I would love to learn more about how your life of art begin. How old were you when you became aware of your talents?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember– I’ve been told that I could depict recognizable people while most children my age were doing stick figures. In time, I grew so accustomed to the precise control I had with razor-sharpened pencils, that it was really quite a leap to move on to paint. I had dabbled a bit with watercolors, but I’ve come to love the depth I can reach with acrylics.
Have you had any formal training?
Quite a bit of it. As sitters weren’t often in the family budget, I was taken along to a number of my mom’s classes. I was sitting in on college level art lessons when I was still in elementary school. I was also enrolled in Summer arts programs for kids, and when I reached middle school, I took all the elective art courses I could. In high school, I was bussed for two periods a day to a college where I studied commercial art, honing the technical skills. Beyond all this, I’d say that I also teach myself, but I do have a friend and mentor, Julian Griegh, who passes on a great deal of his knowledge.
Your work is described as “Art of the Beautiful and Bizarre”, and it is very much both! Where do you find most of your inspiration for your art?
The short answer would be “Sex and death,” but there’s a great deal more to explore between the start and end of life.
There is no aspect of the known universe more beautiful and compelling to me than woman’s sexuality, her forms and fantasies. Still, when art and life began to lead me ever deeper into kink, it surprised even me. Throughout my formative years, whenever a female character in a movie was dominated sexually, and depicted as enjoying it, the highest authority in my young life proclaimed that this was sexist, and that women don’t really like that. I grew up thinking that BDSM play only fed a vile, archaic, patriarchal self-delusion. Thus, when I came of age, I wasn’t prepared for the requests from partners to bite harder, or spank, or tie them up. It didn’t seem to fit within my moral code. I try to uphold the ethic of reciprocity. Because I’m neither masochistic nor submissive, I couldn’t justify becoming the Master. Still, the eager expectations that I dominate kept coming. I came to understand that it can be perfectly sublime to bind or spank someone who expressly wills it. Art has been a way to test these waters before fully taking the plunge, and to celebrate now that I have. There is as much diversity in the definitions of pleasure as there is for art. Outside the realm of common perception, there’s a vast and wonderful world. It’s not for everyone, but it’s grand for the curious and kindred spirits.
In much of my work, I explore varying degrees between this blissful erotica and horrific exploitations. My “Bondage and Burgundy” series features those that enjoy willingly handing the reigns to a chosen master. It’s especially lovely when these works stimulate a sub. On the other hand, if someone is aroused by the Clockwork Concubines, without being at least a little creeped out as well, then they’ve missed an important point. My mad scientist characters have no regard for anyone’s will but their own. Their mixture of sex and horror is meant to be disturbing.
I’ve always been intrigued by monsters, especially those that are part human, and part something else, animal, plant, machine, etc. (Even my most whimsical works, inspired by Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, still feature strange hybrids and other unsettling elements.) I draw a bit from the ancient myths of Egypt and Greece, some from the swords and sorcery adventures I loved in early adolescence, and a great deal from classic Gothic fiction. I’ve read, and reread, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyl and Mister Hyde, Carmilla, Lord Ruthven, The Phantom of The Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Picture of Dorian Grey, as well as many works by Poe and Lovecraft. Their dark desires influence the aesthetic of my paintings, the style of my writing, and the population of each. Another part of what inspires me to create so many dark works is that death really bothers me. I can never get used to the fact that the beloved die. Nor do I relish contemplating my own mortality. But through art, one can safely explore simulations of not just death, but immortality. Many classic monsters exist beyond a natural span, but often at a cost so terrible, that the inevitable loses some of its sting. Likewise, painters and writers touch lives well beyond their own span, through the work. Again, there is a terrible price. Much of the work is solitary. Creative combinations of the beautiful and bizarre are embraced exclusively by those of very specialized taste.
Have you ever faced censorship?
My works have often been removed from public view, or tucked away in back, (the ghetto of the gallery.)
Online, someone sees the art, and feels dismayed by a glimpse of flesh or simulated violence. Such a delicate spectator could simply click away into something more to their taste, (perhaps a pastural landscape featuring fluffy white sheep,) thus exercising their freedom of choice, while respecting my freedom of expression. All too often, what happens instead is that they decide that no one else should be able to see my work.
