Soundsuits. Photo: Nathan Keay, ©MCA Chicago, shared with permission

Thick Skin: Celebrating the Artist Nick Cave

Though I think about the impact of the art of Nick Cave all year long, I want to celebrate him with all of you in honor of February’s Black History Month. 

I was first introduced to Cave’s work when I studied it in college. At the time, he was one of the few Black artists who was represented in my art history classes (though his work was very much contemporary). It wasn’t until an exhibit at the Denver Art Museum in 2013 that I had the pleasure of experiencing his work in person. To say that Cave’s work is an experience is an understatement. His creations combine sculpture, fashion, and performance. His Soundsuits blend the worlds of visual and performing arts in the most authentic of ways. If you are lucky, you will see dancers and performers wear his creations, turning them into a grand example of performative art. 

The artist is working on a “Soundsuit” for his retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Photo: Lyndon French

Cave began his education as a dancer before becoming a committed visual artist. We can assume that it is this understanding of movement that makes his work so emotionally moving. Perhaps it is the movement of his eclectic work that catches our eye, or maybe it’s the intricately assembled combination of discarded objects he finds at flea markets. When you see and hear his Soundsuits, you might describe their vivacious colors and hypnotizing percussion as fun and carnival-like. When you dig a little deeper, you realize that the work doesn’t represent joy for the artist. Cave says, “The Soundsuits hide gender, race, and class, and they force you to look at the work without judgment.” This allows viewers to look without bias toward the wearer’s identity. 

Don’t miss this video from Art 21. It is an interview with Cave at his alma mater, Cranbrook Academy of Art. He discusses the experiences that forced him to confront his identity as a Black man, including being racially profiled by police, and how they have fueled his impulse to create—a process that he feels helped him develop a thick skin.

Cave working in his studio at Facility, his new multidisciplinary art space in Chicago. The work is called “Arm Peace.” Photo: Whitten Sabbatini for The New York Times

One of the main reasons I continue to reflect on the impact Nick Cave has had on the world is his commitment to the concept of community. He has built a facility in Chicago that celebrates the work of choreographers, dancers, visual artists, and young creators from all disciplines. The mission of the community he has created is to celebrate togetherness and shared purpose. It is my hope and dream for all of us at Colorado Academy that we can use the arts to continue to bring us together in positive ways, as well as to be a place where we can be our truest selves, wholeheartedly.

Here’s another great article about Nick Cave.