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.


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.

I have been thinking a lot lately about where I am going to take my paintings next. Should I smooth out my colors, blend my strokes and make things more realistic? Should I just cut lose, bring even more abstraction into the pieces, really push the texture to the next level. I have been flip flopping in my mind, trying to picture where these changes might take my art but in the end, when brush hits canvas, the paintings were coming out largely the same.

Then I painted this piece:


(read more about how this piece came together here)

I have to say, I have gotten a lot of great feedback on this piece, and overall I am feeling really good about the results… but I am still not sure that this is where I am going next. So I am going to try out a few more options.

First off,
I am going to bring back the sunbather paintings, except I am going to push the realism further. I am going to smooth things out, blend my colors a little more and really just try to use a lot more restraint on my crazy colors and textures. I already have a couple new people signed up to model for these paintings so, I am pretty excited to get started.

Christine Sunbathing #1 oil painting by Nick Ward

I am going to take things in completely the other direction. I have signed on to do a show that is Disco themed, which seems like the perfect excuse to really go crazy with some colors and cut lose with more abstracted elements. Maybe some people that have been following me for a while (a long while) will remember some of the dance club scenes I painted years ago. The plan is to bring back the feel of these pieces, except bringing a few more years of painting skill into the realistic areas and experimenting more with glitched images to bring some rhythm and color into the piece.

Danceclub study 1

I am going to try to bring everything I learn in those two pieces together again into a few more paintings like the one I introduced at the beginning. I still want to play more with the idea of digital life versus real life and, like I said, I think the text message piece was pretty successful. It just needs a bit more development to really shine.

Two more quick notes before I go.

I am always looking for people interested in helping with these pieces so, if you have any interest in modeling for any of the ideas listed above, please get in touch.

If you are not quite sick of me talking about myself yet, I did a little interview with Poets & Artists magazine that you should check out here: https://iartistas.squarespace.com/…

Answered a few questions in preparation for The Artists Gaze show. Head to the Poets & Artists website to check it out.


EDIT: A lot of the links to this site seem to be dead, or moving, so I will re-post the text below.

What compels you to the specific women you choose to paint?

When do you know you have made a significant connection to your subject and what does that feel or look like from your perspective?

I am going to approach these two question in tandem, because I think the answers play into each other.

A majority of the people I paint are close friends who have volunteered so, I would say that a significant connection with the subject is more of a pre-requisite, rather than something that is occurring during the process of painting. These are people that I already know are interesting and, there is already a level of trust established that makes the whole process a lot more rewarding for everyone involved. Since the paintings are all based in portraiture, I do tend to prefer people with strong, interesting, or expressive features but, I am mostly trying to find people who are interested and excited to be a part of the process.

Beyond that, I have found that more experienced models do not give me what I am looking for. They tend to be too good at the job, knowing exactly how to deliver a pose or emotion, which lacks some of the honesty that the situation brings out of someone less experienced.

What is it about your personal journey that has brought your gaze to focus so deeply on women.

I am not sure I have a really good answer for this. I have always been fortunate enough to have a lot of really interesting women in my life so, obviously that has played into it. Like I said, I am relying on the helpful people in my life volunteering themselves to become the subjects of these paintings. A lot of the choices are being made for me based on who is interested in playing a role in these stories that the paintings want to tell. The fact that women are a lot more comfortable and willing to take on this role probably says a lot more about society in general than it does about my personal journey.

Why this visual dialogue? What do you hope to accomplish through your work?

I really hope that the paintings are interesting and can communicate some interesting stories in a way that is accessible to a lot of different people. I love portraiture because EVERYONE is so used to analyzing faces. It is hard wired into us through generations of evolution so, even people that have no art knowledge, can really get something out of the paintings and have a strong reaction. At the same time, I try to bring a lot of subtle messages and painting technique into the pieces so that, hopefully there is still a lot there for people who know a bit more art history and want to look a little more deeply. I really feel like there are not enough artists trying to bridge the gap between intellectual work, and just more
simple beautiful visuals so, I am trying to do what I can to put my money where my mouth is and make something that fits into that space.

Tell us about your current series or work and how it may be different from the work submitted for the show.