Even when I display in an establishment that admits only those twenty-one an up, and when my online galleries are likewise blocked to anyone under eighteen, the self righteous seek still more restrictions. It’s frustrating. Worse, it’s a cowardly shot at one of our greatest founding principals.
Sex and death are primal, and universal. They can’t be stopped by stifling the arts.
On an average, how long does it take you to complete a piece?
It seems too long. Inspiration comes faster than my hands can move. New projects occur to me all the time, before I’ve finished the ones I’ve already started.
Also, when I’m working for myself alone, there’s no ticking clock, save for that of my own mortality. To spur myself on, I’ll sometimes set artificial deadlines, by posting that I shall unveil a new piece at some particular scheduled event. That way, there are others who will be expecting the new work by a certain time, and I become more motivated to finish it quickly.
How many pieces are you usually working on at once?
Between my various easels and drawing tables, I might have three or four pieces going at once. That’s not counting the stacks of others leaning here and there in the studio. I tend to work with a very particular palette, black, deep red, and various flesh tones. When I have more mixed than I can use on a piece, I move one easel over and spend it there. Despite all this work, it sometimes feels like I’m not producing anything at all. Then several pieces will be completed all at once. This has been one of those latter times.
Is there any special atmosphere you like to create for yourself when you work?
I’m a night owl. I work best without the distracting noise of the day. My peak hours are between sunset and sunrise. I start out with a cup of coffee or two, then usually switch to water. It really irritates me when dehydration forces me to step out of the studio to refill my mug. Having to take a break because my stomach is growling or my bladder is protesting is likewise vexing.
When I’m painting, I listen to audio books, stand up comedy, and radio plays. Getting caught up in the narrative flow helps keep me rooted to my studio. I listen mostly to Stephen King, Clive Barker, Douglas Adams, Poe, and Lovecraft, some of the old Mercury Theatre with Orson Welles, and Sherlock Holmes with Basil Rathbone. For stand up comedy, it’s Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, George Carlin, David Cross, Lewis Black, Bill Hicks, Steven Wright– I could go on and on.
Do you work on your art every day?
Until I’m making a comfortable living at it, I don’t feel like I’ve earned a day off. What often ends up happening is that some flu knocks me down, forcing me to take far more time off than just one day.
About how many hours of a day do you dedicate to creating?
When I’m really in the zone, it can be for eight hours or longer. More often, I manage about six. Sometimes the hand cramps and headaches get to be too much. I’m trying to get as much done as I can before the flesh machine gives out completely.
I’ve read that you have had your art in galleries and clubs as far as Detroit! Tell me about some of your experiences with those opportunities.
On a social networking site, I happened upon a call for entries to The Dirty Show. Alas, I was not free to attend personally, so I shipped my work to Detroit for the event.
West of here, my works have been featured in a number of kink clubs. Those, I was able to attend personally, but I mustn’t share my best experiences there, for the rules regarding respect for privacy forbids it.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
M. C. Escher. and H. R. Giger are my top two favorites. Close on their heels are Edward Gorey, Olivia, Joseph Vargo, Alberto Vargas, Julian Griegh, Waterhouse, Erté, Mucha, Brian Froud, Maxfield Parrish, Michael Parkes, Gustav Klimt, Aubrey Beardsley, Boris Vallejo, Berni Wrightson, and Junji Ito.
What other types of art/hobbies have you dabbled in?
I used to have quite a few hobbies. I played role playing games, performed in Rocky Horror shadow casts, attended historical recreation fairs, and so on. These were fun, and seemed to tickle the creative drive, but I wasn’t really producing anything. I needed to delve deeper into the arts. Just starting along that path, there were a number of other dabbling diversions. I painted sets, made small clay sculptures, did some light FX makeup and body paint, wrote and performed puppet plays, did sketch comedy, and more. In fact, I’d taken on so many different forms that I used to be known as the Jack of All Arts. Yet there are only so many hours in a life. Hence, I set myself to master visual arts, the form that had been with me longest.
I’ve noticed you sometimes collaborate with other artists of various forms. Please tell me about some of these projects: models, Uberkunst, anyone or anything else you’d like to mention.
