Two panels, each 30″ x 40″ – oil on panel

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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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Two panels, each 30″ x 40″ – oil on panel

Portrait From Web, Portrait From Life (2)

Two panels, each 30″ x 40″ – oil on panel

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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

I have a bad habit of exploring ideas out loud. As I am thinking my way through problems, I will ask questions, spit out ideas, request feedback on half baked theories and generally allow most any thought that passes through my head to escape as sound. In the world of bad habits (even in my own world of bad habit), this one is fairly benign but, it does have a way of confusing, annoying and generally making me look foolish to anyone with the poor fortune of being within earshot at one of these moments.

I feel like I have allowed this habit to infect my writing lately as I have been publicly working my way through the pixelated private message paintings. In other words, it has been helpful to send my ideas out into the world, to receive the confused glances that come with bad ones, along with the excitement and support that come back from the good ones but, I expect that everyone is just about ready for me to shut up about it all ready.

With that in mind, I am sending my latest study for this series to a show at the Dorchester Art Project.

Private Message Study #2

I am sending my piece to this show and I am telling you not to worry, you are not going to this show to see my latest exploration into this idea, you are going to DAP to see the other artists. You are going here to marvel at latest group of amazingly talented artists coattails that I have somehow managed to ride.

Here are a few teaser pieces from the show, keep reading below for official press release and dates.

Steven Carvalho "Sunday Morning"
_E_Petitti - The Liu-Casco Theory About the Loss of the Golden Pear (version4) - Drawing
Retrofit Painting by Thomas Willis

BETWEEN YOU AND ME: RESIDENT GROUP SHOW

Exhibition: August 14­ – September 18

Artist talks: September 12

Closing Reception: September 18

Dorchester Art Project

1486 Dorchester Ave Boston

The Dorchester Art Project is pleased to present its inaugural exhibition, B?etween You and Me: Resident Group Show. C?urated from work produced by DAP resident artists, B?etween You and Me locates the tenuous threads that bind together artists working within communal space.

In the front gallery, photographs consider how individuals relate to their worlds and constructed tableaus explore otherworldly scenes. Paintings of faces fall apart into pixelated squares, mimicking the failure of cellular communication between people, while in other works, intertwined figures emerge from abstraction. In the back gallery, a site­specific installation of sculptures that reference painting recreates the artist’s studio within the gallery space. Collages made from phone books and other paper detritus sourced directly from the Dorchester environment are as much about absence of information and individuals as their presence. Across the paintings, sculptures, photographs and drawings, there is a commonality of artists engaged in critical discourse and thinking as the artists interpret their environments and interact with the surrounding communities.

Operating in the space formerly occupied by the Howard Art Project, the Dorchester Art Project is dedicated to fostering a collaborative environment for critical discourse and creative engagement for emerging artists. Located in the Fields Corner neighborhood of Dorchester, DAP provides studio and communal space to artists, while programming our gallery space with regular exhibitions of critically engaged, emerging local artists, as well as artist talks and lectures. DAP aims to engage a wide audience, and bridge the gap between urban residents and the critical art establishment.

Join and share the event on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/494095904089321/

The warmer weather is here, which means everyone is heading out to the beach. The pace of work is slowing down and the galleries are empty… which makes it the perfect time to ramp up productivity in the studio. I am going to attempt to start the season off with a good blog post that will give a little insight into the latest sunbather painting, and then talk about what is coming next.

Like most artists, I have a lot of opinions about what makes for good and interesting art. Painters may be some of the worst when it comes to this, focusing so intensly on their own processes that they start to lose site of the value of other approaches and philosophies. Personally, I try to rise above all these squabbles and would like to think I approach all art with an open mind, regardless of medium, style, or pedigree. Unfortunately, I know that I do not always succeed. As I have become more and more focused on realist painting, I have started to develop a distaste for some works that do not fit into my own narrow ideals. I have started to discount some art unfairly without giving it the attention necessary to make a real decision.

