I live and work on California's Central Coast. Beyond having a family, a full time (as full as I can) painting practice, a specialty plant nursery, and a home goods store, I run a small gallery called LEFT FIELD. We are focused on bringing to our area work not otherwise represented. Primarily featuring non-objective painting and sculpture from emerging artists from both coasts and including as we can those locals for whom we feel are in the conversation with said work from abroad.
My personal painting practice has been a major focus as of the past 5 years. When I walk into my studio, I immediately feel the dialogue hanging there in the room, waiting for me to get the conversation going by adding and subtracting marks. Over the past two years I have been creating a new language of shapes, symbols and marks that lean more toward the familiar or objective while still at times feeling awkwardly abstract. These shapes hanging in such unusual intermediary space often allows for the viewer to morph these shapes into many different things forming for the viewer a story all their own. For me, the paintings are simply a continuation of the story that has been in my work all along, which, like life, changes as I go.
Q&A with Nick Wilkinson
by Emily Burns
Hi Nick! Can you give us some insight into your process? Do you plan your compositions beforehand or do you work intuitively?
A big part of my practice, (because I have a rather hectic schedule), involves me drawing throughout the day whenever I can find a moment. Sometimes for just a few minutes to get down ideas, sometimes for hours and hours to work through and develop shape combinations and associations. In fact, it has begun to feel like everything I make is directly related to drawing. As a rule, I don’t usually plan out compositions beforehand and working intuitively is a huge part of creating for me. However, I do reference old drawings and paintings for imagery for newer works. Lately, collage has been one of the modes incorporated into my practice and it has certainly assisted in developing and refining my own personal language. It’s been fun to change things up.
How did you start working in this way? Can you describe your evolution as an artist?
I used to primarily work on panel and nothing else but as I work pretty fast, I found myself going through SO MANY panels. Yes, I will paint over less successful works or older works that I don't feel are as strong as they once were but it nevertheless, one day, caught up to me. Also, like many of us, one day (probably that same day I felt like I had no more space!) I looked up one day and found myself buried in art supplies that I had purchased but not used. So as a way to to sort of clean up my studio and use up those materials, I began to start to dedicate full days of time towards drawing and collaging. I also wanted to really experiment with things as I sought a way to continue to move forward in my practice but also use these unwanted materials. Because of the un-precious nature of these discarded papers and paints, it has allowed me to really say fuck it and go for it in ways I wouldn’t if it were a new panel.
The soft gradients in your paintings are really seductive, are you using spray acrylic or an air brush? What attracts you to working this way?
Spray acrylic. The seduction began with the beautiful marks that it made which up against a straight line or painted mark, gave the work an instant depth which is really satisfying. It started as a secondary mark but is now a primary mark in my painting language. It is also a very fast way to lay down paint and for someone always in a hurry, it has become my go-to.
What is a typical day like for you?
IF I'M LUCKY—it’s studio all day with a break for an amazing lunch somewhere then back to the studio until my wonderful wife calls and says I’m yet again late for dinner. Eat dinner. Cocktail(s). Somehow avoid falling asleep on the couch and get into bed early.
Reality most days—Get up early. Emails. Never breakfast (Only brunch on Sundays.) Take my kids to school. Go to either GROW or Left Field for the morning and get things taken care of. More emails. Studio in the afternoon. Pickup kids from school. Dinner. Cocktail. Emails. AND Back to the studio if I’m really ripping, otherwise I fall asleep on the couch.
Get up, repeat.
Do you feel like it is necessary to get into a particular headspace when in the studio? If so how do you get there?
Music gets me there most often but because of my schedule, and dire need for a real studio practice, I get in whatever I can whenever I can. After many years of avoiding it, I have set up a space at home so I can at least draw while my kids are in bed.
What are the most important components of your studio?
Panels, Pencils, Spray Acrylic and MUSIC.
What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of your practice?
AHHHH this type of list is almost as hard as the ‘Favorite Artists’ lists which inevitably leave out hoards of folks infinitely important to me and my practice! For the past 10 years or so it’s been mostly Old Soul, Reggae and some new stuffs sprinkled in. I used to DJ out in restaurants in bars and had a record collection to envy but these days it’s the classics on repeat unless I get handed something great. Desmond Dekkar, King Tubby, Sister Nancy (of course), Mikey Dread, Junior Murvin, any old Studio One Jam, Al Green, James Brown, Las Mozambiques. Barrett Strong, Delroy Wilson, Eek a Mouse, Shuggie Otis, R.L. Burnside, Lou Reed, Lee Dorsey, Dicky Dale, AND the WU Tang Clan if Im lucky.
You are the director of Left Field Gallery in San Luis Obispo, CA. Can you tell us a bit about that project, how it got started and your role in its creation?
