Artist Petra Nimtz is the first to admit that a career in fine art was about as unfathomable to her twenty years ago as winding up in New York State from her native Germany. The artist has made a path for herself as an abstract painter, following her academic pursuits from country to country and state to state. Currently based both in Hudson Valley and Manhattan, Nimtz carefully pushes her practice forward with a nuanced look at texture and color. She is unafraid to explore alternative processes in her practice as well. ANTE sat down with Nimtz in her Midtown studio to peruse her recent works and pursue the depth of her considerations in art-making.
ANTE – Thanks Petra for sitting down with us today! So tell us: How did you get your start as an artist?
Petra Nimtz – I was born in Germany and left in 2002, ending up in Vancouver, BC, Canada. After two years, I began to think I should paint. I took a course at the Emily Carr institute and began sharing a studio, it all came together very naturally…
ANTE – And had you painted at all before that?
PN – Yes, as a child – as a student in school, but I had never approached it other than as a student…
ANTE – So not as a vocation?
PN – Right, not until I lived in Vancouver. I began to study the basics of painting by starting with acrylics. I began this way, sharing a studio, working in acrylic before moving onto working with oil paints. Once I began working with oil, I was hooked immediately. I then visited NYC and began to study at the Art Students League in New York under Frank O’Kane, I know he’s still teaching – he’s quite a force of nature, and I love his work. I was writing down notes in his classes like a maniac… he mentioned Abstract Expressionists, all this information that was quite new to me – I had never studied art history, had never heard of that. Their work really resonated with me – he told me to study the painters who I liked, and that’s what I started doing and it helped me evolve my practice at my studio back in Canada.
ANTE – What timeframe was this?
PN – This was about 2005-06 when I began working as a painter, and showing in local cafes in Vancouver. Living there in Vancouver at the time, the abstract art scene was not very active and I didn’t have much to look at, so in 2010 I moved to upstate New York for three months to rent a place to paint – a live/work space. A friend of mine directed me to Woodstock, so I went and spent three months there painting in a barn and going into New York City often. I then decided to move here – exactly ten years ago.
ANTE – So then have you primarily been working in abstraction?
PN – Yes, I work in abstraction. I am an abstract artist, and I’m not interested in drawing or painting figuratively, or creating work with the human figure. I don’t want to pursue it.
ANTE – At the time you began living in Woodstock, were you working on a larger scale?
PN – The largest at that studio was 6×7’ size artwork, working in that barn. Actually when I began painting I started out smaller, but over the years I have become emboldened to try out larger sizes in my painting. I now like working in a 4×5’ format, it’s comfortable for me.
ANTE – Observing a work in progress, I do see some pencil and sketching/drawing, are you working with an oil stick as well?
PN – Yes, all of that – this particular work has so many layers. I work on multiple layers as each is still fresh – the paint is still wet, and for some works I’ll be building up, say, ten layers. I like showing layers and allowing them to shine through, giving them a chance to shine through – suffice it to say that I don’t spend too much time hiding the layers.
ANTE – Can you talk about the brushstrokes you use in these artworks, particularly works in these smaller sizes? There is an expressive energy…
PN – Yes it’s easier for me to use looser brushstrokes – it’s more animated, what I like to call my “messy” paintings. I can work with a more expressive style in a smaller format, using a palette knife and brushes to create a more dynamic work.
ANTE – Do you frequently use a palette knife in your work?
PN – Yes, I use the edge of it: I use it to spread the paint onto the canvas directly. I can make strong and decisive gestures, and the paint can be applied more thickly. It allows me to direct my compositions and make certain areas of a painting stronger. This allows a certain side of the canvas to dominate the overall composition. I have been using the palette knife since I first delved into working with oil on canvas.
ANTE – What is new to your recent work?
PN – The colors I utilize in my practice always change. The color palette varies organically according to my mood.
ANTE – Do you feel influenced by working in Woodstock?
PN – Yes, it’s very inspiring – I’m surrounded by nature, blues and greens and whites. In nature, I’m inspired to paint using these colors.
ANTE – Do you feel that you are inspired by light in your work?
