We had the good fortune of connecting with Timothy Nimmo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Timothy, what is the most important factor behind your success?
As an artist, I think much of my success has to do with my loathing of the term “branding”. I am not tooth paste, fabric softener, a luxury sedan. My art is me, an extension of my self. “Branding” implies packaging, an attractive facade, and things which are a bit mercenary and calculated. It also implies an attempt to be all things to all people. This is directly at odds with an attempt to discover ones self, achieve clarity of mind, and connect on a personal level with one who views my art.
I recall as a young art student standing in the Chicago Art Institute looking at an ancient bust. Oddly, I cannot recall the work but the experience stands out most vividly. I began to question some things about the piece- “Why did he swirl this line about in this fashion?” As I asked the piece spoke to me in only the language fellow artists understand. It would answer back, “See how that arc comes back up this way, and enhances the smile in the eyes? This was someone who had a wry sense of humor… so notice I also did this with forms about the forehead…” This continued for quite some time. Not that I actually heard voices in my head mind you, but I realized I was having a conversation with another artist, who lived many centuries ago, in a different culture, and who was now dust. Yet I knew him. I knew his subject. And they were still alive to me. This is a magic and power- create a work which will speak for you, to others of the same mind and spirit, when you are long dead.
This is not a brand. No logo, no marketing campaign, self glossing or slick plans will create that. It comes from the soul.
In my younger days, having grown up with a sensible mid-western protestant ethic; art was a luxury of sorts. And such luxuries in and of themself were something frivolous. In order for art to be considered as legitimate, it must serve a purpose, or you were just wasting time. (Insert “Go get a real job!” here.) So often at that time I would do a mental number on myself with trying to justify doing artwork by trying to find a sort of branding. For example, one brother was a stock broker, so of course “If I did bears and bulls, the work could be justified…”- it would have a market to sell to, and therefore be of use, and therefore I’d not be “wasting time” if it was “for” some purpose, for a certain group. The work would always be competent, but it would fail. There was no soul in it. The real me, touching the important parts of me, would get stripped away in such premeditations.
Art became a frustration for me. I had largely quit, though I still worked as an artisan providing services to other sculptors. When it finally “clicked” it was quite unexpected, and as far away from any concept of branding as one could get. I had just moved to a small northern town, knew no one, and the first dark cold winter came. I was going nuts. I needed to do something to keep my mind and hands occupied. I recalled an image of an ancient tattoo I’d seen years prior. It had always intrigued me, and I decided to do my own sculptural rendition of it. During the process, someone suggested its possible spiritual meaning to me, and it became very personal- part of my own journey of recreation, reconstruction. I actually loved my own work for the first time I could recall in many many years. It had an “IT!” factor to me. Surprise surprise, everyone else was moved by it too. In a short time I realized that when I did something for my own self, for the self discovery, my own joy- others were attracted unlike the times I had actually set out to interest others with a well thought out plan. Branding to me, implies that premeditation. And for me, that never worked.
Since that time I have found that focusing on my inward looking eye, my inner conversations with the sculpture, myself, and whatever that thing is we often call “the muse”; is the one and only thing that will lead to a successful piece of art. Paradoxically: the only work that will engage a future viewer in a conversation with it, and with their inner self- can only be made when I give that potential viewer no regard.
So whether my sculptures are energetic, passive, good, bad- they will always be identifiable as mine, never mistaken for anothers, and each contain some piece of my soul. But they’ll never be considered a brand.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My work is definitely unique. But though I have been in sculpture related fields all my life, even I’m not certain what does make it so different. I guess I would have to use the words of sculptor D L Engle when she wrote a description of my work when I received the Marilyn Newmark Award from the National Sculpture Society. She wrote: “…Nimmo’s work as “inspired” and “mature” – a body of work that “demonstrates that when the tools of art – design, technique and observation – are firmly under the command of the artist’s intent, magic happens.” She adds, “Nimmo’s sculptures illuminate the sacredness and mystery of the natural world. He opens this world to us with the aplomb of a master story teller who grants us access to his vision with new eyes.”
I think working in an enduring material such as bronze does set one apart in the long run. But in a way that I don’t know matters to anyone else but me, and it’s such a silly and unreasonable thing. Bronze you see, is one of a few materials one can work in which has a decent chance of outlasting the pyramids. The silly and unreasonable thing I sometimes fantasize about- some day, 2000, 3000 years from now when our civilization is gone and perhaps forgotten, someone will dig up one of my sculptures and regard it as strange, compelling, cool, and exotic. And it will be one of the few relics left that will speak of who we were, what we thought, where our hearts and heads were at. And they’ll interrogate the work, and me, and us- and there’ll be something of me there speaking back to them.
I think a couple of things I am most proud of- Many of the collectors of my work are other sculptors and artists whose work I have tremendous respect and admiration for. AND possibly my greatest achievement- On a few occasions I have made work which has emotionally moved a person to tears.
How did I get here? Work. Luck. More work, and then some more work after that. Losing everything a few times. Losing a lot of people who didn’t believe in me. Then I worked some more. And worked a bit after that. It was the hardest thing I could do, with one exception- Not doing it would have been harder. (Oh, and did I mention I worked a lot?) Seriously- all of that is true, and the key to any success I’ve had has been my work ethic. My basic skill set as an artist is actually quite mediocre. But my persistence, mule stubbornness, and work ethic is superior to 99% of everyone else. So I have been able to wring every single drop of my limited talent out.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would take them through the Garden of the Gods park, just about 5 minutes south of my house. We’d then head up Highway 24 into the Colorado Rockies and Park County. I would bore them silly with pointless information about geology and wildlife, weather and other natural phenomenon. We’d camp and fish in the high country several days, eating fresh caught trout, hitting little hole in the road towns and sampling local beers. We’d drive wherever the roads take us around beautiful Colorado- and stop wherever it looked like fun. Fossil sites, national parks, streams and lakes with stunning vistas, stop to watch the elk, and perhaps hit a few hot springs along the way. There will of course, be stops in any towns or cities with their little (or big) art galleries along the way, just to pause and drink in deeply the spirit of my brothers and sisters in the craft.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
All of my old art school homies from University of Wisconsin Whitewater! (Go War Pigs! …or whatever we were supposed to be…) There’s a little piece of all of you in me.
Linkedin: Nope. I’m sick of getting suggestions for barista jobs…these people got no respect….
Twitter: Machete don’t tweet
Yelp: For Karens
Youtube: ….moving on….
Other: Lovetts Gallery in Tulsa, OK The Broadmoor Galleries in Colorado Springs, CO
All photo credits- Mel Schockner