas Spencer, Suchitra Mattai, Amber Cobb, Matthew Harris, Eriko Tsogo, Kaitlyn Tucek, Esther Hernandez, Jordan Knecht (doing his MFA at SAIC), and my Leon cohort Eric Robert Dallimore. I think these individuals, among many others, have the potential to establish robust careers that will have longevity and diversity, while maintaining their artistic integrity.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
On Saturday November 23 at the McNichols Building, I will be presenting “Quintessential,” an original piano composition with accompanying film, commissioned by ArtHyve for their 2019 Archives as Muse program. I have taken numerous hours of old 8mm family films and edited them down into a piece of approximately ten minutes in length, then scored it.
Although deeply personal, I have discovered that these images of four generations of my family, falling in love, raising their families, rising to prominence but ultimately falling prey to the consequences of unforeseen circumstances, in many ways parallels the rise and fall of the American dream. My grandfather certainly experienced the dream first hand as an immigrant from Sweden. He worked for one company his entire life, starting as a stock boy, and working his way up to becoming president of the corporation. My mother grew up within that privileged culture, where anything was possible if you applied yourself. However, my generation, my siblings and I were blind-sided by the inescapable loss we suffered resulting from illness and death, the tragic and indiscriminate aspects of life that no amount of privilege can assuage.
Also, coming up in late spring/early summer of 2020, I will be doing a new installation at Understudy, through a commission from the Denver Theater District. Although it is a little too early to divulge the concept and content for this piece, you can rest assured that it will incorporate that “bridging disparities, reconciling the seemingly incompatible” impulse I have.
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Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Douglas Spencer is one of the most ingenious and innovative artists I have the huge honor to call my friend. Unassuming, easy-going, simultaneously cynical and optimistic, his work with smoke on glass is pure alchemy and utterly brilliant.
Eric Nord will perform “Quintessential” as part of ArtHyve’s Archives As Muse live artist showcase on Saturday, November 23, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the McNichols Building, 144 West Colfax Avenue; get info and tickets, $15, at eventbrite.com.
Learn more about Leon Gallery online.