Now, I know what you are thinking. If you are anything like me, you are already expecting to scroll past this, roll your eyes and avoid another cliched argument against abstraction by some puffed up realist painter. That is not what I’m going to do here ? people making those kinds of arguments always sound like the fools who live near our southern borders and get bent out of shape when someone is speaking Spanish. Like any serious snob, my developing art biases are hyper local. As I worked on refining my own techniques for painting, building lots of texture and brushwork into my portraits, I started to lose my tolerance for a certain variety of highly blended and perfectly smooth paintings. Not the flattened simplified stuff, and not classical realism, but somewhere in the middle there seems to be a growing trend of paintings that just feel like mediocre snapshots, without all the pesky details. The kind of paintings that look really impressive and realistic in photos online, but really fall flat on their face when you approach them in person. (Can you sense my disgust?)

In any case, I have seen the error in my ways.

As I approach my own paintings, I have realized that my personal preference for technique does not make sense for all paintings. When I was making paintings that were more closely related to traditional portraiture, the buildup of textures and loose brushstrokes made sense and was directly tied to the intent of the work. With paintings like the sunbathers, it was not really related to the message, it was an unnecessary embellishment. So as I approached this latest sunbather, I made an effort to put my ideas on interesting painting technique aside, and focus on the actual intent of the painting. The resulting painting falls somewhere in the middle. Plenty of (potentially unnecessary) detail, but a smoother more idyllic finish. As always, I am interested to hear what people think of this.

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Next I am going to start two new pieces. First a collaborative portrait project with an awesome artist, where I get to throw away everything I just learned and paint like I really enjoy painting. (I will talk more about this soon). Then, I am going to dive back into the new series of portraits derived partly from images sent to me via text messages, which is what I want to talk more about now.

Let me just admit something here: I don’t like the first text message painting. I got a lot of great feedback, and as an experiment I think it was a huge success, but as a painting, I just don’t like the results. There are just too many things I want to change, too many things I would do differently, and most importantly, just too many things going on.

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I like works of art that feel honest. A lot of artists make work that doesn’t feel that way to me. They make work with clever ideas and interesting jokes. They make work that takes on important subjects. But somehow, the work lacks a feeling of honesty and emotional attachment, which I think is very important. There is no question that this series of text message paintings has the potential to go either way, and I want to make sure that it end up on the right side of that divide. The real problem with my first attempt at this concept is that it was a little too much clever idea and not quite enough honest emotion. I hope to change that with the next attempt. I want to simplify the imagery and focus more on the contrasting images. I want to make the next one better and, I need some help. The first attempts used hired models which is fine, but I always prefer to work with people who are more connected to the final paintings and who have less experience being in front of the camera.

So I am looking for people who want to participate in the next round of these paintings.

I think most people that are still reading probably know the concept behind the paintings, but just in case here it is. The idea is to paint to contrasting portraits of the same person. First a more explicit image just like one that would be sent to a romantic partner (bonus points if you can recycle one that actually has been) will be painted from the photo. Second, a more formal traditional portrait will be created. If you want to long version check out this post.

If you think you have any interest in helping, get in touch and I will fill you in on the rest. The naughty parts can be done in the privacy and comfort of your own home. I don’t need to or want to be there (and the photos don’t actually have to be that naughty), but I would need to be able to get to you to do the traditional portrait.

Is everyone disappointed now that I got through that entire post without using the word sext?

Recently, I finished a piece that I have been keeping under wraps a bit longer than normal. I think I have mentioned before that this piece is headed to Florida for a show organized by Victoria Selbach for Poets and Artists Magazine, that will be held at Sirona Fine Art this February. I am working on framing and packing the piece this week and I wanted to talk a little about my process behind making the painting. If you can’t sit through a little art talk, feel free skip to the end and just get the details about the show.

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It is no secret that what separates bad art (and mediocre art) from the good stuff is often (always?) some element of suffering. Just like riding a roller coaster, a song that tells the story of pain that we can relate to (or glamorizes pain that we will never feel) lights up our brains in the most pleasurable ways. Something about facing suffering, in a controlled manner, is just extremely satisfying. I won’t pretend to understand why this is, but if you have ever faced two similar works of art and tried to understand why one makes an impact, while the other falls flat, this is usually a big part of the answer. Good artists have a (sometime unconscious) fundamental understanding of this and that is where “the rules” come into play.

