INTERVIEW: NIK OCTOBER-CLYDESDALE
i have known nik october-clydesdale online since ~2019. now, we live a three minute bike ride away. their street goes down a diagonal. the same objects can carry you through dimensions; their studio was made up of so much i had already seen. drawings and objects, the side of their dog’s eye. transport also holds true for nik’s practice. they are an illustrator, ceramicist; they make their one world (tiles, no carpet, a distant echo, a prompt for investigation; lines made strange, softness spiked, colours clanging softly). we get to traverse its axes while remaining inside it.
in nik’s home studio, we talked about accumulation, function, overlap, touch. the dog too; she toothed, she played.
NIK : the more that i keep making objects, i’m like, there are so many objects.
EJ: in terms of storage?
N : storage, and just a spiritual burden. especially with ceramics, which are the most permanent thing. you’re taking something that was mined, that is still organic, and once you fire it, it becomes something completely different. it’s a chemical change, and it can’t be recycled anymore. i mean, you could crush it and it would become dirt, i guess. eventually. but yeah. every little ceramic experiment is pretty permanent.
E : how do these feel related to your illustration? do they feel like they’re of the same world and you’re bringing them out into the third dimension?
N :they do feel connected, but i think ceramics inform my drawing more: objects and interior spaces and stuff. i think drawing and illustrating feels a bit more casual. i think there’s a lot of gravity to making a physical thing.
E : i was gonna ask you about vessels. that’s how you world-build domestic spaces. there are always ceramics in the illustrations.
N : when i first started making ceramics, i was really obsessed with vases, because they sort of live in the space between functional and not-. you can get away with having something totally useless because it has a function that never really sees the light of day–unless you’re a person who has flowers regularly, which i’m not. i used to have dried flowers a lot, but then i’d bump into them, and pollen and flowers would get everywhere.
i think when you’re making something, you should want to touch it. and sometimes i succeed, and sometimes i fail, but
i think they’re like little people. they’re like little bodies. they create a mood that feels really resonant to me. it’s funny how you’re looking through these [drawings] and almost all of them have [gestures to vessels].
E : yeah! yeah it’s cool. and it is this dissonant bodily form. a fragile one too, i guess.
N : totally. this one is funny – this [drawing of an amphora] was initially a print that i ended up tattooing on my leg. and that [what ej is holding] is a picture of my tattoo.
E : i’ve been talking with my roommate jeff – he’s an architect and also an industrial designer – about this convergence in design where even if you were like, “i’m going to remake this tool,” there are certain things that would end up still happening. because you’d be like, “okay, it kind of needs to be this length because i need it to reach here,” and “there needs to be a hook on this corner,” or whatever. i guess i’m trying to say something about vases and hands. sometimes i’ll come across a moment where some thing will fit into another thing perfectly and they were never meant to do that but there’s a weird standardization of sizes just because we have generally the same proportions.
N : yes. totally. i was thinking the other day about how baudrillard said that personalization is parasitic. he’s very anti-consumerism, marxist; “objects have a function and should do that function. anything that you do to that object to make it different from the ideal form of the object is additive.” but i think it's still fun to consider; parasitic is such a fun word. i did for a while make little sculptures that were “find your own function.” i have one in the bathroom that sam keeps his toothbrush on [walks out].
E : [calling] is it the orb on the cup?
N : [returning, hands it to ej] no, that one’s downstairs; but that is one of them. this one is really dusty, but. yeah. he keeps his toothbrush on it.
E : how? just leaning?
N : just on it. and then the floss goes here. so i have a couple like this. and then i had this crisis where i felt like it was irresponsible of me to make an object and to say, “find your own function to this thing. i was like, “am i putting too much pressure on the person?” and then, “what if it doesn’t find a function, and then it’s just useless?”
what you were saying about things made for a universal purpose or universal hand, that’s part of what’s tricky about designing functional objects. because some people like to hold a handle with one finger, some people like to hold it with their whole hand, some people have to hold it with two hands. it feels almost impossible to strive for universality, which is hard. personally i have really bad hand joints and wrist joints so holding heavy cups is difficult.
