Known for works executed in a playful tone and vibrant colour palette, Swiss-born artist Nicolas Party decided early in his practice to make his artwork accessible to a range of viewers. Working in many media within contemporary art, but with a focus on pastel paintings and murals, he utilises a universal and familiar language of traditional painting genres such as portraits, landscapes, and still lifes. However, his execution produces complex and layered artworks that challenge the established atmosphere and purpose of these genres.Read More
Across two- and three-dimensional surfaces, Party's practice is dedicated to an exploration of the possibilities of paint as a medium of representation. Valuing such notions over concerns of accurately representing an existing thing (object, landscape, person, et cetera), the artist is deeply influenced by his experiences with the materiality of 3D animation—the idea that it is possible to make a person purely out of code rather than based on real life. From his encounter with digital fabrication processes, the artist became interested in making portraits that are recognisably of their genre without being human or personal. In Portrait (2015), a figure is painted against a bright red background that their neck, hair, and lips almost blend into. Freed from the responsibility of representing reality, the artist is able to make this painting a study of the construction of atmosphere and personality as much as a painting of a person.
The concept of time finds its way into Party's practice in a number of forms, firstly in the temporal nature of his installations. The artist's murals, for example, are inevitably painted over after the exhibition period. The green-and-white checkerboard wall in Three Cats (10 September–29 October 2016) at The Modern Institute, Glasgow, was painted to imitate marble but at the end of its tenure it was simply painted over in white, traces of its past left behind perhaps in small marks but otherwise only in photographs. The artist's series of paintings on rocks, too—such as Blakam's stone (orange) (2012)—will eventually wear away across the life cycle of the rock. The artist's embrace of this temporality perhaps mimics his youth as a street artist, where he would illegally paint buildings only for his work to later be covered by another artist or the city.
Time as a concept was explored more directly in Party's solo exhibition at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, titled Sunrise, Sunset (7 June–1 October 2017). The artist was invited to exhibit after the United States presidential election. On election day, Obama said that 'no matter what happens, the sun will rise in the morning.' In reaction, the artist created a series of 20 wall paintings of the sunrise or sunset—the viewer is not informed which. Of the series and its catalyst, Party said: 'The Obama quote seems to express the idea that we can only witness the size of the world, and where we are, and in which type of universe, when the sun sets and when it rises. That's the only actual time that you can perceive that the earth is rotating.' In this series time then is simultaneously framed as a stabiliser and a destabiliser, as we can perceive the world moving forward but do not know what point in this cycle we are witnessing.
Layering is an important aspect of Party's practice, especially in his approach to installation. While at The Glasgow School of Art—where he graduated with an MA in Fine Art in 2009 (previously, in 2004, he graduated with a BA in Fine Art from the Lausanne School of Art)—he established an artist-run space with his friends, where they created murals and curated exhibitions to be installed on top (what the artist describes as a 'layer cake'). Even now, his murals will often form the backdrop to his paintings, as in Magritte parti (2018)—installed at the Magritte Museum in Brussels (23 May–18 November 2018)—where a portrait of a man with an owl on his head against a striking red background is framed in white and contrasted by the mural of a marbled white forest at night that sits behind it.
Though best understood as a painter, Party's practice would be incomplete without his sculptural and installation-based elements. The artist is interested in paint's effect on the built environment, explored through murals that destabilise the materiality of said environment through making gallery walls look like marble—such as in Three Cats—or other gestures such as painting a spectacularly bright forest on an urban wall, as in Landscape (2013). Similarly, his practice of painting rocks on oddly shaped fruit extends his interests in revitalising an object in paint beyond the canvas; by painting the image of a fruit on a rock—such as the bisected orange of Blakam's stone (orange)—the artist interrogates previous understandings of the materiality of the fruit, as well as the materiality of the rock.
Party lives and works in Brussels and New York.
Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2019