One day, I literally stumbled upon Nick Alm’s website, and I immediately knew I had to chat with him. His work is so classical and elegant, yet he injects it with humor and a little naughtiness. That’s the first thing I asked him when he agreed to chat with me, but first …
“… Art is like a playground for the subconscious. Almost everything you've experienced in life will leave a mark in your memory bank, and the perfect way to process this bank is by practicing art ...”
MICHAEL: Your work is stunning. It's classical, elegant and timeless. Yet I notice that you like creating questions in your work. You paint beautiful scenes where something is slightly askew or off base. Why do you do this?
NICK: Thanks. We all want to see what’s beneath the shiny surface. We are not perfect, and that makes us more interesting. Has a movie ever been made where everything is perfect, and everyone does the right thing? If so, I wouldn’t like to see it. This inclination is not about mocking humanity, but I guess it’s rather derived from empathy.
MICHAEL: Derived from empathy? Very interesting. Are you saying that when you're painting, you feel a sense of empathy and love for your subjects? What is going on in your mind and heart while you're painting?
NICK: I sure do. Isn't that why figurative painting is so strong? As soon as the shapes have taken form, I start relating to the subject, letting my response guide me through the rest of the process.
MICHAEL: When you start a painting, do you start out with an idea of what you want to paint ... or do you just let your hands guide you? How does your process work? Is it emotional, intellectual or spiritual? What are your inspirations?
NICK: I always have an idea in mind before I apply the paint, but it will more or less change during the process. The more peripheral and secondary the parts of the composition are, the more likely they are to be altered.
It often starts with a pencil scribble to get a basic idea of the composition. If it’s a complex kind, I might take photo references and develop it further in Photoshop. Once this is done, I will put the basic elements on the canvas. Then the real painting begins, from photos or directly from life or in a combination. All those aspects that you’re talking about will be switching back and forth during the process.
My main source of inspiration comes from the human nature, either from direct observation or from a mental process that is hard to explain. All experiences that have been stored in our memory bank will subconsciously feed us with inspiration.
MICHAEL: You are obviously a classically-trained painter. However, many artists today are not. How important do you think academic training is for artists today?
NICK: Yes I am. It depends on what they want to achieve. If they want to be able to paint what they see or paint in a style that requires technical skills, I would recommend it. Otherwise, you have to learn it by yourself.
MICHAEL: It seems that some art schools today aren't really teaching "technical skills." They're teaching expression and creativity. What do you think about this? Many older artists today say that unless you have the technical skills, you're not truly an artist. They say anybody can just smear paint on canvas, but that doesn't mean that you're artist. What do you think?
NICK: If you haven’t got technique, you won’t be able to fulfill your ideas (unless your ideas suck). This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to fully master all aspects of technique to make something of value, but you should at least master some of them. However, neglecting technique will only weaken your paintings, and if you’ve got some self-awareness, you’ll see that poor technique can kill your creativity.
MICHAEL: When you are painting, who are you painting for? Are you thinking about people who may see your work? Why are you painting? What does the process do for you?
NICK: I only paint for myself. If I manage to please the critic within, others will also appreciate the work. I think it’s important not to think about other people’s opinions since it is likely to divert you from your own path. I paint because of a desire and not for the money. There are so many things that this kind of painting has to offer. Seeing something grow out of the canvas is always fascinating, and the whole process of painting can put you in an almost meditative state of mind.
MICHAEL: You also seem to be very interested in creating beauty in your work. None of your works are crude or edgy. What purpose does beauty serve in art?
NICK: I just like when it’s pleasing to the eyes. What’s the point of doing something ugly? There’s already too much of it out there.
MICHAEL: Ha! Ha! You know Nick, I'm also always stunned by the work of artists like you who attended the Florence Academy of Art. That school really turns out some talented artists. Why is that? And what was your experience there like?
NICK: They have a good curriculum, focusing on technique. It starts out with the basics and turns more and more advanced. The students are not allowed to pass on to another project until the present one is approved, which pushes the students to a higher level. There’s little room for “artsy” subjectivity. You can’t defend your painting saying that a misplaced paint daub is resonating with your inner spirit. I myself really enjoyed being served a nude model five days a week.
MICHAEL: Ha! Ha! What role do you think painting plays in the world today? Most people don't ever think about art. They focus on TV, cell phones, sports or other things. Is contemporary art relevant when most people don't care about it?
NICK: Due to the diversity of mediums, painting has lost importance with certain people. However, painting still contains something that other mediums lack.
Since everything is done by hand, led by personal choices, painting is more open to visual exploration than other mediums and can spark a creative urge that I personally haven’t gotten from elsewhere. Even if most people don’t care about it, it’s still of utter importance to a lot of others, and therefore, it’s relevant. It fills these people’s lives with meaning. Most people don’t read Dostoyevsky or listen to Rachmaninoff, but that doesn’t make them irrelevant.
Sometimes there is a high threshold to step over, but if you are of a lazy nature, you might prefer to save that energy. Others might be insensitive to the subject, and you can’t tell a lion to eat carrots. But I do have to question your hypothesis. My own experience is that when people get exposed to good quality art, they show interest.
MICHAEL: Yes they do. Finally Nick, what does art do for you? What do you want people to know about you when they see your work?
NICK: Apart from paying my bills, it gives meaning and richness to my life. Art is like a playground for the subconscious. Almost everything you've experienced in life will leave a mark in your memory bank, and the perfect way to process this bank is by practicing art. People don't need to know anything about me. The important thing is the paintings in themselves.