It’s no secret that I am excited about my solo show, opening February 9th, at Thomas Young Gallery.

I have been spending too much time in the studio working on these paintings over the last year, trying to put together the best show that I can. So honestly, I am looking forward to seeing them all hanging together outside the studio, and getting some real feedback on the project. Beyond that, I’ve got a relatively new baby at home, and I just haven’t been getting out as much as I used too.

With all that in mind, I want to get as many people out to the opening as I possibly can. So, I decided to give away a print to help promote the show.

Before a go any further, a little about the print.

It isn’t a giclee print, or a reproduction of one of the paintings. I don’t do those; I only want to put out hand pulled prints. So, what I came up with is a screen print that echoes the series of paintings in the show. It is a 4 color CMYK print that uses one of the source images from the show. Its glitchy, its imperfect, it has a lo-fi look that I am really into, but it doesn’t look anything like the paintings. I made an edition of 50 and each is signed and numbered. Each one is a real, handmade piece or art.

So, how do you get one.

As promised, they are not for sale. If you want one, all you have to do is help me spread the word about the show.

Like I said, I just want to put on the best show possible, and I want to get as many people to see it as I can. I am going to give one of these prints to anyone that helps me promote the show. If you want one, post a link to the show or the FB event to your Facebook wall. Post one of the paintings to your Instagram. Tweet my blog post about the opening. Wherever you are sharing stuff, put up a little something about the show, tag me or email me so I can see it, and I will send you a print.

Here is the post, with information about the show, to share: http://nickwardonline.com/private-message-at-thomas-young-gallery/

For those of you that aren’t into glitchy screen prints, don’t let that stop you from sharing the show anyway. Also on the off chance more than 50 people take me up on this, I will come up with a second print to send out, but after the second edition of 50, I will have to cap it cause I can’t spend my whole life making free prints. I doubt this will be an issue, but if you want one, share early just in case!

This is a two part post, for information on the show that this piece is headed to, click here.

As I am finishing up the third piece in this series, I’m settling into a good rhythm. The paintings are starting to happen pretty easily, and (I think) they are looking really good. The latest piece is being send out to a great show, and I even have something scheduled that will allow me to hang a larger group of them together (more on that soon). There is really just one problem. I have not figured out a graceful way to explain exactly what it is I have been working on. And that really is a big problem.

People are always curious about artists, and what exactly it is that they do all day. So once you admit to being an artist, you tend to get a lot of questions. They generally start out tentatively, there are a lot of wingnuts out there claiming to be artists, after all. They will ask what your real job is, or maybe they will wonder who exactly would buy an art in this day and age. But once they have felt out the situation a bit, they will almost certainly ask; what kind of art do you make?

When I am faced with this question, I generally respond by glancing towards the ground, and mumbling something about portraits. If it is not already obvious to everyone reading this, that is the wrong answer.

I am not sure how aware the models are of this, but each one of these paintings really is a collaborative effort. The women that are helping with these paintings are setting off without any real direction from me. They have their own ideas about what this kind of sexy image looks like. They are not necessarily professional models, they are not people who are used to making a public display of their private moments; and they have to decide what their line is. Where does a bit of naughty fun, turn into a regret? Where does helping create this painting turn into an uncomfortable public display? I am not there to help make these decisions; and let’s be honest, if I was I would probably just push for more.

And really, this is what makes these painting work. Sure, they are just playing a role. Sure, they are only doing this because I wanted to make some paintings. But really, while the situation is obviously arranged for the sake of art, the decisions being made are real. Not only are the decisions real, but I am hanging their portrait right there, I’m asking them to own the decision.

As the father of a baby girl, I am involved a lot of new baby parenting small talk. Inevitably, this involves fielding a lot of questions about her future dating habits, and how I will scare off her future boyfriends (spoiler alert, I am not sure it is possible for me to be any less worried, and I doubt I will be scaring anyone). Now, I am not mentioning this because I find it particularly egregious. But it has given me a renewed awareness that I really am asking a lot from my models. I am only asking them to play a part in a painted story, but we live in a world where that can lead to some real world judgement and consequences.

