Although his list of influences is pretty traditional – Kandinsky, Picasso, Andra Matin and Le Corbusier all feature – the work of Minneapolis-based painter Nick Dahlen, to his credit, always seems to offer a fresh perspective. This list is even more surprising when the painter admits to us, “I used to think art was stupid when I was a teenager and failed all my art classes in high school, but that was really just me being a stupid angry teen.”
Originally, Nick’s first introduction to a creative medium was through graffiti, “before I ever imagined I would actually be making brush paintings,” he tells us. During this time, at around the age of 16, Nick was arrested and fined for graffiti but rather than forcing him to stop using the medium, his father encouraged it, bringing him home a copy of Juxtapose magazine. Inside, Nick saw a group of graffiti writers making paintings, “and they were having successful careers” too.
From there, Nick’s approach to graffiti was totally different, he began messing around with paint in his parents’ basement “and it just kind of took off from there”. As he continued to explore painting and its many avenues – and as he grew up, “getting a little bit more mature and seeing more life experience” – he started to notice that those initial graffiti references he picked up as a teen were influenced by the greats. “I started to really become interested in the classic and modern painters,” he recalls. From there, the artist then crafted his own art education by diving “back into history, which is where my love of modern painting came from.”
The result is a hybrid of styles that we can see growing both in editorial contexts and fine art galleries. In some pieces, the textural effect of graffiti is highly noticeable, with blurred outlines forming the limbs, and in turn character, of the figures he illustrates. Others appear more structured, with Nick’s Picasso influence clearly noticeable through the sharp line of a nose dividing a face, or even just through the silhouette of a heeled shoe. According to the artist’s statement, this is all to evoke “a nostalgia for the daily.”
With an entirely different perspective on detail, the artist’s overall hope is to “help others in their own ability to translate complexities into a simple, elegant structure in any moment,” he says. “To witness the beauty of how we occupy space, always existing perfectly in contrast to something else.” It’s a notion which mimics Nick’s very own rise from graffiti-loving teen to a very exciting artist.
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