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.

maria_sun_2

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.

private_message_nick_ward

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.

nick-ward-artists-gaze

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.

artists-gaze

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.

nick-ward-10x10-sloane-merrill-gallery

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed that I have been acting a bit out of character lately, working on small paintings. In the past, I really struggled to translate the process and feeling of the large paintings into a smaller, more affordable package. I have a very particular way of working, and I just can’t seem to convince myself to paint any other way.

When a lot of painters work, they are editing out a lot of visual information. They are taking the complex real world and simplifying it, deciding what is important, and including only what is necessary to create a nice clean image. This is a great way to work. I don’t do it.

When I work, I generally take the biggest canvas, and the smallest brush I can find. I like to pack in as much information as possible. Instead of taking a complex area and simplifying it, I am taking simple things and breaking out every possible color that might possibly exist there. This is a bad way to work. It takes a long time and it just doesn’t work at anything less than large scale. I do it anyways.

The thing is, I really think it makes interesting paintings.

I want anyone who buys one of my paintings, whether they spend thousands of dollars on a large piece, or tens of dollars on a tiny one, to come home with a piece that I think is good and interesting. If someone buys one of my paintings, I want it to have the things that make a painting mine, no matter what size it may be. Because of this, I have not sent out many small paintings lately.

Recently, my friends at Sloane Merrill Gallery asked me to create a few small paintings for their December show. So, I headed into the pathetic small spare bedroom that is my current temporary studio, determined to come up with some paintings that I would be happy showing.

I think I finally found the right balance. Instead of trying to scale down my techniques, I just painted with the same intensity and scale of strokes that I would use on a large piece. In the case of these smaller pieces, there is just less of it. So, for the first time, if you like the large pieces, you should see a lot of what you like in the small ones.

I am interested to see how people respond to these pieces so, please head on over to Sloane Merrill Gallery for their 10×10 show next week (or any time in December), have a look at the pieces and let me know what you think. They will be hung along side a lot of other great pieces, including a few by my old studio-mate (from the infamous studio 11), Tony Bevilacqua. Official show details along with information about the opening reception below.

10by10_sloane_merrill

Twenty painters given the same dimensions

10×10 Inches

Opening Saturday, December 6th from 3-8pm! Artists include Carlo Russo, Jeremy Durling, Adam Vinson, Leo Mancini-Hresko, Matthew Saba, Jeremy Miranda, Tony Bevilacqua, Kyle Bartlett, Kelly Carmody, Nicholas Mancini, Margaret Langford Sweet, Brett Gamache, Andrew Fish, Michelle Arnold Paine, Nick Ward, Michael Compton, Aurélie Galois, Frank Strazzulla, and Jonathon Nix.

At Sloane Merrill Gallery, 75 Charles Street Boston, MA


Help spread the word, share the event page on Facebook.

Until recently, I never considered the impact of my studio space on the art I make. I didn’t have too. I had a big space, with easy access, in a building that housed a lot of other artists. Unfortunately, progress stops for no one and, eventually the time came when I had to leave that that big open studio space behind so it could became a few, smaller, fancier, more expensive apartments.

With that space gone, I took another space in the building. It could only be accessed by a tight stairwell that restricted the size of work I could do, and it was a bit more expensive but, it was big, open, and I didn’t have to leave the building of artists behind so I jumped right in and continued working.

Unfortunately, that space was a little rough, and the price kept creeping up so, late last year it was time to leave that studio behind to look for greener (less expensive) pastures. That search took me through four studios in the last year or so and, as a result my work really started to suffer. I started to understand the importance of having a good space to work in and saw the impact of different situations in the paintings that I was doing. During this period of studio chaos, one painting came along for the ride and saw the effects of all 4 spaces. It started out in a space that I was settled and comfortable. With good light and lots of space. It moved with me into a dark, dirty, cold basement studio that I just could not convince myself to visit during the warm summer days. It followed me when I fled to the outskirts of town to work in a little garage and it finally settled into a tiny spare room in my new house with me. It started big and bold and loosely painted, it took on strange colors when I worked in bad light and it became more realistic when the space was too cramped to step back.

Somehow, the painting ended up looking pretty good. It is definitely a little different from similar pieces I have done in the past but, I am betting that a lot of you might think it is a step forward.

Normally this is the part of the post where I would reveal the final piece but, in this case, it will be heading out to a show and they have asked me to keep it under wraps for now… but I just can’t resist giving a little teaser.

And I Realize That Most of My Wounds Are Self Inflicted

If you want to see it go through a lot of changes, some strange color choices, and a bunch of different studios check out my instagram page where I have posted some progress shots of the piece over the last few months.

For now, there is a happy ending to this story, I am settled in to the tiny little spare room studio in my new house, taking the opportunity to work on some smaller pieces while I try to figure out, what makes a good studio and, where can I find or build one in this city.

Portrait of Jessica

South Boston Open Studios is happening on Sunday June 1st and, despite the fact that I am in the middle of moving my studio to Dorchester, I will be set up and open for visitors. This will, most likely, be the last time that I participate in one of these events for a while so, if you are interested in seeing the paintings and talking with me about art, be sure to come out!

south boston spring open studios 2014

Postcard image by Dana Woulfe

This spring, the whole neighborhood is joining in the fun, with artists opening up in The Distillery, and King Terminal building, along with a few of the neighborhood galleries (including Thomas Young Gallery and the newly opened 555 Gallery).

For more information, and a full list of participating artists and galleries, visit southbostonopenstudios.com.

There will also be a neighborhood art stroll hosted by New Art Love. They will lead a group of visitors through the galleries and artist studios of Southie and talk with artists, curators, gallerists and more. Afterwords there will be a reception at LaMontagne Gallery. It sounds like a great way to experience South Boston Open Studios so, if you are interested, be sure to check out the Facebook event page, or go to www.southbostonartcrawl.eventbrite.com for more information.