When it comes to the power of any individual piece of art, I am not really a true believer. Art can affect people, it can be beautiful and powerful, but no piece of art is going to change the world. So I am not going to try to convince anyone that sitting down and writing this, or making these paintings is going to make the world a better (or worse) place. But I do believe that when you see something is wrong, you should stand up and speak. So really, if I am asking people to put themselves out there for my paintings, I damn well better be prepared to stand up and own my part in the whole process. I better be ready to tell the story, to defend the pieces. At the very least, I better be ready to explain the basics of the project.

So, as I am preparing to send the latest piece in this series off to Miami for an exhibition, I am preparing to discuss the painting in a more meaningful way. In order to do that, I have been trying to come up with an answer to one important question.

How would you feel, what would you do, if it was your daughter sending these sort of images, or participating in this kind of project?

And for a long time, I did not have a good answer for that. But I have realized that I don’t need an answer for that question. There is no question in my mind, that one day she will grow up and do things that (as her parent) I am going to be worried about. She is going to grow up, go on dates, get drunk, have sex, do all things that most grown up people do. So the question for me, is not how would I feel if she grows up to be the kind of girl that sends naughty text messages. The question should be; when she is going through the normal course of growing up and dating, if something goes wrong, do I really want her to feel ashamed? And for me, the answer to that question is obvious.

So I am preparing myself to face these questions head on, and to do my small part in pushing things in the right direction.

Portrait From Web, Portrait From Life (3)

See the latest painting from this series in December at Sirona Fine Art in Florida, more info in this post. For those of you that are with me here in Boston, I have a local show in the works featuring these paintings, so keep your eyes open for that.

While I have been fortunate enough to hang my paintings in a lot of great shows, until recently, I have not had the opportunity to hang a show that represents one focused concept. I have hung groups of my paintings together, but I have not started off with the seed of an idea, and finished with a fully realized exhibition.

Now that I have the chance to bring together a show of the Private Message paintings, I am trying to really make the most of the occasion. I want to make it the most interesting show that I can, so I am trying to scrutinize the project as much as I can. Honestly, it really goes without saying that I think the project is compelling, but that is only one side of the story. Since these are fairly collaborative works, whenever I know a model well enough or think she might be interested, I have offered a space here to share her perspective.


As this point, I am going to shut up and turn over the stage to Liz.

I don’t consider myself to be an impulsive person, but if you look at my track record, my history implies it anyway. I’m in no way a planner, and I tend not to weigh consequences too heavily if they’re not particularly interesting to me. That said, I have a pretty good handle on trusting myself and my decisions, so it’s not surprising that I’ve on multiple occasions, offered up my semi-naked services to my college friend, Nick Ward. My own vanity is probably another factor: what woman would not enjoy being the subject of one’s art? If baring it all was part of the deal, so be it. Immodesty posed something of a challenge to me I was certain I could bear. So I did.

To give a little context, I teeter on the line between believing strip clubs are empowering for woman and demoralizing to women. Realistically, they’re not all one or the other. There are certain shades of what these extremes mean, and of course, not all women are the same. When it comes to our sexuality, there is no one to define it for us but ourselves. An inherently terrifying and liberating task all at the same time. Again, shades of gray. 

My own decision to photograph myself naked (and also to be photographed naked) resides in both my comfort with my body and my motivation to push myself toward exposure that encourages an opportunity for growth. While I am confident in my appearance, I have insecurities that keep me from vulnerability just as much as the next guy or gal. To an extent, striking balance between what I am comfortable doing and what scares me just enough, feels ideal. So I am thankful for the challenge and excuse to participate fully in what I consider to be a mutually beneficial opportunity for growth.

Portrait From Web, Portrait From Life

The nude figure is such a dominant subject in the arts. It’s hard to forget that humans, in general, are sex obsessed perverts. But hopefully we can set that aside for a minute and start this post off with a little look into one of the subtler aspects of this imagery. Clothes offer such obvious and immediate signals about the time, the place, the status, even the mood of the people wearing them. That is pretty common knowledge, and it can be difficult to look at the image of a clothed person without quickly forming some judgement about what their clothes say (or what they may be trying to say with their clothes). If we strip away the clothes, the viewer is forced to look elsewhere in a piece to find meaning. Also, humans, in general, are sex obsessed perverts that like to sneak a peek at the naughty bits.

