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Nick Cave

Art professor and performance artist Nick Cave was born February 4, 1959 in Fulton, Missouri. His mother, Sharon, raised him and his seven brothers. As a student at George Washington Carver School in Fulton, Missouri and at West Junior High School in Columbia, Missouri, Cave showed creativity and artistic ability at a young age. Graduating from Hickman High School in 1977, he enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute where he continued to express himself through both visual art and performance art. In 1979, Cave met Alvin Ailey and spent that summer and several summers thereafter in New York, New York studying with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. After graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1981, he designed displays for the department store, Macy’s, and worked professionally as a fashion designer, while continuing his passions as an artist and dancer. Cave earned his M.F.A. degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1988.

Joining the faculty of the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, after his graduation from Cranbrook, Cave has built a reputation as an educator and performance artist, especially with his ritualistic costumes called “Soundsuits.” These sculpted, full body “soundsuits” are layered and textured in metal, plastic, fabric, hair, and objects designed to rattle and resonate in concert with the movement of the wearer, usually Cave himself. The suits represent Cave’s feelings about the isolation and insulation attendant to being a African American man in America. One of Cave’s well-known projects is Drop: Soundsuits in Degrees of Observation, a performance parade featuring ten dancers and sixty “Soundsuits.” In 2007, he planned an event in Chicago involving three dance companies, musicians and over 120 sculptured suits.

As the director of the graduate fashion program at the Art Institute of Chicago, Cave enjoys working with students and sharing his knowledge and experiences. His works of art have been shown at the Los Angeles Art Show in Los Angeles, California and the Seattle Art Museum in Seattle, Washington. Exhibitions of his assemblage sculptures in The Arts Connexion in Amsterdam, Holland, and Kestener Museum in Hannover, Germany have earned Cave an international following.

Nick Cave was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 22, 2004.

Accession Number

A2004.104

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/22/2004

Last Name

Cave

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Cranbrook Schools

George Washington Carver School

West Junior High School

Hickman High School

Kansas City Art Institute

University of Missouri, Kansas City

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

Nick

Birth City, State, Country

Fulton

HM ID

CAV02

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $500 - $1,000

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Missouri

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

2/4/1959

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Crab (Soft Shell)

Short Description

Performance artist and art professor Nick Cave (1959 - ) was known for his "Soundsuits," suits that ritualize Cave's feelings about the isolation and insulation that characterizes being a black male in America. Cave was a part of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago faculty for nearly twenty years.

Employment

Macy's Department Stores

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Nick Cave's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Nick Cave lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Nick Cave talks about his maternal family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Nick Cave talks about his mother and maternal family

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Nick Cave lists his brothers

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Nick Cave talks about his paternal family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Nick Cave describes his paternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Nick Cave talks about his father and his extended family in Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Nick Cave describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Nick Cave recalls the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood in Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Nick Cave recalls his childhood personality and growing up in black neighborhoods in Fulton, Missouri and Columbia, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Nick Cave recalls his early artistic influences, including his uncle who was an oil painter

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Nick Cave describes the music he listened to as a child and his experiences at George Washington Carver School in Fulton, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Nick Cave talks about his interests in art as a youth

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Nick Cave reflects upon his move from Fulton, Missouri to Columbia, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Nick Cave talks about his schooling in Columbia, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Nick Cave remembers his high school years and being sheltered as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Nick Cave talks about his high school activities and a teacher who motivated him

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Nick Cave talks about leaving home for the Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Nick Cave describes his arts involvement as a student at David H. Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Nick Cave recalls his time at Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Nick Cave talks about beginning to dance with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and his impressions of New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Nick Cave recalls his time in New York, New York and his family's acceptance of his work

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Nick Cave talks about dancing for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Nick Cave talks about dancing for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Nick Cave talks about creating performance work as a student at Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Nick Cave talks about the importance of being accepted into Kansas City Art Institute and designing clothing for a department store

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Nick Cave recalls the months after earning his B.A. degree from Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Nick Cave recalls getting a job at Macy's as visual director

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Nick Cave talks about the type of clothing he designed while working at Macy's in Kansas City, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Nick Cave recalls his time at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Nick Cave remembers being the only black student at Cranbrook Academy of Art as a graduate student in the late 1980s

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Nick Cave reflects on how studying at Cranbrook Academy of Art allowed him to ground his work without outside influences

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Nick Cave talks about being offered a teaching position at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Nick Cave describes how he began to create Soundsuits

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Nick Cave talks about ceasing to make Soundsuits in the early 1990s and further describes his thought process in making them

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Nick Cave talks about a Soundsuit exhibition and performance to debut in full in 2007

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Nick Cave talks about who is involved with the Soundsuit performance project and his hopes for future work

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Nick Cave talks about teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Nick Cave describes his philosophy and role as a teacher