E : let me see what else i have written.
N : i like your little drawings.
E : well these are yours! [laugh] i was just like, “if i think of nik’s work, what shapes?”
N : i love that. that’s one of my favourite little flowers to draw. i’m working on a little slab built mug that wraps up on itself. i’m cutting a little window in and putting a little illustration in the window. i guess this is somewhere where illustration and ceramics are entwining a little bit. i love the idea of portals or gates– [ej holds up notebook] did you? really?
E : i said “tell me about vessels, tell me about portals.”
N : wow. how did that word come to you?
E : i just felt, this has gotta be a word nik is working with.
N : that’s so fun. i love that. when i first started illustrating it was just sort of casual. So thinking about what i wanted to draw, i really like fantasy as a genre and i was thinking about what happens when i look at drawings i really like. and it’s a moment where you’re really being brought into the world of the drawing.
E : something that i really like about your work is that there’s the portal but you also really understand–the wayward traveler guy that you made–the ruggedness of the actual path. you’re thinking about how you traverse the portal. it has some materiality.
N : i’m glad that it feels that way for you. let me grab that little guy to touch him. [leaves, returns]
E : oh, i didn’t realize the traveler was so small! it’s like a lucky token. going back to the hand thing: it fits so perfectly in a hand.
N : that’s why i love figurines. it feels so nice to touch, and it brings you into their little world while you are touching them.
E : you also had the, it was more abstracted, but you had like a nativity scene piece.
N : oh yes, the three little figurines. where are those? they’re probably in the basement somewhere, bubble-wrapped. those were really fun to make too. there’s something about figurines for me they feel like an indulgence to make, because they feel so special to me and i don’t know if figurines are a thing that people have room for in their lives.
E : yeah, this [holding figurine] is really going away from the form/function overlap where you can get away with making vases or something. this is sheer play.
N : yeah. yeah. and it’s fine for me; i don’t make things to sell; i think there are a lot of ceramicists that don’t like selling things. it’s a weird relationship to figure out. so i want to make things i’m happy to keep forever. [pulling more over] i made this guy this ring stand guy for sam.
E : so beautiful. this is kind of a vase or vessel or looks like one.
N : totally. i like to make pieces like that. i was selling some stuff at an arts market in the spring, and there was this one little cup. someone came up to me and said, “oh this is for incense,” and i was like, “yeah!” and someone else said, “oh it’s an egg cup! wow, that’s a great egg cup!” and i was like, “absolutely.” it was very fun that everyone was so confident that they recognized it as fulfilling that function for them. that’s what it’s made for.
E : my psychology background– there’s a term for why you look at this [cup] and you’re like, “oh this, i’ll put liquid in it,” and you’re not like, “oh i’ll put this on my head.” it’s called functional fixedness. there are these thought games where they’ll give you a box of tacks and a candle and ask, “how do you attach this to the wall?” and the solution is that you have to tack the box to the wall.
N : did you ever watch whose line is it anyway? it’s an old improv comedy show my mom watched growing up. they’d just be given a box of objects and you’d have to come up with a new function for the object and try to sell it, which is pretty fun. so i’m just doing the same thing.
E : i really like to put my finger in [this divot].
N : functional fixedness, that’s got a nice little feel to it.
E : this is nice too. little bell.
N : yeah! I don’t know, you know, what that’s for. [laugh]
E : and i love the feeling of this sort of pointed– i’ve never seen this. it’s like bowser. i’m curious - do you sketch this before, or how does that happen?
N : some things i sketch before, and some things i’ll just flip through my sketchbook or an old sketchbook.
E : this is a classic too for you just a-
N : i love frames and windows-
E : window-
N : totally, and how if you draw them really simply it looks like it could be both.
E : can i ask about your relationship to touch?