This has always been one of my favorite parts of painting nudes (and similarly portraits). Since the context that is normally established by the subject’s clothes is missing from these images, I can start to explore more indirect ways of framing the stories told by my paintings.

Like a lot of people, I have a romantic nostalgia for the aesthetics of older technology. From the soft warm look of old film photos, to the ubiquitous sound of a guitar through a tube amp pushed to its limit, it’s hard to dismiss the beauty imposed by the analog processes of the past. That said, I am not foolish enough to overlook the signatures left by more current technologies. The noise in an image of an older digital camera, or that overly saturated, overly sharp look that people seem to love, or love to hate. The day will come when we look back fondly on the aesthetics of this era, and in the meantime, playing with these aesthetics feels like a great way to more quietly give a place and time to a composition.

So, I have always tried to find ways to make my paintings mimic, or mock, the marks left by todays tools. Over sharp, over saturated video, and photos are one of the unique looks of today. It grabs attention, it looks incredible at first glance; and I would bet that a lot of the same photographers that romanticize the cheap film of the past, probably view this aesthetic as in poor taste (at best). Honestly, those contrasting feelings are exactly why I have always thought this was a good place to play. So I looked for ways to bring some of that look into my paintings. If you look at some of my older paintings, the skin tones are vivid. They are mixed to feel real, but brighter, without using any earth tones. The look is three dimensional, but flat at the same time. I used multiple reference images with different focal points. So nothing is ever really out of focus, nothing falls back, everything is painted sharply.

Now that I have found some more effective ways to bring these ideas into my paintings, I am ready to admit that a lot of my previous attempts flat out failed. I just don’t think anyone really saw what I was trying to do, I don’t think the paintings were really communicating this connection effectively.

As I have been approaching the glitch paintings, finding ways to use the marks left by the different tools used to create the source images has been one of the biggest challenges. One painting is created from high resolution photos and live observation, and one is created from a glitchy, compressed text message image taken from a cell phone; the amount of information available in these two sources is worlds apart. So decisions must be made. Details have to be invented for the low resolution file, and obliterated in the other. Somehow a link has to be formed between these two, very different tools, so that the resulting diptych works together as a single composition.

And now I am trying to make similar connections, except using glitchy video files as a reference.

We have all seen the marks of highly compressed digital video files. The blocky fragmentation of images, the stuttering of quick movements, shapes exploding and merging when frames are dropped. Videos collect scars and the ghosts of past lives remain visible as files are repeatedly sent and saved. The degradation is not as graceful as old film, but the artifacts that develop as digital files reach the end of their useful lives can still be beautiful.

For a long time, I have been thinking about a series of paintings that would explore a single moment, and all the possibilities for the next moment. A series of images that would depict the hugely different effects and subtly different reactions possible at any moment in time between two people. The idea has tantalized me for a while, but I couldn’t find a way to make it visually interesting, until I stumbled on to this idea of slowly degrading image files. Now I have something that helps anchor the idea in time, and allows for very similar images, of very similar situations, to slowly degrade into nothingness.

For now, I only have the first frame to show you. A painting in progress that will become the center panel for this triptych. The best case scenario in this imagined situation.

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And a little peak into one of the possible moments to follow.

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I am planning a full post about the latest painting soon. In the mean time, I talked to Poets/Artists Mag a little about this series of glitchy paintings. I know I have talked a bit about these pieces already, but if you find yourself wondering – “WTF is he thinking with these paintings?” – this is the best place to start. Follow the link below to check it out…

EDIT: It looks like the link no longer works, so I will re-post the text below.

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Please explain the process for this work. Tell us about the series in general.

This series focuses on the disconnect between our digital, and real world lives. Since more and more of our time is spent interacting online, and photographs are no longer constrained to one (or at most, a few) copies, our images are increasingly subject to misuse by anonymous strangers. This is especially true for attractive young women, who often find their most private digital moments taking on a life of their own.