When we took over the space for Left Field (the store) there was a 400 Sq ft space with it’s own entrance, sky lights and tons of natural light. My landlord pitched it as my office / storage space but to be frank it was just too nice to be filled with a bunch of bull shit so I began to really think about it. After entertaining the idea of a gallery I made a call to my buddy Ryan Travis Christian who is an amazing artist who had done several HUGE group shows with lots of other great artists and he pledged to help and continues to, with the programming to make Left Field a REAL thing. Whatever that means. It was most important to me that if i was to take on this project that we would be showing work that was not only inspiring to me, to show work that is apart of the true conversation happening in contemporary art right now and also show work that for the most part would not otherwise be shown in this region.
You are exhibiting some really stellar work at Left Field. Can you talk about your role as a curator and what keeps you interested?
To be honest, the gallery and how it has evolved over the past 18 months has been astounding and a truly humbling experience. The caliber of artists that we have shown could not have been foreseen and continues to amaze me. It’s been a real lesson in just how powerful having real, focused intentions can be. It has also happened with such flow and ease that the trajectory of things hasn’t been overwhelming and continues to feel sustainable. Filling monthly slots has become somewhat of an obsession for me with each one feeling so important and precious. I just love trying to put together odd parings that would otherwise not be shown but given the right focus, can be outstanding and in many cases even more interesting shows. We have also more recently looked to a few artists friends and other artists of interest, to curate shows which has brought another element to the gallery that was unforeseen but has been so so great.
The gallery has also been good for my own practice as it's brought artists from these larger communities right into my studio and begun a new and exciting dialogue here.
You must be an extremely busy person, balancing your studio, the gallery, as well as the shop adjacent to the gallery and Grow Nursery. How do you manage your time and balance all of these different aspects of your career?
Although each aspect demands a certain amount of focus during certain times of the month, they are all creative based endeavors where I have a good support team from other like minded individuals, aka—> Good employees!! I also have the best , most supportive and forgiving wife in the WORLD. Without her, and support from my family, none of this would be possible!
What is the San Luis Obispo area like for artists and the arts?
SLO is a pretty conservative place for the arts. Mostly traditional, landscape based work is prevalent and most sought after and there is definitely a learning curve that needs to take place so that more locals feel comfortable speaking about, viewing and buying non traditional, contemporary work.
What are some of the artists that you look at the most often or most recently?
UGH so hard and I know I’m gonna miss so MANY great influences but here we go:
Matisse, DUH. Paul Klee, Stuart Davis, Hilma af Klint, Rene Magritte, Elizabeth Murray, Richard Tuttle, Forest Bess, Bill Traylor, Sister Corita Kent (and so many more)
Rebecca Morris, Tal R, Allison Miller, Gina Beavers, Shara Hughes, Zachary Leener, Daniel Hiedkamp, Brion Nuda Rosch, Michael Berryhill, Ida Ekblad, Matthew Palladino, Brian Belott, Denise Kupferschmidt, Gerasimos Floratos, Tucker Nichols, Ginny Casey, Stacy Fisher, Ben Edmiston, Samuel T. Adams, Chris Hood, Ben Sanders, Mike Cone, Caroline Larsen, Morgan Blair, Nathan Green, Ryan Travis Christian, Geoffrey Todd Smith, Cody Hudson, Dan Lam, Mark Mulroney, Michael Henry Hayden, Anthony Lepore, John Zane Zappas, and so many of the artists at ECF’s DAC Gallery in LA! ETC ETC ETC…
Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
I haven’t had time to read anything but the NYT on my computer in probably 2 years. It is definitely a goal to get back into the books. i have many many books surrounding me but I don't spend the time with them like I’d like!
Any advice to recent grads who are interested in getting their work out there and exhibiting?
Any advice from your past that has stuck with you or helped you?
What is the best exhibition you have seen recently?
I try to get to LA as often as possible but so often I end up visiting studios… My last trip to LA I visited the studio of Allison Miller which was a treat. We’ve become buds and look forward to many future discussions about painting and plants! As for exhibitions- Rebecca Morris @ 356 Mission was stellar.
What is your relationship with social media? Do you have a favorite or least-favorite platform?
As an artist from such a small market I often feel like my only current outlet is Instagram and other social media. Kind of a bummer. I’d rather not be posting my most current work as it’s first finished but I just don't have the opportunity for studio visits like others in NY or LA so it’s become the outlet. One unforeseen benefit of opening the gallery is that many of the artists who make it out here will come to my studio for a visit. In many ways, that has begun to put my work into a different context and has those artists for whom I respect, thinking about and communicating about my work as well which is great.
Do you have any news, shows, residencies or projects coming up?
I am in a group show at Fort Works Art, In you guessed it, Fort Worth Tx which opens Aug 2nd and is in conjunction with my friend Dan Lam’s Solo exhibition. And I was just in a group show in Knoxville Tenn., Curated by Zach Searcy which had some other great artists in it like Mandy Lyn Ford, Max Manning, Sangram Majumdar, Dominc Terlizzi, etc…
Anything else you would like to add?
If you are ever traveling up the California coast, please stop by and say hi!
Thanks so much for sharing your work and talking with us!
To find out more about Nick and his work, check out his website.