Articles about George Nick


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At the millennium, George Nick's career as a painter will be entering its sixth decade. Nationally recognized as one of our premier realists, Nick's reputation owes principally to the images for which he is most appreciated and best known: his urban (and suburban) images of greater Boston, the city that has been the locus of his painting haunts for almost thirty years. As Nick's colleague John Moore wrote in an unpublished letter: "[Nick's] subject matter heightens our perceptions about all that is wonderful about Boston. His paintings define the image of this city in the national art world as much as West Coast artist Wayne Thiebaud has defined San Francisco." Boston and New England have laid claim to this resident realist as their own.

But Nick's approach and subject matter extend well beyond the boundaries of greater Boston, a fact that his many images make clear.

Nick has never been a studio painter in the conventional sense of the term. Studio life, for him, is too static. he likes the one-on-one engagement with nature, with light and its surprises, with the subjects he chooses, wherever he finds them. And he finds them.

For twenty-three years, Nick has been setting out-sometimes daily, usually an hour before dawn—in an outfitted, oversized truck—large enough for him to stand and walk around in—customized with picture windows on either side: his traveling roadside studio on wheels.

Crisscrossing not only greater Boston but all of New England, Nick travels, like a hunter, searching for subjects, slamming on his brakes here, backing up there, checking out an angle at a Charlestown shipyard, or a narrow dirt lane in the mountains of northern Vermont.Nick's paintings mirror the activity of his search. He has never been one for destinations. The idea of painting with a routine that will determine the course and outcome of a painting is completely foreign to him. He finds this kind of "efficient mastery" to quote the critic Christian Wiman, "lacks the risk and range of real craft," and finds it suspect. "Art thinking," or "painting thinking," as Nick sees it, can only occur (again, quoting Wiman) in "a continual engagement with the.., actual, [in the artist's] refusal to foreclose on the terms of experience by imposing any pre-existing forms of the imagination."

Nick does not know the destinations of his paintings and he does not want to know. But he wants to find out, and his art is the art of trying to maintain, like an athlete or virtuoso pianist, the intensity and clear thinking necessary for the most direct and unfiltered engagement with the "actual." As he said in an interview for an article by Bonnie Grad ten years ago and published in the Boston Globe: "[What is important to me] is to be purposely ignorant of process in order to stay open to a greater sensitivity and to respond to the present moment, the sensation, in its essential purity and immediacy, without past and without future."

Nick's paintings are the record of this activity, and with their rawness and immediacy, and the frontiersman like courage informing them, they manifest a distinctly American character. His later work in particular (since 1983), with its stabs and slashes and swirls and strokes of paint, shows a gestural kinship to the abstract expressionism that he never embraced. Nick knew from the start he wanted only to paint from life.


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