For these paintings, I asked volunteers to send me a text message, or email, with an image that they would normally intend only for a significant other to see. I take this image and crop it so that their face is hidden; so their identity is somewhat lost, and sexual nature of the photograph takes center stage. Next the image file is corrupted using a script that randomly changes bits of the code. For me, the resulting image glitch signifies the end of the useful life for this image. The point where if the image had been shared, the image would no longer be beautiful enough to be forwarded along again. This version of the image is used as reference for the first panel of the painting.

Once I have started working on this panel, the model is asked to visit the studio to sit for a more traditional portrait, exposing her face so that she can reclaim ownership of the image of her body.

Working on this series has been an interesting challenge. Because, the first image is taken by the model herself, I have no real control of the starting point of each diptych. Because the image is sent to me in a text message, it is generally fairly low resolution. Finding ways to integrate the two images into a more composed piece has been problematic. Information has to be added to the low resolution text message image and edited out of the formal portrait, so that the two paintings can meet in the middle with similar levels of detail. At this point, I am starting to figure it all out, so I’m starting to be pretty happy with the resulting pieces.

Where do you see it going?

At this point, I am just happy that most people seem to understand what they are looking at without some big artist statement. I’m planning to make at least 5 or 10 of these pieces before I give up the series so hopefully, once I have a few more, I will find somewhere to hang them all together. Beyond that, I don’t know. I have started experimenting a bit with using glitched video files as reference for another related series, so you should be seeing the first of those soon.

Diving into the next glitch portrait today.

Tried to step up my panel game for this one.

I never really envisioned that I would end up a realist painter.

If you had asked 20 year old me, “what do you think of realist paintings?” My response would have probably been something along the lines of, “what is the point of doing something worse, that I camera can do better and faster?”

But here I am, painting portraits that can really be described no other way. That is not to say that I went quietly down this path. I have spent a lot more time and energy coming up with ways to make my paintings more graphic, less realistic, than I would ever spend focusing on learning traditional technique.

Lately, I have been struggling with this. Feeling a bit lost with where to take my work, feeling somewhat frustrated with the paintings I have been putting out. Not to say that I don’t like the pieces that I have done recently, but it has been a while since I have finished a painting, stepped back and felt satisfied. It has been a while since I stepped back and said, “yeah, that’s it.”

Now I am posting a piece that I really am satisfied with. A piece that I am truly excited about. A piece that is, by far, the most realistic painting I have ever done.

I finally decided to take my own advice. To get out of my own way and let the painting decide how it needed to be rendered. Instead of forcing my ideas about what makes an interesting painting, onto pieces that those ideas do not make sense for.

Portrait From Web, Portrait From Life #1

Portrait From Web, Portrait From Life #1 Nick Ward

A few months back, I wrote a post about receiving my second Elizabeth Greenshilds Foundation grant, and my plans to use a portion of those funds to help me put together a show of portraiture. Since that initial post, my focus has been more on the development of my own work, than it has been on the development of that show. However, now that I am starting to find my way through these glitch paintings (more about that soon, for now see what’s up with those on Instagram), it’s time to talk more about the show. I think the best way to start, is to introduce the artist that inspired me to consider stepping out of the studio and pulling an exhibition together.

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When it comes to works of art, I would like to think that my tastes are pretty varied. I try to approach different styles of work the way I would approach people speaking different languages. If you are open to it, once you can pick up a few words, you will find that new worlds and experiences will quickly open up to you. As a realist painter, I do have my biases. I don’t expect all artwork to be speaking the same language, but I do prefer work that is visually appealing. For me, successful pieces of art combine interesting ideas, with beautiful execution. So often work is beautifully crafted, but lacking a voice; or incredibly insightful, but looks like the page of a sketchbook. But there is something else. Above all that, successful pieces have the ability to force me to see something in a new way. Exceptionally successful pieces find a way to fight through my biases and change the way I think.

