July 20, 2014
Interview with Nicolas Party
Brightly painted rocks emulating succulent summer fruits adorn the steps leading up to Kunsthall Stavanger’s newest exhibition, Landscape, by Swiss artist Nicolas Party. Inside, sprawling charcoal depictions of Norwegian landscapes combine with brightly colored graphic designs in a light-hearted tribute to Norwegian painter Lars Hertervig, the rich history of Kunsthall Stavanger, and the surrounding geography of the city. Below, the artist elaborates on his background, connection to graffiti culture, and his unique approach to figuration.
Could you begin by letting us know a bit about your background, and how you came to be involved in art?
I’ve always had a strong interest in making stuff. My earliest memory of creating things was making little figures out of dry paint at school. I was fascinated by the fact that you could create an entire world out of little leftovers. It’s like when you make a yellow circle on a piece of paper; a moment ago it was a blank piece of paper and suddenly it’s sunny. I think it’s still more or less the same for me now; the simpler the process the better the artwork is. But it became more complicated with the time I guess and now doing a yellow circle doesn’t seem like enough. But it’s mostly what I try to achieve.
You have a unique practice, often creating large scale paintings directly on the walls of a gallery or institution, combined with installations of sculptures and other objects. These installations bear your specific creative mark, but also harken to a rich legacy of wall paintings by artists like Sol Lewitt and perhaps even early graffiti art. Can you describe how you arrived at this kind of practice?
I started making wall paintings when I was young by doing graffiti, using spray paint on walls. At that time I made the choice to paint on walls mostly because it was illegal and so very fun for a kid. It’s funny because beside my graffiti activity I was doing very classical landscapes with oil paint, very similar to now… At that time I started to really enjoy the relationship between the painting and its environment; the scale could be so big and you could paint it so quickly. It was really rewarding to see a blank surface change into something full of colors and shapes in 30 minutes. I think what I liked the most was how it changed the environments, and that is still what I like about doing murals.
A couple of years ago I started to use charcoals to draw on walls. Basically what happened is that I was painting very slowly so I didn’t have enough work to show for my exhibitions so I decided to reproduce them directly on the wall using charcoals. It was a very quick and inexpensive way to do a show, as I could fill a big space without bringing any works and almost without any cost. For example, there was no framing or shipping costs, which are usually the biggest expenses. Since then I have been doing a lot of murals, usually mixing two different techniques, the spray paint and the charcoals.
Last time we spoke you mentioned that you were making small scale portraits. This seems like a pretty big shift from other works of yours that I've seen in the past. Can you describe your thinking process right now and what you're working on?
I’m doing portrait, still life and landscape pastels at the moment. (This is the daily studio-based practice. Murals and other projects are not made at the studio). I don’t know if it makes sense… I always wanted to do figurative drawing and painting or decorative things (murals, plates, tables, etc…) but never abstraction. It has never come to me, but maybe it will at some point.
So when you do figurative painting, you need to have a subject. It’s a crucial aspect of making figurative painting; what to “represent”? What type of object / subjects are interesting to paint? I never had a strong interest in reality. I always thought that the films, books, and paintings that I was looking at touched me more than the real things around me. So when it comes to representing things in a painting I try to make them exist only in the picture; they don’t have a direct connection to reality. The connection they have with reality is the simple description. Like a yellow circle is the simple description of the sun. So when I do a teapot, the connection that this object has with a real teapot is its description. You recognize it as a teapot but you know that this teapot doesn’t exist outside of the painting. The real object is the painting itself. It’s the same for the landscape and the same for the portrait.
For Landscape, a new commission created specifically for Kunsthall Stavanger, Party has filled the entire space with revamped images from Norwegian painter Lars Hetervig’s oeuvre. Large-scale drawings in charcoal applied directly to the gallery walls fade in and out of the artist’s own richly hued designs. Stones sourced from the local surroundings have been appropriated and painted to imitate luscious fruits, while inside the kunsthall, hand-painted tables and plates serve as designated spaces around which visitors can congregate, converse, and at times even share food. Events regularly take place within the installation and include a concert, screenings, and workshops for children.
For more details, visit the Landscape exhibition page, here.