Art & Design

Get to Know Artist Nicole Nadeau, Whose ‘Titty Tiles’ Appear in The Whitney and Ja Rule’s Collection

Art & Design

Get to Know Artist Nicole Nadeau, Whose ‘Titty Tiles’ Appear in The Whitney and Ja Rule’s Collection

Photo by Myla Dalbesio
Photo by Myla Dalbesio
Photo by Myla Dalbesio
Photo by Myla Dalbesio
Photo by Myla Dalbesio
+

The first place I encountered Nicole Nadeau’s work was in a bathroom in Dallas. That might not sound like the best place to showcase art, but this particular bathroom happened to be quite luxurious and, more importantly, located in a loft space dubbed “That That,” which hosts an annual group show coinciding with the Dallas Art Fair made up of young talent to watch. Plus, Nadeau’s piece consisted of 40 or so hexagonal tiles molded from her own breasts, making the location quite fitting.

Officially, the series is dubbed “Everyone Thought I Was You.” Unofficially, Nadeau, who lives and works in New York, calls them “Titty Tiles” and, unsurprisingly, they’ve been a big hit, appearing in both the Whitney Museum shop as well as Ja Rule’s personal art collection (no, seriously).

But the tiles are just one piece in a larger body of work (pun intended) that examines the human form (quite often the artist’s own), nature, impermanence and the intersection of all three. Take, for example, the sonogram of her own (empty) uterus, repeated endlessly until the blips and waves appear as constellations or the seemingly abstract line drawings that in reality depict the artist’s hair as it might appear in a sink or bathtub. Add to this Nadeau’s fastidiousness when it comes to materials and craftsmanship, and you’re left with work that’s at once aesthetic and intellectual, not unlike the artist herself.

I met with Nadeau to chat Titty Tiles and the bizarre experience of being a twin over margaritas.

Did you always know you wanted to be an artist or was there some sort of turning point?

 Growing up I was always making things. My dad was a builder and we had this shop in our garage, so we were always tinkering away and making things. It was always a language I was used to having. Very early on I knew that I was always going to be making art.

At what point would you say that you solidified the style in which you’re currently working?

Where I went to high school, art was always looked at as this very literal, technique and so that’s what I was going into art school with. I went to Parsons but I was going for industrial design because my parents wouldn’t send me to art school. So I was pretty much being weird and making sculptures in the industrial design program. I was making a bunch of conceptual kinetic stuff.

When I started exploring my own language, I was painting friends and doing that sort of thing but then I just got really bored with painting. I really liked the use of material as a language and using industrial design – like casting things. It was exciting because it was a reveal – it was a conversation I was more interested in.

Tell me about being a twin and how that plays into your work.

It’s a lot [Laughs]. When I first started making a body of work, it had a lot to do with proving certain things were not the same, and it didn’t dawn on me that that was something that I was struggling with. Then I figured it out, like, Oh, obviously a lot of my work has to do with identity because my entire life I’ve struggled with having a sense of individuality and always being compared to someone else. So I think it influences my work in a positive way. Identity is an interesting concept.

Especially now, given that we’re all trying to be hyper-individualistic.

Exactly, like on Instagram, everyone is creating their own identity. I didn’t have my own sense of identity until I was 18 and I went away to school. I was like, “This is what it feels like to be your own person?”

And it seems as though now you have a pretty positive relationship with your sister.

Yeah, but it wasn’t always as such. And friends will still mistake us for each other.

Your work definitely deals with your body and the female form in general, but in a totally non-sexual way. Can you speak to that a bit?

I’m using the body mostly as a material. I don’t really look at it as, “I’m a female and I’m making work about the female body.” I’m just making work about this body that I was given and I have to live in. I really relate a lot of the body pieces to other things. I have such a strong industrial background, so it’s more about structure and patterns in nature. I just happen to be a woman, so those are the tools I’m given. I wouldn’t say my work is feminist, although I am a feminist. I don’t really bring politics into my work at all.

So it’s more about the functionality of your body.

Right. One of the things I really play with is that the body can break down and it’s fragile. It seems like this very strong thing until at a certain point in your life you become aware of its fragility and it’s a scary thing, in a beautiful and kind of sad way.

Was there a specific experience that made that apparent to you?

Yeah, I was having health issues when I was about 25 and there was a scare where I realized I might not be able to have children. It ended up being fine, but to actually think, “Oh god, I have this power inside of me that I can have kids,” and the realization that I might not be able to and I’m broken… What does that even mean? I wasn’t even thinking of having kids before. I think it’s that awareness of the body that was so startling to me because I wasn’t really thinking about it.

It seems your most successful piece to date have been the so-called “Titty Tiles.” Where did that idea come from?

It’s funny because people are generally attracted to them because they’re breasts, but it came from this installation that I had done for the Collective Design Fair called, “Everyone Thought I Was You.” It came from my sister calling me one time and saying, “I went to this party last night and everyone thought I was you.” The tiles are in a hexagon shape and sculpted from my own breast and press-molded so the process of every single tile is slightly different – that’s just the way that process is. But the differences are subtle. Also, the hexagon shape is the most tessellating shape in nature and so I was thinking that my sister and I share similarities like something that’s been repeated in nature – we’re like a genetic copy and paste. So I did 800 tiles of that. People also like them because they’re breasts, I guess.

They’re at the Whitney store and once I overheard one guy say, “Oh, these were molded from the artist’s breasts? She must have pretty small breasts then.”


Nicole Nadeau, "Everyone Thought I Was You"

Nicole Nadeau, “Everyone Thought I Was You”


Do you consider yourself to be a perfectionist?

Yeah… I call it OC. It’s obsessive compulsive but it’s not a disorder. I was raised around a certain level of craftsmanship. I would be a fifth generation craftsperson, so I was brought up with that language of finishing things a certain way. And then being in industrial design solidified that. Having said that, I play a lot with the breakdown of things so I do like the push and pull of order and chaos.

Is there a time of day you feel most creative?

Well… I’d say I get my best ideas in the shower. It’s like a portal for me – it’s almost meditation vibes. I’m always running in and out of the shower to write notes. It’s funny how when you don’t think you’re thinking your mind is cataloguing and it just kind of comes to you.

Speaking of meditation, I know you’re into crystals and energy and that sort of thing. Do you think that plays into your practice at all?

 I do like being really healthy, nutrition wise, spiritually… that’s my life practice. I do find a lot of inspiration in science – rock formations, lunar eclipses… those types of things inspire me. To me, those are some of the only magical things left in the world because there’s a lot of mystery and curiosity there. It’s interesting to not know about certain things.

How did your work come to be in Ja Rule’s collection?

My work was featured in the Watermill Benefit this past summer. So I was there this year and a family friend was like, “Oh, you know Ja Rule? He really likes your art piece.” I was like, “What?!” And my 15-year-old self literally died. So she asked if I’d like to be introduced to him so I could show him the work. So he bid on it and now he has his own Titty Tiles.