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A while back, there was a bit of a trend in the realist art community. Like a lot of trends, it showed up in a many different forms, but the general idea was always the same. Do a painting every day. The internet was flooded with blogs documenting peoples attempts at this challenge. Some were run by skilled artists, selling small pieces or offering demos. Others were run by students documenting the development of their work. A lot of the work that these artists were creating was beautiful, but like a lot of trends, I never found much to get excited about. At best, it seemed like a nice exercise to build some painting skills. At worst, a silly gimmick.

Every time I start heading down the path of dismissing an artistic process like this, an artist will inevitably turn up and show me how wrong I am. In this case, that artist in Karen Kaapcke. Like I said, successful pieces can find a way to fight through biases and change the way you think. When Karen and I fist met, she was in the midst of a project that had her creating a self portrait every day, starting on her 50th birthday.

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“I woke up, thinking – what to do today? What does one do when one turns 50? My paints were in my studio, but the only thing that made any sense was to sit myself down right away, and take a good honest look at myself before I had any time to think. I found a watercolor block, and my drawing box and thus began a project of drawing myself every day for my 50th year. To live 50 as a painter, taking a good look each day, whether I have 2 minutes or an hour, and whether I want to or not. And in the way that iterations are not just repetitions but change due to the very fact of being repeated, I will live the year of 50.”

Within the first five minute of talking with Karen, she had already found a way to completely flip my opinion of the painting a day projects. She had taken something that seemed like a silly gimmick and made it feel honest, given it substance.

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The more I looked at her project, the more I loved it. Each piece, in most cases, was small and simple. Some were nothing more than quick sketches, others were more developed pieces, but taken together they became something bigger. As the series grew, the individual pieces stopped speaking on their own, instead creating a chorus of voices working to deliver a more powerful message. Viewing a week’s, month’s, or a whole year’s worth at once told an amazing story.

As we talked about this project, I started thinking more about my own work (I am still an artist, so unfortunately everything comes back to my work). I am spending two months on a large portrait, while she is spending the same time creating a portrait consisting of 60 small pieces. The intent of both of these processes is to tell a similar story. Taken together, the dialog created between these two approaches adds a little something interesting to both.

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Sometimes these things just stick around in your head until you can’t ignore them any longer.

For everyone who wants to learn more about Karen, see more of her work, and see where she has taken this project, head over to her website. Her work is always interesting, and constantly evolving. http://karenkaapcke.weebly.com/

To see where the project mentioned above ended up after a year, check out the project blog: http://unprimedcanvas.blogspot.com/

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Nobody ever asks hang to hang my paintings in their café, restaurant, or cooperate office. That isn’t a complaint, I think it means I am on the right path.

During my short time helping to organize shows (I am going to stop well short of calling it curating), artists would frequently ask me how their work, or the exhibition, was being being received by the people visiting the gallery. Artists are, after all, just like everyone else, they want feedback to let them know whether or not they are doing a good job. Most of the time, visitor feedback was pretty simple. People wanted to support the artists, support the space, be polite, so most of the time the feedback was something along the lines of, “Looks pretty good.” Which is not really a surprise because, most of the time, the shows looked pretty good.

Occasionally though, a show, or an artist would do something really interesting. Inevitably, in these cases 75% of the people who gave me feedback would hate it.

Most of the time, if 75% of the people offering feedback just fucking HATE what you are doing, it’s a problem. The thing is, whenever this happened, the other 25% would really love it. Beyond that, I would get double, or sometimes triple the normal amount of feedback. People were actually engaged enough to drop the polite small talk and take sides. In other words, these were the most successful pieces. Unfortunately, it was always difficult to report this exciting news back to the artists. In my eyes, this is the best case scenario for art, this is the moment when it is working. But, nobody really wants to hear that 75% of the people who saw their work didn’t get it, or didn’t like it.

I still believe that the most successful art is not the stuff that everyone seems to like, it’s the stuff that gets conversations started. The best art the stuff that, love it or hate it, motivates people to take sides.

As an artist, it can be hard to live by those beliefs at times, but I am trying. So I am going to start 2016 off by celebrating the victories I have had and thanking the people who have supported what I am doing over here.