Cobra on Wood

Snake drawing on wood

Cobra on Wood by Nick Payne. Photo: Carina Romano

August is the season of vacations, and a lot of desks are empty here at ICA this month, but downstairs in the galleries people are busily at work. This is installation season, too, when ICA’s crew gets the new fall shows ready to open.

The cobra in this picture—drawn by ICA crew member and artist Nick Payne—is certainly visiting from out of town. Cobras, of course, aren’t native to Philadelphia (there are, in fact, very few venomous snakes in Pennsylvania); but then, Nick isn’t native either. He comes from Toronto by way of the Rhode Island School of Design. He drew this snake for Miranda (a blog named after a snake—click here for the backstory) as part of our occasional series on ICA crew members, most of whom are also artists.

I like how the cobra’s hood echoes the shape of the wood it’s drawn on—a shim Nick says he picked up off the genie.

“Genie?” I ask. I always suspected we had a genie at ICA. But Nick just meant the big machine that hoists people into the air to hang lights and stuff. Right now the crew is working in the downstairs gallery, getting it ready to receive Set Pieces, Virgil Marti’s restaging of lots of cool stuff borrowed from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which opens at ICA in September.

Nick says he saw a lot of snakes this summer in Vermont. He was up there studying ecological design, and the snakes were living in an old unused earthen oven. Garter snakes mostly, small and dark with greenish-yellow stripes. He tells me about his band, Bobo, which toured the East coast earlier in the summer, and about the gallery he and his bandmates Drew Gillespie and Phil Cote used to run that is now a website: It’s worth a visit. They have great Bobo-designed advertisements for coffee-stained tortilla flaps, Finks bigtime pollywog leaves, hydropuffball algae restoration , and other sundry products you didn’t know you needed.

Mostly these days the art Nick’s doing is “sort of weird drawings,” which he says are influenced by some underground comics people. “I like drawing,” he says, “because it doesn’t require much space or materials. Or money.”

Which brings us to jobs. He says he likes working at ICA because of the opportunity to be around artists and art he admires, like Mike Smith and R. Crumb. He says his old job at a sign shop putting vinyl on cars was good training, because it taught him to be precise and a good measurer. I ask him what makes a good art preparator, and he smiles.

“Being careful,” he says.

You can see Nick’s work at, or check out Bobo at You can also read more about both Nick and the band in an interview with The Kingsboro Press at