EK Interview: Adam Niklewicz

Adam Niklewicz is an amazing sculptor, and dedicated enough an artist to eat a piece of toast buttered with orange paint. His work discusses his experience as an emigrant in America, having come with no knowledge of the language, and made his way as an artist. Check out his interview:

What is your full name?
Adam Niklewicz, that’s it!

Tell us about the house you grew up in.
My parents were teachers and our apartment was located right in the school building. I didn’t really have to go outside to get to school.

What was your reason for leaving Poland and why did you choose the United States as your place of refuge?
It was all for the adventure. I’m addressing this in my piece SAILOR, 2005. The write-up for it says: ‘…this work is about dreams and the naiveté of an emigrant artist’s mindset’. Why America? That’s where the restless souls head. Knowing nobody there and speaking no English couldn’t stop me.


What do you miss most about Poland?
The smell of the Polish forest.

knife bucket

What do you appreciate most about the United States?
It may be America’s curious appetite for collective hysterias, or is it an act of collective soul searching. In any case, it’s interesting to observe from within.

How did your emigration go, was it difficult?
Yes, emigration is no picnic. I think, all of my work is shaped by my emigrant experience. The experience is ongoing and I embrace it – that is what keeps me creative.

How did orange paint taste? What was the impetus for you spreading paint on bread? Did you have any fear about it being poisonous? You say in the description that doing it again is re-affirming the act of commitment, what is the act of commitment you’re referring to?
Orange oil paint tastes like stale sardines from a can. The work you are referring to (UNTITLED, 2008) recreates an incident that took place many years ago during a drinking party of a bunch of 17-year old art students. All of them ready to conquer the (art) world. In my drunken stupor, I spread orange oil paint over a slice of bread and challenged everyone to take a bite. There were no takers! Meanwhile, I put myself on the spot and had to have a solid chunk. The incident returned to me quite suddenly, and made me realize that the then display of adolescent stupidity was in fact an act of commitment. A vow. I think I’m the only participant of that gathering from the past that keeps making art. I recreated that ‘action’ to renew the old vows (and to create a new piece of art).


What was your feeling for RIGOROUS? Where did the name come from? Have you ever boxed? Have you ever canned foods? Where did the impetus to combine the two objects come from? Does the piece reflect your feeling in any way? Not fitting in some ways, but in a place that is big enough to hold you?
The idea for RIGOROUS came to me more or less fully formed as I was driving home at night from a meeting of the Peekskill Artist Club (it’s a group of artists who meet monthly at Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art in Peekskill, NY). The meetings are hosted and mediated by Marc and Livia Straus, the proprietors of HVCCA and great champions of contemporary art. With them in the room the notion of artistic rigor is very much in the air and makes the meetings titillating. No, I never boxed nor ever canned food.


How did you get all the dead bees for DIVER? Why did you choose to make something about the ocean from a creature of the sky? Are these opposites meant to work together?
The bees came from the apiary of someone I know and who lives in the adjacent town. As it happened, the beekeeper lost a lot of bees over a harsh winter season and was about to dispose of them cleaning the hives when I called asking for dead bees. Serendipitous things like this happen often. You are right, there is a contradiction within the piece; bees cannot survive underwater, yet there they form a deep-sea diver.


Tell us about the process behind WAVE. Where were you when you came up with the idea? How long did it take you to execute? What does it mean to you? When you take something functional and remove that function for the sake of art, how do you change the definition of that thing? When you leave your home and go somewhere entirely new how does that change your self-definition?
Like most of them, the idea for WAVE came to me around 3 am, when I was in bed and basically asleep, but not really. And like most of them, it arrived formed. I used up two mid-size rugs cutting, shaping and gluing the piece together. Its core is formed out of the polyurethane foam (the pink stuff from Home Depot).


What are you working on now? What’s your dream project?
I’m generating new ideas, working up new pieces and preparing for a new solo show. It’s planned for next year in Poltava, Ukraine (the birthplace of one of my favorite writers, the great Nikolai Gogol). I’ve Gogol on my mind!