I have talked a lot about really wanting to use models that I know and am familiar with but, the next series of paintings is going in a completely different direction. I am not entirely sure if this is going to work yet, it may be a terrible idea for a series of paintings but, I will lay it out here for everyone today anyway (a scary prospect).

Since there seems to be an endless supply of scandals as peoples most personal images are being stolen from their cell phones or cloud accounts, and more and more common for private moments to live in public, online forever, I thought this would be an interesting subject to play with. So, I put out a call for images. Instead of turning to my usual models, I invited strangers to send me, via text or email, an image. I asked them to send me an image that mimics the sort of image they would send a lover, except it should be cropped to not entirely reveal their face. After selecting the best images, I did everything I could think of to degrade the digital image files. I wanted to simulate the corruptions and distortions that digital images take on when they are widely shared and saved repeatedly. Now, I am taking these images and adding one final level of distortion, by translating them into paintings.

Once these paintings are complete, I will have the models come in to the studio, and sit for a more traditional portrait that will, obviously, reveal their faces and their identity.

Hopefully these two panels will be an interesting contrast when hung next to each other. The paintings are not far enough along to share yet but, they will be soon!

Recently, I was visiting my friends over at Sloane Merrill Gallery and they decided to give their summer intern the task of putting together a short artist interview with me. For those of you that know me personally, it is obvious that this is a fool’s errand. Giving me the stage in a room full of lovely young women and turning the spotlight on me is no way to get any work done. What started as a few simple inquiries about my art turned into hours of dodging questions, intern teasing, and rambling stories (mostly stories about cows that day). While the afternoon was enjoyable, I didn’t expect many lucid or relevant thoughts to be caught for the interview.

She did, however, manage to sift out one important thought that I want to elaborate on today. When listing to music, I am often overcome with waves of emotion. These moments are very unpredictable and run the spectrum from overwhelming rushes of nostalgia, or feelings of amazing calmness, all the way to what I described as a full body tingle. That rush of excitement that sweeps from head to toe, vibrating your whole body with excitement.

I often worry that people do not experience this sort of purely emotional response from purely visual, static forms of art like painting and sculpture. Looking at great paintings is always intellectually stimulating and is quite and enjoyable experience but, those intense feelings that music so often brings out in me are missing. People tell me that paintings have the ability to stir these emotions but I just don’t get it. It should go without saying; this is a troubling realization for someone who spends so much time and energy creating paintings.

After talking about this concern with the women at the gallery, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I am always chasing this idea when I make paintings. I am always trying to create images that I think will trigger these feelings. Images of moments that we have all experienced in some form, images that should trigger nostalgic feelings, or memories of pleasure, or maybe memories of pain. I am fine tuning the colors, adding contrasting visual elements, bits of text, nothing seems to work.

Then it hit me. I have been experiencing these moments the entire time, not with finished paintings but, during the creation of them. So many people describe creating art as therapeutic, relaxing them or bringing them increased feelings of sanity. This is not at all what I experience in the studio. Making art is hard. Not hard physically but, mentally draining. It is a stress filled rollercoaster ride, like a whirlwind romance, filled with dramatic mood swings and chaos, waves of pure pleasure followed but crushing frustration.

Realizing this made me feel a little more relaxed about wasting my life creating paintings. Like so many things in life, it is more about the journey than the destination and, it seems that people can find and appreciate these struggles and emotions in the finished pieces of art. This realization also helps explain why my best paintings feature models that I know and love, even if the imagery of the piece does not necessarily reflect their personality or my relationship with them.

With that in mind, I want to show you my latest piece. It features my, soon to be wife, sunbathing. Like most of my sunbather paintings, I have corrupted an old masters representation of the lamentation of Christ but, that is not important for this blog post. What is important in this context is that I did the initial studies and photographs for this painting, a few years ago when we first met. Back before we were (almost) newlyweds, she was just a pretty stranger walking through The Distillery building, and I was just a broke artist who needed someone willing to model for free. As we started dating the creation of this piece got pushed aside as I was inspired to (somewhat obsessively) work on a large scale portrait of her instead. Now that our relationship is changing once again, I thought it was a good time to bring this piece back, to finish the painting that initially brought us together.

