Gallery 224

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September, 2016

Featured Artist

David Niec

Over the last thirty years, I have been routinely visiting an area of land in Northern Wisconsin, a mixture of swamp, streams, lakes and forest. Experiencing this land under various times of day and night throughout each season has been central to my art making process. I develop paintings in the atmosphere in response to my observations in this area.

Having regularly worked in an area outside the light of the city, I have developed a keen interest in the nocturne. I regularly observe, experience and paint the moon and stars. I’ve developed a system in which I use a small flashlight to facilitate painting. If the light is low enough, I’m able to keep my night vision. I gradually come to know these subjects more intimately and explicitly but always have the sense that there is more to unfold.

Simultaneous with a pattern of visiting this area in Northern Wisconsin, I have also been living in Milwaukee where the study of the nocturne is more challenging. However, I am also able to experience night and make paintings in the city by finding spots, usually near water, with a minimum of light pollution. The shore of Lake Michigan is one such spot.

A high percentage of my art making process involves spending time making paintings in the atmosphere. In addition, I spend a significant amount of time conjuring the memories of these explorations in a studio.                                               

David will be in the studio summer of 2016.


Click the photo above to see some of David's work


A Conversation with David Niec

by Don Niederfrank

David and I met on a Thursday morning at his studio in the Riverwest Neighborhood of Milwaukee. His work space is the second floor of a detached garage behind his house, and like most studios, is filled with works completed and in process. He works primarily with oil on masonite. Our conversation took place as we looked at his work in his studio and house. It was a wide-ranging and enjoyable conversation. I've reconstructed its relevant parts from my notes, not strictly in chronological order.

Where do you do most of your work?
When I work from observation, I need to be away from city light. I have places where I can do that. If I’m in Milwaukee, the lakefront works or some obscure place along the river. I often make long trips up north where I spend time observing in the atmosphere and frequently at night. Typically, I spend 90% of the winter living in a cottage up north. The winter with its long nights and the glow provided from the snow holds a special appeal. I also balance time spent observing with time in the studio.

Where up north?
My parents have a cottage that I’m able to use. It's about fifty miles straight north of Green Bay.

Does the cold affect the oil?
Only if it’s really cold, below zero for instance. Frost is more of a problem. It settles on the painting over the hours I work. While I worked on this (a large piece leaning against a wall) I had to keep moving a sheet along to keep the frost off.

Wow. How long did it take you to paint that? How long do you work?
In this particular piece, I was documenting the span of the moon from a February night. I began at sunset, roughly six p.m. when the moon was already very high, observed and recorded the moon’s movement until it set around 5 in the morning. I don’t always work that late but I often joke that in the winter I can get a full days work done at night and still have time for a good sleep. Winter nights are long.

How long have you done this art?
About thirty years. It's a lot of work. It requires being in good condition.

Have you always worked in oil?
I began in watercolor and then shifted to oil. Oil allows me to work outside during the more challenging times. Winter temperatures wouldn’t allow for a water based medium. Even during summer nights, dew settles on the surface of the painting making any water based media nearly impossible to work with. Most of my work involves layering several thin layers of paint. Eventually the body of paint becomes a film that has a history and a depth to it. In a sense the paintings go back or inward.

How do you know when a work is done? Is there moment when you say, “That's it” or do you work on a piece and come back to it.
The best way for me is to set it aside and come back to it. It’s almost never right. Sometimes I work and work on something and it's futile. Then I might set it aside hoping for a better strategy later. If I have a deadline or a show, I’ll work right up to the end, until I just have to let it go.

Is anyone else doing this?
You could probably say that what I do is unique. There are some advantages to that and some disadvantages. True. It’s eccentric and I’ve noticed that being eccentric sometimes helps to meet someone else that is also eccentric. Years ago I met David Nash, who was and is a more established artist than myself, from this dynamic. It has become a very important relationship for me

That's cool. We need encouragement like that.
(We then left David's studio and went into the house where there was more art to see.)

Did you do art as a child?
Yes. One of my first recollections is having a sketchbook. Even in high school I was drawing things from nature.

Did you take art classes in high school?
I had an art teacher that encouraged me to do my own thing.

Are there artists who have influenced you? Or artists that you really love?
Albert Pinkham Ryder JMW Turner. I went to London to look at Turner's work. I’ve always liked Van Gogh. I just read the most recent biography about him and it just mesmerized me. He had so much resilience. Rembrandt. All these people
had a strong interest in the night.

(Looking at some of his pieces) I’m observing and recording happenings that are constantly in flux. The moon is always moving or always appears to be moving. At the same time, the moon’s happenings are cyclic. It returns to points where it was the previous year.

How did you end up doing this sort of art?
It was gradual. Early on, even in high school I took walks at night. In college and after college I was working with wet-on-wet layered watercolors. They were dark, and people would say, "You're painting night time." I was in my 20's up
north, and as it got darker I started bringing a flashlight. Eventually, I thought "maybe I'll stay out here and actually work with night observations." Around this time, about twenty to twenty-five years ago, I was working in a wilderness area and for lack of a better way of saying this was trying to paint everything, every weather condition, every light, every season. I was literally working in a swamp in the dark of night when the moon came up over the horizon. I wasn’t yet aware of the moon’s patterns so this was a surprise and a very fascinating one. A little bit of light in a lot of darkness has a powerful effect. This experience got ahold of me and eventually I began studying the moon’s patterns and putting myself in position to experience moon rises and sets. A great deal of my work in general has to do with being present at a certain place and time to experience a happening with the hope of capturing it. The activity of the moon and my study of it often dictates my pattern.

What do people not know about art?
I don't know if the compulsion is understood. I think that's the biggest thing I've struggled with. People don't give it the respect it deserves. If I say I can't do something because I have tree work, that's okay. But if I say I have to be in the studio, they don't get it. My studio hours have always been maintained by my own insistence.

If you didn't do art, what would you do?
(long pause) Boy, I don't know...probably music though that answer might be averting your question

David, thank you for your time. I enjoyed this.
Thank you.


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