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?

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


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At my house, we often joke about how our favorite news anchors feel like another member of the family. These are people we have never met but, they talk to (at?) us every morning and we enjoy their (virtual) presence in the house. Just like any other member of the family, we grow and change with them, we notice if they are sick, and when we don’t get to watch for a few days, we miss them. I know we are not alone feeling this way but it is worth mentioning because I have noticed that I experience a very similar feeling when I am working on paintings.

Right now I am working on this, rather large, piece:

portrait in progress

My friend Cassandra was good enough to model for the painting. She is a pretty interesting girl who normally spends her time hanging with famous (infamous?) Bostonians, doing the sort of cartoons that seem to be rough drafts for comedy performances, and creating her own paintings. Despite all these great qualities, and the fact that we have generally enjoyed each others company, we don’t really manage to see each other all that often. Now, normally this would not really be note worthy. Everyone’s life is busy and most people probably have a handful of friends they love the idea of seeing more often but don’t actually manage to visit. However, in this case, I have just spent a couple of weeks closely studying and painting an image of this person. Strangely, this has left me feeling like I have spent the last week or two hanging around with the real Cassandra. Just like the newscasters, who I have never met, spending this time with Cassandras image has left me feeling closer to someone, who I rarely see.

Beyond the, sort of silly, feeling of bonding with someone I have not actually seen, realizing this has helped reveal some other trends in my work. I have found myself struggling more than usual with the last few paintings and I was having trouble figuring out the problem. Suddenly it is making more sense and I have discovered a few things about my process.

The first thing I do when paint in a portrait, or figure is the eyes. I like the start off by establishing that this piece of wood will soon be “human”. Once I can look a piece in the eyes, it becomes easier to figure out how to approach the rest of the image. Two of the pieces I have been struggling with were figures that were not facing the viewer. I was unable to look the image in the eyes and establish that connection. It sounds so strange to say that out loud but, it seems to make a big difference when I am actually in the studio working.

I also started to see a pattern developing when it comes to the models in my most successful pieces. Most of the people that have modeled for my paintings have been friends of mine. This makes sense when you are trying to establish yourself as an artist and money and deadlines are tight. Friends are willing to show up at odd times and work help out for free. I have discovered that having a personal connection with the model offers another advantage. I am going to be spending weeks or months working on a painting. Since, in some strange way, it feels like I am spending this time with a real person, it had better be someone I want to hang around for that long.

The curious things that happen when you spend too much time in the studio.

I know that was sort of a long strange post for a Monday morning but, let me know what you thought. If you liked it, I will do more longer posts.

Also, if you want to see a painting that I struggled with (but ultimately, became a good piece) head over to Sloane Merrill Gallery on Charles street and see my latest sunbather piece. It will be hanging in the Back to Back show for another week or two only. The weather is great, the gallery is beautiful, and Charles street oozes Boston charm so, take a walk and enjoy Spring.

I think this is a new personal best (worst?) for posts in one day… two, two posts. In any case, there is a nice little piece on Back to Back in Fine Art Today (Fine Art Connoisseur Magazines newsletter/blog) so, if you can not make it out to the show, get a feel for it there:

I generally hate doing multiple posts in a row about the same show but, this time it is a little different. Sloane Merrill Gallery is one of a small handful of new, commercial galleries that have popped up in Boston recently. Now, while we are no New York, Boston has a pretty solid scene of underground performance spaces and alternative art venues. In other words, there is no shortage of places for artists to hang out on the weekend or try out new ideas. When it comes to making actual sales, it is a different story. There are very few commercial galleries in town so, the emergence of three (I think?) new ones this season is pretty uplifting. That said, obviously times are still shaky for galleries everywhere and many around here seem to have responded by taking less risks and being sticking closer to their proven artists (not that I blame them).

Jeremy Durling, 'Anika'

Jeremy Durling, ‘Anika’

With that in mind I am truly excited that Sloane Merrill Gallery has stepped a little outside the traditional commercial gallery comfort zone and partnered with the, more community based, Boston Figurative Artists Center for this show. They put their reputation on the line and did a lot of extra work (I sat in on some of the jury process and there was a considerable amount of entries to sort through) to allow more local artists and talented amateurs to hang in the gallery with their regular roster of artists. Mixing a juried component into the regularly scheduled show is a pretty interesting way to get people excited about a new space and a great way for a gallery to give a little back to the Boston arts community.

Justin Hess, 'Study of Alicia'

Justin Hess, ‘Study of Alicia’

Come out this Friday (the 12th) for the opening reception or, for the next month or so during normal gallery hours to check out the show. I have not seen everything hung yet but, what I have seen looks great. Let the people that run the gallery know that their efforts are appreciated and if you can, maybe even buy a painting. I assume you will know my piece when you see the biggest, brightest thing in the gallery.

I just completed a new piece for a show at Sloane Merrill Gallery. The show opens next Friday, April 12th and there will be an opening reception at the gallery from 6:30-9:00pm. Check out the new piece and then see the official announcement below for more details on the show.

Suburban Dream?

Please join Sloane Merrill Gallery in collaboration with the Boston Figurative Art Center on Friday, April 12th from 6:30-9pm for the opening of Back to Back!

The collaborative exhibition highlights the figure as an important subject in our modern world — one that is both beautiful and a struggle to capture. The theme of the show marries the often sacred and sensual use of the human back to represent form with the more abstract concept of what it means to be “back to back”. The participating figurative artists explored this theme in oils and their visual experiences will be shared at the exhibition opening.

Back to Back at Sloane Merrill

Two of my favorites from the show: Tom Grady, ‘Spine’ and Damon Lehrer’s keekaroo high chair reviews, ‘Green Chair Nude’

Back to Back has two distinct components — one half is an invitational and the other is juried. Invitational artists include: Damon Lehrer, Jon Nix, Leo Mancini-Hresko, Nick Ward, Rick Berry, Tony Apesos, Gene Dorgan, Paul Goodnight, Brett Gamache, Jim Burke, Freda Nemirovsky, Britt Snyder, Ann Hirsch, Tom Grady, Janet Monafo, Paul Rahilly, & Kelly Carmody.

Jurors are Damon Lehrer of BFAC, Liz Devlin of FLUX. Boston, Jon Nix, Fr. Iain MacLellan of Saint Anselm College, and Ali Ringenburg of Sloane Merrill Gallery.

More information at: http://sloanemerrillgallery.com/exhibitions/2013/1/29/back-to-back

Join the event on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/146883525483652/