Sunbather #4

Now, that story has little to do with the message and imagery of the completed painting. I came up with the concept for the painting before we even met and in its world, she is just a helpful volunteer. However, in the studio, where paintings are frequently abandoned incomplete, and the (fairly simple and easy) act of rendering is turned into a dramatic battle within my own mind, having that deeper connection and interest in the model is often the difference between success and failure.

The title of the piece is simply, “Sunbather #4”. It is done in oil on custom birch wood panel and I will be dropping it off at Sloane Merrill Gallery (on Charles Street in Beacon Hill) this afternoon. By popular demand, I have conceded to make a series of smaller pieces that are a bit more affordable and, most importantly, fit into apartments or houses with normal sized walls. If you like this piece, let me know and go by the gallery and have a look. While I really love working large, I know that large pieces are just not practical for many people. So, if the pieces sell and feedback is good, I will try to keep focused on making more small pieces.

I am the featured artist of the month over at Glovebox. They just posted a quick interview I did with them so, go to GLVBX.com and have a look. Also, be sure to check back throughout the month as they will be posting a few other nick-centric articles including some studio visit photos.

EDIT: Site seems to be gone, so I will repost the short interview, and images.

Congratulations on your recent Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant for painting! What do you think sets you apart from other artists and for what do you plan on using the grant?

I have no idea, I guess they just like my approach to painting. The money has just been going right back in to making better paintings, it has allowed me to use better materials and spend more time focusing on each piece.

You explain that your portraits are an “attempt at capturing the essence of being human” – what is it about a woman’s face and/or body that speaks to you and what does it say?

Really what I mean by that is, the paintings attempt to visually capture the essence of someone. Yes, you can make out all these details like wrinkles and freckles, but when you take a closer look the canvas just explodes into a mess of chaotic paint strokes. I want the visual experience to relay the idea that, when you see someone, they may have a pimple or whatever but, your brain generally just skips over that and you leave with an overall feeling for their character. Nobody remembers the pimple.

Your work focuses on your subject, everyday people, how they interrelate, portray themselves and make you feel – do you translate this to the canvas solely through your visual experience or is there a personal story involved?

I am very much trying to relay personal stories through my paintings although; the stories are not necessarily true. Often the stories are based on the places my imagination goes when meeting a new person. Generally the idea is to have a simple, sort of folk art, root and then grow this really elaborate technically painted image on top of it.

In celebrating what some might find to be flaws, your portraits highlight freckles, wrinkles, scars, etc. If you were to paint a self-portrait, what would you show of yourself, literally or figuratively?

I think a self-portrait would be even more literal than my portraits of others. It’s so difficult to step out of your own brain and show yourself honestly. I would end up fixated on all those details that relay some small fragment of my story – the scar above my eye where I accidentally poked myself with a knife, the chipped tooth that I gave up on repairing after the cap fell off 3 times, the new wrinkles that are starting to creep to the surface – it would be a map to the Nick of today.

What do you think of the Boston art scene and how do you see it growing? How does Glovebox and the Distillery, your live/work space, fit into this future?

This is such a huge question, my theory changes on that daily. I will say that Glovebox, and things like it are what will help grow the Boston art scene. The new platforms that are building bridges from the Boston scene out into the world are what will ultimately let Boston take the next step.

I recently sat down to talk with Carina Wine of Abstraks Magazine. After reading her profile of Adam O’day I knew I would be in good hands and the article did not disappoint. So head to abstraks.com or, click on the image below to go straight to issuu.com and read the feature (along with a great look at the Distillery Gallery) in the December 2011 issue of Abstraks.

If you want to read more, check out past interviews with Poets And Artists Magazine and with my friends from Papercut Fashion Magazine.

This link seems to be long dead, but I found a scan of the article, on Howard Tullmans site. You can head over there to check out the article, along with his amazing art collection, but I will also re-post the images here. Images are big so it might take a minute to download. I will also add the original text whenever I can find it.

Recently I had my friends from Papercut Magazine over to the studio to shoot photos for their cover. The shoot was a lot of fun and we all got to talking about and fashion and this crazy city that we all live in.

Click on any image to view the full size version on Flickr.

When it was time for the next issue, it seems they did not forget the little people and they revisited me in Studio 11 at The Distillery to sit down and talk again. Read the interview in this months Papercut.