Nixson Borah

Artscene, December, 1987, Volume 7, Number 4 (Review by William Hemmerdinger)

(Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Orange County, through December 30)

Among the most interesting and informed artists working in Southern California over the past two decades is Nixson Borah. A former student of Howard Warshaw, he has taught for twenty years at Fullerton Community College. Borah completed a Ph.D. in the philosophy of education, specializing in the mechanics of language and metaphor at Claremont Graduate University. Specific emphasis was placed on the means of discussion in and about the arts. In addition to pedagogical pursuits, and his two-dimensional artwork, Borah has created masks, costumes and theatre designs. This lifetime of artistic, educational and political involvement adds up to a striking anomaly and a strangely out-of-sync with the times body of work.

“Nixson Borah: Selected Works, 1967 – 1986” includes work as far ranging as Golden Blocker (1985) through Adonis and Boar (1968). Both the earliest and the most recent works engage renditions of the figure by a natural, casual draftsman with an uncanny ability to express form and musculature with impressive economy. As though ‘knocked out’ as classroom demonstrations for a group of students, Borah’s style has a self-conscious but easy charm. The most appealing pieces are a synthesis of monoprinting, papermaking and drawing coupled with the peculiar introduction of characteristics carried over from his interest in making masks and shadow puppets. R.E.M. Ramayana XVI (1983) and Laguna Basketball #5, (1985) both exemplify his recent mesh of techniques, utilizing woodcut, collage, papermaking and painting.

Consistent throughout this body of work is enduring hope. Borah is a bright, talented, mature and skillful artist whose work is inspired by a quick-witted enthusiasm for the creative and intellectual process. While this work is intense and pregnant with meaning, it offers no confluence of harming passions. Qualities such as doubt or self-pity play no role in this work. For this survey, guest curator Edward Den Lau declined to select work from the artist’s oeuvre which betrays the artist’s political or personal convictions, resolutions or losses.

Borah’s art is nonetheless about human experiences and folly. “Borah is a storyteller” according to Suvan Geer, “but he tells tales on an epic scale. He’s a kind of 21st century Homer, spinning timeless tales of quest and ascendency.” His highly personal style of figure drawing is at its best when frozen and transformed into shadow-like silhouettes. Plaques, as though cut from scraps of paper, or placards littered against soft landscape, are actually impressed in the surface of the paper. These figures are a mature synthesis of the early, bold Warshaw-influenced drawing with the subtle eloquence of shadow puppets.