Inside Lindsay Gallery, a fan of Jeb Loy Nichols says to me, “Did you know you are talking to ‘the high priest of country cool,’ according to Rolling Stone magazine?”
To this Nichols looks down sheepishly and says in a soft British beat, “Oh, it’s completely ridiculous.”
Nichols, an American by birth who lives in Wales, is an internationally known musician, author and artist. He stopped by his Short North exhibition last weekend before heading to South by Southwest.
His bashfulness about Rolling Stone’s ringing endorsement belies how poised he has been for fame and fortune. The notions of those things, however, are as attractive to him as the idea of living in the U.S. after Ronald Reagan was elected.
“I do not want to be rich,” he said. “I think no good, really, comes with wealth as far as I’ve seen.”
Lindsay Gallery owner Duff Lindsay said he was “instantly drawn to” Nichols’ woodcut and screen print portraits, which he first saw on display at Explorers Club.
“They’re so strong,” Lindsay said. “It’s amazing that he can get that nuance of character through.”
People like Sojourner Truth, jazz great Eric Dolphy and postmodern playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett get the Nichols treatment. The one- and two-color portraits have deliberate lines and shading that make big impacts. The eyes are windows to the storied souls.
“I’ve always been drawn to people that are outside the mainstream or that live in challenge to the accepted thing,” Nichols said. “There’s this idea: ‘Oh, you can’t argue with success.’ You absolutely can and you should argue with it.”
His gentle rebellion is perhaps best manifested in the prints of birds surrounded by sayings like “There’s just so much in the world that I don’t want” and “All I have is nothing.”
“We don’t have to just say yes, yes, yes, all the time,” Nichols said. “You can stand up and say no.”