I have a habit of over reaching in my life as an artist. Attempting paintings that are just a little bit beyond what I can possibly pull off, getting involved in projects with tight deadlines and, showing up to ask for the impossible has become common place at this point. While I have grown used to hearing the word no, most of the time these gambles find a way to miraculously pay off.

Preparing for this show was not one of those times.

A while back Didi Menendez did a nice profile of my work in her magazine, Poets & Artists. Not only did this profile lead to one of my first big sales, it has also lead to my work being included in a few of her other projects, including what has become and annual show at the Zhou B Art Center in Chicago. These shows (along with her magazine) do an amazing job of combining promising newer artists alongside bigger established names and, I am trying to work with her on a portrait show here in Boston. In other words, when she calls, I want to send her something good.

Unfortunately, something good just did not want to happen without a fight. I scaled back my original plan, then scrapped the backup plan, only to end up finishing a piece that I had nearly abandoned. In the end, all the frustration was worth it. I am happy with the finished piece and the show will, without a doubt, be great.

I think everyone has seen enough of my new piece for this show so, scroll down for the official information and a few of the early arrivals for the show from some other cool artists.

Fixation

On view from April 18th – May 11th, 2014

Opening reception Friday April 18th from 7-10pm

At the Zhou B Art Center in Chicago
1029 W 35th St, Chicago, IL 60609

Fixation is an exhibition and a publication of art and poetry focused on the physical or psychological preoccupation or obsession over an object or subject. Also as a focus of something that will capture our attention.

Fixation takes place in a gallery setting, print and digital formats. The exhibition is curated by Sergio Gomez of Chicago’s Zhou B Art Center and Didi Menendez of PoetsArtists Magazine.

Contributing Artists

  • Cesar Santos
  • Denis Peterson
  • Tim Okamura
  • Terri Thomas
  • Eloy Morales
  • Daena Title
  • Nadine Robbins
  • Daniel Ochoa
  • Ivonne Bess
  • Ryan Shultz
  • Michelle Buchanan
  • Jennifer Koe
  • Brianna Angelakis
  • Tracey Stuckey
  • Rory Coyne
  • Lauren Levato
  • Matthew Ivan Cherry
  • Brian Busch
  • Nick Ward
  • Jaime Valero Perandones
  • Karen Kaapcke
  • Patrick Earl Hammie
  • Miranda Graham
  • Harry Sudman
  • Marcos Raya
  • Ernesto Marenco

Contributing Poets

  • Richard Blanco
  • Denise Duhamel
  • Nin Andrews
  • Reb Livingston
  • Ana Menendez
  • Ken Taylor
  • Emma Trelles
  • Grace Cavalieri
  • John Korn
  • Terry Lucas
  • Sarah Blake
  • Kathleen Kirk
  • Tara Betts
  • Sam Rasnake
  • David Krump
  • Geof Huth

BONUS!

For those of you that think I stink, but like Margaux. This video featuring a poem by Nin Andrews will be playing at the gallery. See if you can spot her.

Nin Andrews: A Glossary of Deirdres from Didi Menendez on Vimeo.

Working on this painting has been a struggle. In fact, working on pieces with this particular model, has been a struggle. I don’t want to cast the blame on her, though, this struggle is mine, she just stumbled into it. To be fair, she may be the most experienced, easiest to work with model I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with. She showed up when she said she would, she was beautiful, charming, and had an incredible ability to position herself in just the right way for each image. By all measures, she nailed it. Unfortunately, this sort of thing just doesn’t help me make good paintings.

Now, let me elaborate on that. This sort of thing would help immensely if I had the opportunity to have her in the studio for an extended time, so that I could work from life. The reality is that I just don’t have the budget to do that yet. The reality of being an artist, working in a style that is not exactly in fashion, is that I have to stretch a dollar. The reality is, I have to work primarily from photographs. Nobody wants to hang around my studio for weeks on end, staying as still as possible, without a really good reason (if anyone wants to volunteer, I would certainly prefer to work from life). This is not a complaint though, I accept this reality and, to be honest, for someone who is often accused of being a photo realist painter (an accusation which I would adamantly deny), I just don’t spend too much time worrying about what things actually look like.

Here I am, struggling away in the studio, hardly caring what things actually look like, barely even looking at a bunch of shitty photographs (did I mention that I am a shitty photographer?) to make sure that all the body parts fall roughly in the right place, trying to create representational art. Not exactly the best case scenario but, sometimes it works. The times that it works, are the times that I am painting people who I know. People that I know well enough to paint a convincing likeness within these less than ideal parameters.

Back to my struggle. In this case, like the other paintings I have attempted with this model, I am breaking that pattern. I am staring hard at the reference images, trying to figure out if my painting actually looks anything like her. I am trying so hard to figure out if I am on the right track but, in the end, I just don’t know all that well what she really looks like. I am spending a lot of time worrying about this, when it really shouldn’t matter. After all, what I am trying to paint is not what someone actually looks like, but the feeling of looking at someone (or something like that), and since I don’t really know what looking at Jessica feels like, I struggle.

In any case, while I am not sure that this painting looks anything like her, I think I am finally happy with the result.

“But, How did I get to.. Now?”

48″x48″ oil on canvas

But, How Did I Get To Now..

Those of you that hate the text paintings will be happy to see that I restrained myself here.

For anyone in the Chicago area, this piece is headed out that way in April, more details on that show will be posted soon. I will be out for the opening so, if you show up and claim to actually read these posts, I will buy you a beer.*

*if I have any money.

I have not posted any updates in a while but, there is a lot going on in my studio.

photo