Small objects and ornaments are illuminated in the work of painter Nick Farhi
Currently based in a “tiny fishing town” of Mid-Coast Maine, the artist spends much of his time deep in thought – using keychain-sized objects and life events as inspiration.
- Ayla Angelos
- 14 January 2021
Nick Farhi’s gateway into the arts starts with the fact that his mother was a piano player. She would play the keys throughout the entirety of his upbringing, often listening to music together while his father recited poetry. Museums played a big part of his childhood too, but most of all, it was that he’d create dioramas out of his parents’ shoeboxes to create stories – “I loved making homemade muppets and felt-covered animals out of ordinary objects, gluing beads and google eyes on them,” he tells It’s Nice That.
This was the first moment that Nick expressed an interest in the arts, later attending undergraduate school to nurture his imagination. At the at of 17, he moved to his birthplace of New York City to pursue a life in the music business – but quickly realised that it was a “right endless lap,” he says. Learning where his passions and strengths truly were, he began to hone in on his painting skills and continued to practice. His process involved imitating things such as glassware, ornaments and objects, which led to him meeting and discovering long-lasting friends with painters in and around New York. Not to mention various exhibitions at galleries including Bill Brady Gallery, Miami, Galerie Golsa, Oslo, Neochrome, Turin, Steve Turner and Karma International in LA, Brand New in Milan plus many more. His work is also in the collections of Gabe Schulman, Whitney Museum Executive Committee, Beth DeWoody, Whitney Museum Trustee, Brook Shields, Theo Niarchos, Ganeck Collection and The Ringier Collection in Switzerland.
Nick’ art is realism at its most finest. A first glance tells you it’s a photograph, then a closer inspection tells you otherwise; each brush stroke so intricately placed that the light pours off it with delicacy, shimmering in a way that replicates the clearest day and, often, a real piece of glass. Working in this manner sees the artist pull inspiration from painting giants such as Audrey Flack, Josef Albers, James Rosenquist, Emile Nolde and Gerhard Richter – “a long list of them” – plus others like Paul Winstanley, Peter Doig, Walter Gropius and, of course, Q Tip. Then there’s the smaller more nuanced moments from every day life, like watching his wife research and “assert her amazing intellect,” he says. “She puts the pep in my step. Driving her to get supplies and cooking for us has brought me to silent sessions of deep thought and idea-making. We live a quiet life here in Mid-Coast Maine in a tiny fishing town.”
You’d be right to assume that a detailed portfolio like this would take plenty of time and patience to complete. Nick compares the process to writing a poem or solving a math problem; it’s a mental and physical challenge, and one he completely adores. When creating, he will use a variety of tools, such as oil, pastel, spray paint and rigid surfaces like aluminium panel for its “sleekness and flatness”, making it easier to mark small straight lines – a good tip for the beginning stage of the process. Sometimes he’ll hold out his iPhone as a reference book, or map out stencils with cardboard and project it on to the surface for the all important “crucial geometry”. Consistency inevitably never goes a miss, and the same goes for even textures which he perfects through enamel and enamel spray stages, “allowing me to map out my idea wholly and evenly before I begin layering in my oil and charting out reflexive palettes of colour, as well as juxtapositions of colour fields.”
Although his paintings hold spotlight, let’s not let the equally as important contexts fall to the wayside. First, there’s Settles in, reads, sleeps (otter), which sees an ornamental otter laying on its back in a calm and relaxing manner. “The stance in which one dreams while wide awake interests me a great deal,” he says on the piece’s history. “I believe it’s something that possibly all living things do, and when I found this keychain sized object made of porcelain, I decided I would want to look at it ten times larger.”
Other pieces show the artist’s long-standing interest in mimicking small objects on a larger scale – those that are either “autobiographical or symbolically application to the emotions and experiences people have on the roads to life,” he says, where unicorns, bottles, rainbow chalices, pans and figurines are illuminated on the canvas. One, titled Californian Mythology, tells the story of this piece continues to note that he’d painted it when he’d moved to Coyoacan from LA in hopes of continuing to date his then-girlfriend after her visa expired. “I was lucky to propose to her and marry her, and always think of this painting when I remember the evening I met her by chance at a dinner in Los Angeles,” he says, stating that this piece is now part of a private collection in the south of France.
It’s plain to see that Nick’s work is more than just a collection of replicas, and that every piece beholds a story, a level of mystique and charm that entices you to know more.
Nick Farhi: Homes that morph. Oil, pastel, acrylic, enamel spray and pencil on aluminium, 36 x 27 in. 91.4 cm x 68.5 cm, 2020. (Copyright © Nick Farhi, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.