For the past few days an elderly man has been painting a series of small and large watercolors of the Roaring Fork River and scenes of the valley. The paintings include a number that were first sketched in a small airplane as it circled around the Maroon Bells and above Independence Pass. The painter is Don Nice and tomorrow in Basalt a showing of his work will go up in the Ann Korologos Gallery. Aspen Public Radio’s Roger Adams spoke with Nice about his work and prepared this report.
The airplane ride this week was a critical part of Don Nice’s process. Getting up above the horizon gives him a landscape perspective unavailable nearer to the ground.
“I wanted to look down, I wanted to get a direct experience of making a drawing based on my observations. And the great thing was, I’d have my piece of graphite on the paper and we’d hit an air pocket and there are my mountains.”
He laughs and then explains how over time landscape artists have often sought the highest point they could to paint or sketch. It was an effort to move the horizon farther up the paper. The result is less sky and more landscape. Indeed in the paintings Nice was working on yesterday when we spoke near the Frying Pan River, the mountains pushed up to the top edge of his paper.
“An artist is a person who goes out and sits and looks and spending a lot of time looking and a lot of time absorbing and when you look its one thing. If you’re out there long enough you start to see.”
Nice’s work over the years has been about his environment. He studied art at the University of Southern California and has a masters from Yale but he credits his years of study in Italy and France for allowing him to get past looking and to begin seeing. His paintings in France were abstract but by the 1960’s he was recognized as part of the New Realists. His paintings of everyday objects suggest his contemporary Andy Warhol whom he knew but the paintings are softer. If it was his Pop art period, Nice’s renderings of cigarette packs, beer cans and Coke bottles were more restrained. They hint at the work he would make later. Nice began to focus on the external environment painting animals, insects and landscapes.
“You know the eye is like a camera, the eye takes pictures. And, the way you get space in pictures is to make various elements as you go from large to small. When you look that’s what happens. If you look at something and you start to see it, it goes directly to you soul. It goes directly to your soul and to your heart.”
Nice is 81. His works are in permanent collections around the world among them MOMA and the Whitney in New York, the Arnhems Museum in Holland and the National Museum of Art in Canberra, Australia. He says his muse has always been nature. Along with the many animals that inhabit his work are rivers. He lives on the Hudson and has painted many miles of its flow. Western rivers like the Roaring Fork and the Frying Pan he has been painting this week are he says not really different. His concentration is on the water.
“You look out there and there’s the water, we can hear it. Guess where that’s going? To the ocean. When it gets to the ocean guess where it goes? It goes up. And, it comes around and guess what? It comes down again. And, I was sitting out here the other night having a cigar and looking and I suddenly realized that if I sat here long enough that I may be able to see the same particles of water that go down and make the compete circle and come back through again.”
He says his artwork is about working with and saving the natural environment. Nice’s paintings from this week will be on exhibition and there is a book chronicling his life’s work that will accompany the watercolors.
An exhibition of Don Nice's paintings will be open for public viewing Friday and Saturday (6-21 and 6-22) at the Ann Korologos Gallery on Midland Ave. in Basalt.
Click here for more about Ann Korologos Gallery: http://korologosgallery.com/
For more on Don Nice go here: http://donnice.com/