PN – I frequently do use white through the layers of my artworks, and I am often influenced by light in my work. While I frequently use white painting in my work, I don’t often work with purple as a color in my compositions.
ANTE – Interesting to know! And do you work on a single painting at a time?
PN – Oh no, I always work on multiple paintings at a time because I get stuck. I’ll get stuck on a work. I have multiple works in progress hanging on walls – I have quite a large studio space in Woodstock so it’s easier to move from one wall to another to change what I’m working on when I get stuck on a certain artwork. I have never worked on an easel; I always work on the wall. It helps me to work on several pieces at a time – I’ve always worked this way in my process, since I very first started painting.
ANTE – Tell me about your approach to painting: you already referenced infusing gesture with the palette knife, what other considerations inform your painting?
PN – I’ve always worked with palette knife and brush, but now I’ve even used my hands or even gloves to directly apply paint to the canvas. I like working with different methods of application – brush, palette knife, hand – in contrast to create tension and create clear gestures in my work. It’s easier to carefully construct a composition borrowing from these different styles of line and gesture in a smaller format works, however. Smaller size works are easier to control this dialogue within.
ANTE – So you only work in painting? Not in other mediums?
PN – I actually have also worked in monoprint, collage and works on paper. I’ll sometimes create a monoprint. I make monoprints in addition to paintings, but I don’t view this as my main style of work. Painting will always be my medium.
ANTE – In terms of expanded practice: Do you frequently work in collage, or have you worked in other formats than oil on canvas?
PN – In 2015-16 I was working in acrylic a bit in addition to my oil painting, and around that time I started making collage a bit. Some of these works I’ve since covered with oil paint – since 2018, I’ve worked almost exclusively with oil paints. I was working with acrylic before, but it dries so fast and you can’t build up layers, so I returned to exclusively working with oil paints so that I could build up layers in my work. Adding a new element to the work with collage is exciting for me – I was happy to paint over my collage works with oil as it added it an exciting texture for me.
ANTE – Can you talk to us more about other artists whose work has inspired you?
PN – I’m really interested in New York City as a moment in the 1950s and 60s and the artists who lived here then – they inspired one another, challenged one another, and built up a camaraderie. Reading about their lives, they were all wild. They were also great artists. Of course many wonderful women artists of this time period – Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell – continue to inspire me. Among contemporary artists, I love Amy Sillman. In addition to her wonderful practice she also has a great sense of humor that has come through when I’ve heard her speak.
ANTE – So what are you working on at the moment? Have you worked more in one certain style over, say, the past six months?
PN – What I’ve liked recently is that my work has become more gestural, more loose. The style I call “Messy” – I think of Joan Mitchell and her messiness, which I love. I was thrilled to see my style evolve into this messier look – my painting style changes over time without planning out, but the positive feedback I’ve had from others is that while my style changes, it is always recognizable. My changes in style over time do shift, but it remains recognizable and I’m happy to go with the flow.
ANTE – So a few years ago you mentioned that you had a studio in Bushwick before moving to this Midtown location, can you tell me about your experiences as an artist working in Bushwick?
PN – Well, Paul D’Agostino who is very knowledgeable came out to visit my studio. He’s lovely and helped me – really became a great resource for me, he’s wonderful. He hosted a few shows at his studios, and suggested my work to other members of the community. I did enjoy being a part of the community as best I could, but I live in Woodstock – I was mostly in Bushwick on the weekends, most studios were closed and most artists were gone when I was working there. Here being based in Manhattan, it’s an easier commute and I can walk to Chelsea galleries and other nearby galleries to go observe the art exhibitions that are on at the moment.
ANTE – So what exhibitions have you been in recently?
PN – Well, I participated at a group show in Bushwick, and I’ve also recently shown with Julie Torres in a space just outside of Hudson in Hudson Valley, New York. It’s nice to have a footprint both in Woodstock and in New York City, I can appreciate the benefits of both.
ANTE – So what exhibitions have you visited in recent days and months that you enjoyed?