Aside from a brief stint in college, singing bass for Shakespeare in the Park’s pre-show choir, I came to music fairly late in the game. By the time a joined the band UBERKUNST, they’d already been playing for years. We created cacophony at noise shows, or played a few songs for metal and punks shows, and then devolved into more cacophony. We also did a lot of improvised stage combat, smashed things with lead pipes, and were all “killed” by our band leader Jetrock by the end of each show. I started out dressing like a sadistic monster, calling myself “Nix Offender,” and banging on a sculpture I’d made called “Patriarchy.” (It was a little girl bound in a cage with a Barbie doll.) In time, I acquired a floor tom, then a cymbal or two, and finally a full drum set. My nights were split between several other art forms as well, so I grew very little as a drummer. At the time, it didn’t much matter, as we also had a fantastic lead drummer, Thudwhack. When he dropped out, I had some large shoes to fill. It was fun, but it wasn’t my first passion, or even my second, and it must have showed in my performances. I was passable at noise events, but I wouldn’t say the same was true for rhythmic music shows. At our peak, we’d played often in Sacramento and the Bay Area, as our many members were scattered throughout both regions. These days, we might just play once a year at the NorCal NoiseFest. This is part of why I recently sold the drums, and redoubled my focus on painting and writing. The last time we played, I was banging on bongoes until they disintegrated– then I kept on banging. My fingers were bleeding by the end of the night. The year before that, I was banging on a girlfriend’s backside. I must say, this was far preferable to any set of drums.
Stage and screen work, at their best, are the ultimate collaborative art, as they employ writing, acting, music, costuming, set design, and more. I’ve written, directed, and performed in a number of one act plays, and spent years volunteering in various motion pictures. In the beginning, I kept trying to spur one local film group after another into actually producing films. It did start to happen, but in its fledgling form, it was mostly fare that would never have an audience outside the local community. (If it had, I’d have been heckled by robots on MST3K!) Almost as soon as this town started producing the kind of films I really wanted to do, a new batch of actors swept up all the speaking parts. I’ve come to see that this was a blessing. I was rarely ever paid for acting work, but I do receive compensation for my painting. A person has to eat, and it’s refreshing to have one’s efforts appreciated.
While working with models is also something of a collaboration, the photographer’s vision is key. Even those models who are themselves also photographers can only see one side of the camera at a time. I’d long thought that every director should try their hand at acting, to get a feeling for its particular challenges. Now, from all my experience behind the camera, I have a better understanding of the trials faced by a director! I suspect that overstepping my role, offering far too many unsolicited suggestions was the main reason my acting opportunities began to dry up. There comes a time to trust the person behind the camera will let you know what’s needed of you.
I’d started out taking pictures strictly as source material for my painting, then gradually came to realize that the photos were also art in and of themselves. My first models were girlfriends. Then actresses I’d worked with also posed for me. After that, came those who knew me first by my art, and posed because they wanted to be part of it. In every case, it’s an honor to work with them.
Do you have any goals for creating a book one day?
Absolutely. There’s something already in the works. Many of my paintings feature succubi, mad scientists, and their clockwork concubines. These are all just some of the characters in an upcoming novel. I’ve also written a number of short stories: horror, erotica, humor, and horrifically humorous erotica. I hope to see these tales published all together. Likewise, regarding collections of my visual art.
What have been your most rewarding experiences since you’ve been creating art?
I love it when people spot the little details. Seeing the thrill of discovery on their faces is certainly rewarding.
I put so much into the work, that it’s always bitter-sweet to let a painting go. Still, I always need to make space for the new, and selling the work is a very clear reward. It means that neither bill collectors nor my stomach will growl at me for long.
What are some goals you have for the future?
I could spend several lifetimes just catching up with the muse. There’s always more to paint, and write, and experience!
Where might one find your art for purchase locally? What types of items do you usually have available?
I vend prints, pendants, and greeting cards at goth/industrial clubs nearly every weekend, currently at Fascination, Darkness, Circuitry, and Reverence, and occasionally at metal performances and karaoke nights at On The Y. I often exhibit paintings at tattoo and piercing places, and at galleries. I have a selection up at Queen of Arts right now.
For existing paintings and prints, or to commission something particular, one can always contact me directly.
What are the links to your websites?
MASTERNICK.COM will take you to my blog. There, I post the work, a bit of writing, and updates regarding upcoming shows. You will also find links to my various online galleries: Flickr, Model Mayhem, and such.
I don’t tend to update DeviantArt any more, but galleries of the old paintings and photography can still be found there. NICKROBERTSARTS.DEVIANTART.COM
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