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Nick Cave describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Nick Cave talks about why he finds it important that art objects have a history

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Nick Cave talks about his mother's support of his art career

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Nick Cave reflects upon his life and talent

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Nick Cave reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Nick Cave describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

2$1

DATitle
Nick Cave talks about the type of clothing he designed while working at Macy's in Kansas City, Missouri
Nick Cave talks about a Soundsuit exhibition and performance to debut in full in 2007
Transcript
Can you describe your clothing? I mean or the clothing you were making at this period of time?$$Well the clothing that I would do for the--I would work--again I was working with a group of artists that also did clothing and art as well. And so what I did primarily was just really outrageous costumes. I would always close our show because all my stuff was always just outrageous and just crazy. But I was the only one that would get the clients. And the stuff that I'd make for my clients would be very conservative. You know beautiful, but very conservative clothing but you know I just always did just crazy stuff, but that's what I was interested in.$$Okay. By crazy what, what would you mean, would you give us an example of a crazy piece?$$Well you know like my Soundsuits. You--just sort of stuff out of like I may take, I don't even know what I can't really describe it. It's something; you know I don't know how to describe it.$$Well, well just start with the shoes and work your way up or start with a hat and (simultaneous)--$$Oh we just like make you know I would make let's see sometimes I would make a dress---let's say I would make this dress and you know it would be, it would be more about architect. So it would be like more three-dimensional. And all of a sudden you may have like a chicken sitting on the top of this box that's attached to the back of your dress. And then the butt may be cut out. So just all of this sort of stuff that would be more about reaction and, and--$$That's outrageous. I'd, I'd say that's outrageous.$$I mean so that's the kind of stuff that I did you know statements based around fashion and, and, and you know concerns in that, in that manner or things that wouldn't be practical things that you necessarily couldn't really walk in, so limited movement. But you know again sort of you know these puns on fashion and, and things of that sorts. So that's what I would do. I sort of did what I wanted to do. I didn't give a shit at what type of response I would get or whether or not it was negative or positive. I just want a response. So I just sort of did things that would allow people to talk about or that would put my name in the paper. But not for that reason but that's what would happen. That's because based on that type of work. But then my clients were like amazing. They were just like very conservative and I would just do very conservative stuff for them. But people you know, we live in a world where you know people are not necessarily sort of stimulated by much. So the fantastic people are drawn to that. So they were drawn to me based on the way that I, that, that I would think. And yet what I would make for them would be totally the opposite, but you know that was great and fine too. So I did you know work for Dillard, I mean for Macy's for about thirty years. Quit the job because then I was able to find--to do freelance window display for two stores in Kansas City [Missouri] that paid three times as much as my salary was at Macy's. So basically I just worked two days out of a month and then the rest of the time I was just in my studio working.$$Well you can't beat that can you?$$So that was fantastic. But then that wasn't enough for me and then I decided that it was time to go to graduate school.$--We were talking about this performance for 2007. With the ninety Soundsuits and it's gonna be a collaboration between yourself and several dance groups you were mentioning off camera I don't think we were rolling when we were talking about--$$Right. Right. Well actually the project is actually in process right now. The first exhibition is just opened this summer in Helena, Montana, which is an exhibition that consists of forty Soundsuits which is then coming here in '06 [2006] to the [Chicago] Cultural Center [Chicago, Illinois] which will then be an exhibition of fifty Soundsuits and so what I'm working on right now is a two part project. One part being a fifty Soundsuit exhibition that then will be supported by ninety Soundsuit performance. So in total it will be 140 costumes and the reason for that is that when I do performance work, my audience always wants to have this closer encounter with the Soundsuits or if I'm doing an exhibition, they wanna see the performance side. So what I decided to do was create this project where there's these two components under one umbrella which is Soundsuits. I know that this project is the foundation for my future but my mission for this project is for me to provide a platform for other artists within the performing arts to meet their endeavors. So for me it's not really about me. It's really about me creating opportunities for other people using my work as a vehicle for that. So, so that's really sort of my sort of goal in this project. The purpose for this project is that it's a project that will speak about diversity. It will touch on a broad range of cultures from around the world based on shapes, form, the way in which surfaces are embellished, based on the particular types of performances that will be established. So it's really a performance piece that's really about sort of celebrating diversity and bringing us together as a nation. You know my audience for this performance will be you know people from south side to north side to east to west under one sort of in one arena and that's really my goal. That's really what I wanted my work to do. So it's on a much higher, my purpose is so much greater than being an artist. It's not, I just been chosen to do this work. I mean I truly feel that this is my next assignment.$$Okay so.$$Where I have to deliver this deed in order to move on to the next assignment so.$$Okay. So art is a vehicle towards a larger end?$$Yeah.$$Of cooperation and participation?$$Well I think art is my--art for me is, is the vehicle for me to deliver messages that are of a greater purpose.