PN – I finally went to the new MoMA, and enjoyed the Amy Sillman-curated section “The Shape of Shape” that they have on view now. Recently, I went to an interesting show in Chelsea (NYC) at Albertz Benda, “Substrate”. The show was really beautiful. I also did get the chance to witness the show at the Katonah Museum of Art, “Sparkling Amazons.” It was an intriguing show and I had the chance to learn about artists who were not previously known to me. There was also an intriguing show recently featuring artist Cat Balco, “My Exploding Stars,” at Rick Wester Fine Art.
by Mariel Tepper
Artist Zac Hacmon uses form, space and sound in Beyond the Pale: an immersive and unflinching look at the U.S.-Mexico border crisis located at The Border Project Space. Curated by Eva Mayhabal Davis, this site-specific sculpture installation reflects on the material and conceptual barriers humans create and the devastating, far-reaching consequences of these obstructions.
The installation is centered around two abstract sculptures, Hedgehog 1 and 2. Their militaristic design inspired by Czech hedgehogs, barrier fortifications used for the Czech-German border in World War II. The imposing sculptures create a sense of tension and claustrophobia through hard-edged geometry, while the white ceramic tile surfaces of the sculptures evoke the sterility and asepsis of domestic and interior spaces; bathrooms, kitchens and hospital walls. The sounds of voices and ambient sounds can be heard from vents in the sculptures, creating a collective murmur that recedes and fluctuates in volume, enveloping the listener. With audio consisting of on-site interviews conducted by Hacmon at the Arizona border, the dialogues convey the hardships and human rights atrocities experienced by migrants, Native Americans, asylum seekers and undocumented workers through poems, stories and firsthand accounts.
A devastating and visceral poem on the death of a newborn baby on the Arizona roadside, NO ANSWERS–NOW OR EVER by Marie Vogl Gery, is read by Gali Kocourek, a member of Tucson Samaritans. In another interview, Sarah M. Reed, Program Coordinator at Casa Alitas Program – Aid for Migrant Families, describes the trauma experienced by asylum seekers coming from Central America and southern Mexico to the U.S. to flee gang and drug related violence. If captured by border patrol, migrants face inhumane conditions in detention centers, where they are cramped in tight cells, deprived of sleep and adequate food, all their possessions forcibly taken.
Interspersed with the interview snippets are the sounds of field recordings, rustles of footsteps on migrant trails in the Sonoran Desert during a water run. The crisp, caustic sounds remind the listener of the long, harrowing journeys migrants take, trudging through miles of unforgiving desert heat on rough ground, all in the hopes of achieving a better life.
Making the connection between borders and environmental devastation, Jose Rivera, Director of Tohono O’odham Culture Center and Museum, describes how the U.S. border wall physically disrupts local wildlife by preventing animals from moving freely between nesting and feeding areas. It’s clear that imposing arbitrary physical barriers on land disrupts not only the flow of people, but the flows and processes of the natural world. In an age of climate refugees and ecological collapse, the negative implications of border walls and the bigoted, non holistic ideologies (nationalism, xenophobia) fueling them are even more apparent. Zac Hacmon’s prescient and thought-provoking Beyond the Pale installation confronts the divisive and brutal reality of man-made borders. Shining a light on the cycle of pain, fear, violence and devastation that occurs when we deny the humanity of others.
As usual, a visit to Independent Art Fair in New York doesn’t disappoint. On view this weekend at Spring Studios (50 Varick Street) in Lower Manhattan from 12-7 Sat 3/7 and 12-6 Sunday 3/8, this carefully curated fair is presented with minimal spectacle and maximum impact. Eschewing an the aesthetic of the uncontained, Independent N.Y. allows space for fair goers to step back and digest the diverse palettes presented by exhibitors.
Cannupa Hanksa Luger continues to push the envelope forward with human rights and indigenous visibility with a presentation at Garth Greenan gallery, while Company gallery stuns with a simultaneously personal yet abstracted group presentation. The insurmountable genius of Wolfgang Tillmans emerges at the Maureen Paley gallery presentation. Exhibitors have exhibited the ability to pull inspiration from multiple sources, sensorially and intellectually, without muddying the waters beyond comprehension.
Installation remains a key part of Independent presenters’ motive, with multiple perspectives available for visitors to access. Where the creeping influence of design and interdisciplinary approaches meets a surge in identity politics, the breath of fresh contemporary wonder that is Independent lies at the ready to strike into the heart of visitors’ imaginations.