First off, it should go without saying but I am going to say it anyway, good artists are good at making art. Seriously. I am going to go out on a limb and just say that every good artist has gotten to a point in their art making where making art got fairly easy. They got to a certain level of technical proficiency, they started to understand the aesthetics of their particular artistic language, whatever… making art started to become second nature. This is where “the rules” come into play.

If good art is about allowing people to safely suffer, to face difficult subjects, and it is coming out easily, you have a problem, you are not pushing hard enough, and the final product (art) is not going to be effective. If you do not feel anything when you make it, people are not going to feel anything when they look at/interact with your art. Hobbyists enjoy making art, artists work hard. When making art starts getting easy, when there is not enough suffering in the studio anymore, artists start creating barriers for themselves — they invent rules for their art work and process to follow. Ultimately, understanding the rules that an artist has set for the creation of the art can reveal a lot about the final piece.

Are you still with me? Am I completely wrong here? If you are an artist, do you not work within a set of (ever tightening) regulations?

As I was working on the piece that I would ultimately decide to send to this show, I was posting a lot of images of my progress on my website, on Instagram, on Facebook, and I got a lot of interesting feedback. Mostly, it could be separated into two distinct groupings:

 
The people that think my paintings are kind of weird (in a good way) thought I had pushed it too far towards realism, therefore I had created a somewhat less interesting piece.
 
The people that think I am a pretty good realistic painter thought this was a step forward in my ability to paint things that look like the thing I am painting, and therefore this was a more interesting piece.
 

In my mind, both of these groups of people are missing something. I am not intending to paint people as entirely weird caricatures, I am not trying to accurately render things to the best of my ability. What I am trying to do is create interesting paintings that communicate something, while working within my own set of artistic rules, and there is one rule that all my pieces follow. One rule that really defines the look of my paintings, even this one.

If there is one thing that really makes painting images worthwhile in a world where photography is so prevalent, it is the act of painting itself. The fact that some foolish human took the time to painstakingly create an image, gives paintings a weight that photography can not achieve. With that in mind, I go out of my way to make my paintings as labor intensive as possible. I use a small brush and mix every stroke individually. I spend more time than is necessary on pieces and try to leave obvious evidence of this in the finished product. I want to push the fact that some idiot human (that’s me) just spent a month creating something that a camera could have done better in 5 minutes. Painting this way is not the right way to do it, it does not produce the most realistic results, it distorts colors and adds strange textures, it complicates things. If I was more successful, this is the part where I would make a stink about doing it all myself and not using studio assistants, but I think at this point in my career that goes without saying.

In this piece, I have toned down the textures that are normally created by working this way, and people seem to have noticed. I did this so that other distortions could take the stage. I wanted the piece to feel unstable. The skin is not as textured and the colors are more even, but I tried to play with cool and warm areas within the body, allowing some parts to push back into the blues of the background and then shifted the lines of the blanket so the figure felt as though it may also be in danger of falling forward. I wanted the figure to feel pushed back into a corner, while still maintaining a strong gaze toward the viewer. There are a lot of small things happening in a simple composition and allowing too much texture in the skin made the piece feel overly busy.

The painting is being sent off to Florida, so be sure to check out the show if you are in the area, or in Poets and Artists Magazine, if you are not. The show has an amazing array of artists, all with a unique way of looking at women in their art. Best of all, it gives me a good excuse to get out of frozen Boston and work on my sunburn in Miami.

If you want to join me there, check out the opening reception event on Facebook.

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Artist’s Gaze, Seeing Women in the Twenty-first Century

Curated by Victoria Selbach

At Sirona Fine Art

Dates: February 21 to March 22, 2015

Opening Reception: February 21, 2015

Featuring work by:

  • Aleah Chapin
  • Alison Lambert
  • Alyssa Monks
  • Bernardo Torrens
  • Brian Booth Craig
  • Cesar Santos
  • Christian Johnson
  • Cindy Bernhard
  • Daliah Ammar
  • Daniel Maidman
  • Delita Martin
  • Dorielle Caimi
  • Erica Elan Ciganek
  • Erin Anderson
  • Hollis Dunlap
  • Jamie Valero
  • Jason Bard Yarmosky
  • Jeff Faerber
  • Jennifer Balkan
  • Judith Peck
  • Krista Louise Smith
  • Lauren Levato Coyne
  • Maria Kreyn
  • Mark Horst
  • Mary Beth McKenzie
  • Matthew Cherry
  • Melinda Whitmore
  • Mia Bergeron
  • Michelle Doll
  • Nadine Robbins
  • Nick Ward
  • Park Hyun Jin
  • Patrick Earl Hammie
  • Reuben Negron
  • Richard Thomas Scott
  • Ryan Shultz
  • Stephen Early
  • Stephen Wright
  • Susannah Martin
  • Tim Okamura
  • Victoria Selbach
  • Wesley Wofford
  • Will Kurtz