N : when i first started working with ceramics i was a little worried that it wouldn’t be something i could do long term just because my hands are so janky. so every time that i made something it felt very important. so actually touching and forming the things. at first i wanted to express that through moulding things to the shape of my hands,things that followed the form of the body. and then i decided to get better at making ceramics, so i tried to make things that were smooth and flat. here’s some more little guys, if you want to fidget.
E : oh my gosh please. this is my heaven. if you're met with an object do you want to touch it? smell it?
N : oh i wanna hold it. it’s hard to imagine seeing something and not wanting to pick it up when you see it. i guess some people don’t feel that. it’s a little hard to imagine. how do you feel about vases? and vessels and things. i’m always curious because i feel like everyone feels similar to me. but i’m constantly learning that that isn’t the case.
E : i think accumulation stresses me out, so i’m not a big container person. because if i have a container, then i need more things to put into the container. i don’t know if i have good human vocabulary about this. but i put little things together. i have a corner of my room called “this is what a cow believes,” and it’s just a little plastic cow and behind it is an eryn lougheed tiny little postcard print. and there’s another corner of my room with rocks and sea glass lined up and, actually, another postcard behind the desk, and that’s called “rocks at the movies.” i feel like i’m more figurine is i guess my answer.
N : totally. that makes sense. i love the collections of objects; that’s something i think about a lot. putting things next to each other, labelling things, giving them some sort of invented context is extremely fun.
E : i feel like that’s what’s fun about fantasy imagery. it’s kind of loaded with narrative energy.
N : totally. it’s all very loaded. someone asked me why i draw swords a lot, which i don’t think is something i do as much anymore, but it’s just such an interesting image. i think for some people it really resonates and signals something shared, and then for some people it’s geek shit. or not as resonant. which is also fair.
E : do you know, i’m going to forget his real name, jean something, elderghoul?
N : yeah, i have a bunch of tattoos from him. this little guy, whom i love because he’s contained in a little box, is one of my favourites. it’s also an important spot. hands and wrists.
E : yeah. that’s kind of a sacred joint.
N : i like his work a lot. very high fantasy, very hard fantasy.
E : and i feel like you’re abstracted away from that pure [fantasy] – would you say so?
N : oh i totally agree, and that doesn’t feel totally like a choice. it’s like what i understand about fantasy sort of filtered through something. and maybe i wouldn't want to filter it if i could. and – not that i’m not trying; i’m constantly trying very hard – but there’s an element of not trying. i’m taking a painting class right now, and you have to look at references and do a certain amount of research. i think that that can be good, and sometimes i think i should do that and it might make my illustrations better. but i haven’t embraced it because it’s–i kind of can’t stand to do it.
E : i feel like, visually, the gesture to something is almost more important. like if you are working with the memory of a thing, you’ll make something that’s also more resonant with other people’s memory of it. i’m a big halloween person, and i’ve realized that if you’re going for crowd pleasing it’s better to go with what people associate with something rather than what’s most accurate.
N : i love thinking about that in the context of halloween. hinting at something rather than trying to emulate it exactly. it’s also interesting in regards to ceramics. i’ve been doing a lot of mould-making and slip casting. you keep making an echo of the thing, the model, the original version. there are subtle things on the surface that you don’t think will come out in the copies and then they’re there, so prominently.
N : oh i didn’t clock that this had a little– E :inlay, yeah. N : so nice. it’s really subtle. you could just paint it on, but the way light reflects off of it, you can tell that it’s in there. / i do have a stack, there are stacks everywhere, i need shelves, this is just -shhhhhh- a bunch of drawings and things E : i love this layering. it’s like (points to indented clay). N: oh that’s so interesting.
Follow EJ:Instagram: @ejkneifel
EJ Kneifel is a friend of a friend, ekphrastic critic, columnist at In the Mood Magazine, reviews editor at the literary magazine The Ex-Puritan, author of the chapbook VIO-LETS (Anstruther Press 2023), co-creator of P8s, ORANGING, CATCH.
Nik October is a multidisciplinary artist based in Toronto. Their work is a collage of queer self portraits centred around collected, invented worlds, and the intimate separation of body and self.