A wealth of mediums and conceptual rigor greet the fair visitor. Make sure not to miss the chance to step into the refreshing space inhabited by Independent NY in 2020 before it closes this Sunday.
Armory week in New York City is not for the faint of heart. What can better salve the art fair weary soul than finding a conceptually rigorous, yet relaxing, presentation of contemporary art? Enter HEAL : an art exhibition on view at Jadite galleries (413 W 50th street) from March 4-8 that brings together like-minded artists seeking an oasis from the market-driven art fair approach. The stated aim of the show, hosting a March 5th opening reception from 6-8:30 pm and featuring Ayako Bando, Vicky Barranguet, Bob Clyatt, Jacki Davis, Paul T. Davis, Danni Huang, Caroline Minchew, Robin Tedesco and Kim Zack, is to “portray…the relationship of (hu)man(kind) to nature in its current state of pivotal transition…artists in HEAL act to bolster our role in creating …a healthier ecosystem.”
In the spirit of harmony and ecology, Davis anchors the concept for HEAL in the scientific premise of emergence: “Emergence is a phenomenon in which groups display a seemingly intrinsic unity and harmony,” reflect Davis. “According to systems scientist Peter Corning, the qualities of emergence are as follows: (1) radical novelty (features not previously observed in systems); (2) coherence or correlation (meaning integrated wholes that maintain themselves over some period of time); (3) A global or macro “level” (i.e. there is some property of “wholeness”); (4) it is the product of a dynamical process (it evolves); and (5) it is “ostensive” (it can be perceived).” By perceiving and parsing out the manner in which emergence defines our everyday lives in the anthropocene era, HEAL bridges the gap between scientific theory and community well-being.
Bolstered by the support of The Art Therapy Project, HEAL seeks out ways to connect on a meaningful level and to step away from art as a commodity in order to embrace it as a conduit for meditation and self-restoration. Featuring artworks ranging from painting and new media to sculpture, mixed media and collage, HEAL metes out a conduit for self-expression that empowers and envisions a better future. Curator and artist Jacki Davis notes of the impetus to display and to create the artwork on view on HEAL that when … “we tune in and respect our environment and ourselves, the beauty of connectedness naturally unfolds in present time.” Centered in light, love, and mutual appreciation, Davis’ practice seeks out mindfulness and universality.
Some artists discover pathways to healing in their practice – artist Robin Tedesco notes that healing “begins when (I) enter the studio,” while other participating artists seek more spiritual approaches to find opportunities to heal. Vicky Barranguet also reveals that her own process engages with…”being creative in some way to make an impact through my daily practice and everyday life.” Artist Bob Clyatt notes that his practice dwells in the idea of healing … “via Samsara – the state of brokenness and discord – as a way of discerning paths toward what is missing.” Caroline Minchew seeks harmony in landscapes by using it as … “an intuitive guide to understand and articulate personal and collective stories.”
Meanwhile, the long shadow cast by nature remains firmly embedded in HEAL‘s premise. Artist Ayako Bando reflects on the natural world as a space she mediates with her artistic practice. Artist Kim Zack’s approach embraces… “an interesting and positive message regarding natural preservation for future generations.” Meanwhile, Ayako Bando’s work features an approach to healing that… “embraces light and shadow, as she believes by seeking out eternal light we can find the source of our connection to the world at a higher level.” Where Bando seeks new narratives in light, Danni Huang works to tell …. “compelling stories, as well as building engaging worlds that lie at the boundary of art and tech.”
While it becomes clear viewing the exhibit that each participating artist reaches inner peace in different ways, what is certain is that visitors will have the ability to reconsider and reconnect with a sense of being part of the natural world. Whether discerned by means of scientific inquiry or intuited through personal observations or nature and spiritual beliefs, artists in HEAL investigate aspects of harmony and fulfillment in the works on view in this exhibition.
HEAL is on view at the Jadite Galleries (413 W 50th street) from March 4-8 2020. The exhibition’s opening reception takes place from 6-8:30 pm on March 5th while an artist presentation is slated for Saturday, March 7th from 4:30 pm. For more information please contact email@example.com