Emily NickelOklahoma City, Oklahoma

Red Lodge Clay Center Long-Term Resident 2018-19

Emily Nickel is a ceramic artist and arts educator who uses human and animal forms to explore themes of personal identity. She holds an MFA in Ceramics from Indiana University in Bloomington, and has participated in several residency programs including Watershed Center and Red Lodge Clay Center. Emily’s work has been exhibited throughout the US and internationally in galleries such as Leedy-Voulkos in Kansas City, the Archie Bray in Helena, and at several NCECA conferences. Currently, Emily teaches art full-time at Heritage Hall School in Oklahoma City, and offers short-term workshops around the country.

I create ceramic figures and vessels which feature magical beasts and their human companions, in search of their truth in an unfamiliar world. Visually, I set this search for self in a lush, dreamlike world inspired by a literary genre known as Portal Fantasy. Stories of this genre feature protagonists who have been thrust suddenly through a portal into a new world and must work to discover their place and purpose.

As a young person, I often struggled with questions about my own identity and purpose in life. During that time, and during difficult periods in my adulthood, I have turned to Portal Fantasy stories as a resting place. As a young person, stories like this helped me feel seen; as many feature young adults as main characters, working their way through journeys of self-discovery and personal maturation.

Visually, you will find many references to the Portal Fantasy genre in my work, such as block print-like illustrations, animal characters, or fantastical landscapes. Often, characters will tumble, fly, or float in an indeterminate space, giving a sense of placelessness, or of a journey not yet finished. Each of my pieces joins the protagonist mid-tale, and I invite viewers to imagine what happens next.

One of the most powerful elements of Portal Fantasy, and the Fantasy genre in general, is that it allows us to look at deep-seated issues such as morality and the purpose of life, but through the looking-glass remove of a fantasy realm. From this fantastical perch we can look down into the thorny thicket of our struggles with personal growth and find it beautiful instead of scary.