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Pride Week 2021 Feature: U of R alum longlisted for the prestigious 2021 Sobey Art Award

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: June 4, 2021 5:00 a.m.

Nic Wilson (MFA’19) has been longlisted for the 2021 Sobey Art Award
Nic Wilson (MFA’19) has been longlisted for the 2021 Sobey Art Award Photos: U of R Photography

“It was a huge shock. I didn't really expect it. I felt like I was too early in my career,” U of R alum Nic Wilson (MFA’19) smiles, recalling the recent announcement that they had made the 2021 long list for the prestigious Sobey Art Award for emerging artists. “I applied thinking that it was like a trial run. As an artist, before you get a lot of things, like grants or shows, you have to apply quite a few times.”

Wilson (he/they) is the first graduate of the U of R’s Master of Fine Arts program to make the Sobey’s list, in almost 20 years since the national award was first created.

“I was delighted to nominate Nic Wilson for the Sobey Art Award 2021, and am thrilled that he has been selected for the longlist in the Prairies and the North region,” says Dr. Risa Horowitz, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Visual Arts in the Faculty of Media, Art and Performance at the U of R, who supervised Wilson’s MFA. “Nic’s work is rigorously cerebral, heartachingly astute, and formally complex.”

“Nic is brilliant,” says David Garneau, a professor in the Visual Arts Department who taught Wilson in several courses. “He combines not only studio skills in drawing, printmaking, and art installation with literature and creative writing, he’s also a conceptual and ideas-oriented artist.”

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Wilson now lives and works in Regina

From New Brunswick, where they completed their Bachelor of Fine Arts, to Montreal and on to Regina, Wilson brings their rare ability to combine visual and performance art with a deeply cerebral exploration of the world from globalization, to queer identity, to the construction of history.

“In my work, I try to explore a shared sensibility or history about queerness which troubles how I was taught the gender binary growing up and the deeply puritanical relationship that exists to sexuality in general and to even pleasure,” says Wilson. “I find making work about queerness is always an exploration of pleasure and pain and how they're almost like a helix, tied to each other in some way. I think a lot of the time I'm interested in the logic of heterosexuality, hetero patriarchy, and how those things come together.”

Speaking with Wilson about their artwork is both a deep dive inward and an expansion out, finding connections and relationships between their experience of queerness, history, and the construction of power. Wilson’s work is heavily influenced by queer theory, writers, and musicians.

“Writer Wayne Koestenbaum and musician Beverly Glenn-Copeland talk about making things for a generation that has not been born yet, so in a sense their work is kind of like queer children who they raise through ‘making’ – in Glenn’s case making music and in Wayne's case writing.”

This non-reproductive reproductive relationship is really important to Wilson.

“Sometimes that's like a way of reading – perverted reading – reading into narratives what you need to get out of them, rather than what they are trying to impart to you.”

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Artwork from Wilson's series "A Wreath
of Snakes" Photo: Nic Wilson

Wilson provides an example of a conservative newspaper from the 1990s that their friends would read, because it was the only publication they could get access to that was covering queer performance art. The news coverage was looking at queer art as a bad thing, but Wilson’s friends would read the paper to find out the latest events happening in the queer art scene.

“That perverted reading is something that I think about a lot,” says Wilson. “It's almost like an inverted relationship. That's something that I think happens a lot in my drawings like the series I'm working on right now; instead of drawing the flower, I draw everything around the flower so that there's this space left. I think that idea about absence or reading ‘around’ is something that's really integral to my relationship with being queer.”

Wilson continues to live and work in Regina where they found not only a welcoming and nurturing environment for their art education at the University of Regina, but love in the Queen City as well.

“A career in the visual arts is itself an ecosystem and my MFA was a vital component,” adds Wilson, reflecting on their experience at the U of R. “There's no brand to the MFA department; it's very determined by the students. I was determining the trajectory of my degree which always felt really good, and I felt a lot of the profs were really in my corner, while I was also being deeply challenged.”

To find out more about the 2021 Sobey Art Award longlist, visit the National Gallery of Canada. For more on Nic Wilson, visit their website or check out this great overview of their work provided by the artist: Nic Wilson Artist Talk.

The University of Regina has committed to creating a healthy campus community and learning environment in its 2020-25 strategic plan All Our Relations, or kahkiyaw kiwȃhkomȃkȃninawak in Cree.

Well-being and Belonging is one of the five areas of focus in the strategic plan, and includes objectives related to strengthening the University’s commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Healthy Living, and Mental Health Literacy and Research. This feature is a part of the University of Regina’s participation and support of Pride Week from June 4 to 13 and Pride Month in June.