Like a lot of artists, I have spent many hours thinking about (worrying about) how to make a living with my talents. I am far from an expert here but, I think that it is generally accepted that best paths are either, get a job that is somewhat related to art, or find a gallery to sell your work. Since my drive to make art is a whole hell of a lot stronger than my drive to stand around talking about it, teaching was out and, those thoughts drifted towards the ideal gallery situation for my art.

For a long time, I always came to the same conclusion. I can do just about everything that any gallery that would take me is offering.

Now, before we go any further with this, let me give a little background on that decision and, for those of you who think that I am foolhardy, stick around until the end. In my relatively short time attempting to be a professional artist, I have done pretty well on my own. For the last few years, most of my income has come from art. I am pretty far from being able to quit my day job but, to the point where I can spend a majority of my time in the studio. Even better, I have managed to get some good press and put my art in front of a lot of peoples eyes. This isn’t written here to brag, just to outline some things that I have been able to do for myself, no gallery required. This isn’t written here to brag, just to let you know what I was thinking when I started asking, for 50% of the money, what am I going to gain?

And there is the problem. When you are relatively unknown, like I am, galleries obviously don’t want to take too much of a risk on you. Most of my talks with galleries have reflected this. They want to try out a few small pieces, which is completely understandable but, at the same time, my ability to sell small pieces has already outpaced my drive to make them. I was not looking for a gallery to dip their toe into the shallow end to see how it felt, I was looking for someone to help me make the leap into consistently selling larger, more elaborate pieces. So, my decision has always been to build the foundation myself. In other words, I wanted to continue keeping all the money until someone noticed how awesome I was and was willing to let me skip past the whole development phase. It should go without saying but, when you have minimal bills and a landlord who gives you a little leeway on the late rent, you can afford take some risks and see what works…

Recently though, I have begun to see the error in my ways. At this point in my life, I have a wife, a house, even a little orange dog. I think it is safe to say I am an grown up and, being a grown up with other living things relying on me means I can not always spend as much time in the studio as I used too. Doing all the work myself was great when I was focused only on being an artist but, it was also a hell of a lot of work and took up most of my time and energy. Like a caveman, or a used car salesman, if you don’t kill, you don’t eat. Sometimes cuddling up on the couch with my wife and little orange dog is just more appealing than hustling out in the studio.

Which brings me to the point when I realize what everyone else already knows.

There are a lot that goes into being an artist. Obviously, you have to create art. But that is really only a small part. If you want to have any chance at supporting yourself, you also have to do all sorts of things that really come down to getting your art in front of an audience. You have to get your work included in shows. You have to write about art. You have go out into the world and meet people who care about art. You have to do a lot of things that are not creating art. If you are someone who has already made the foolish decision to make art as a career I don’t have to tell you this but, when you suddenly find yourself with less time available to devote towards all these aspects of being an artist, there is one thing that is not going to be cut from that list. That is the actual creation of art. For better or worse, everything else is optional.

And this is what I was missing about what galleries were offering me. They were offering my art a place to continue to grow when I was busy living my life. I know this is pretty obvious and seems simple but, it is hugely important. I was looking for someone who could help take my career to the next level, which would have been great but, equally important is someone who could maintain all that I had worked for when my focus had to be elsewhere.

When I started writing this post, I expected the end to feel a lot more dramatic but really, it was a simple lesson that I feel foolish for overlooking for so long. In any case, I am back in the studio, back to hustling and attempting to regain the momentum that I lost this year while I was off being house broken.

Expect a lot more art related rants and stream of conciseness blog posts in the near future (along with some announcements about upcoming shows). For now, be sure to head over to Sloane Merrill Gallery where I have some new small and affordable pieces in their 10×10 show that opens this Saturday.

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