Originally published with the Huffington Post on February 25, 2014
Detroit is an art city. Detroit is an art city because it has a deep foundation built to support the arts. Detroit is an art city because it has experienced bad times and good times, so it has a community with character. Detroit is an art city because it has artists that are talented, that are creative, and that work hard.
In the coming months, I will introduce you to some of these inspiring Detroit artists, starting with Craig Paul Nowak.
Craig recently commented on Detroit as the next art city in response to Jon Keats’s Forbes magazine article that considered Detroit as an art city of the future. Jon’s article was not an in-depth review of Detroit, but rather a trite,Why not Detroit? (which is how he ended the article). Craig observed:
Right NOW it is undoubtedly one of the only places in the world where an ARTIST can make anything happen. Right NOW there are very few rules so anything is possible. All an artist needs is intent and action. Right NOW, if you can think it, and you are willing to do it without requiring outside assistance; if YOU want to make it happen, then right NOW Detroit is the ART CITY of your PRESENT dreams.
Detroit is an art city.
Real Detroit Weekly just named Craig Best Local Artist, noting Craig’s
paintings force a viewer so close to the canvas, examining the preciseness of his painted images and yet his physical talent is nothing compared to the driving layers of physics, psychology, and inspiration behind the paint.
Craig is a tremendous talent whose technical skill coupled with his passion and erudite approach to art, allows him to capture the soul of his subjects on canvas.
Craig helps make Detroit an art city—now.
Here’s my interview with Craig along with some of his work:
Colin Darke: What drives you to create?
Craig Paul Nowak: Art is the lifeblood that fuels my existence, and my art continues well past the edge of a canvas. It rockets from its surface like Icarus toward the sun. Blind aspirations have become my milieu. I crave new and challenging opportunities like the morning craves the dawn. And in the same breath, if I am superman, monotony is my kryptonite. The monotony that I refer to is not the sit at home and work on art variety; I love that. On the contrary, I perish in the face of forced routine, boundaries, and limitations the likes of which might exist in a 9:00-5:00 factory worker.
Up!… Down!… Up!… Down!… Button push after button push with no foreseeable change in sight, no change to the day, from one day to the next, and no change to the world through action or rest.
When I wake up, if I see a pen, that pen speaks to me. If I see a brush, that brush does a slow waltz with a tube of paint until I pick it up and use it. At the sight of a bare wall or an open room, my mind drifts to the work of Brad Lawrence or Gilda Snowden or Kevin McCoy and I feel compelled to compose a visual symphony using their art, together, in a curated exhibition. The more unlikely the space, the more excited I get, the hotter my gears burn, and the greater the impact of what results. I want to see if I can do the impossible. I stand at the edge of the world looking down, and when I step forward, I don’t fall, I fly.
It’s as if I was born to do this. It’s somehow within me. From the moment my high school teacher told me I could be an artist, that being an artist was a viable career; immediately, like flipping on a light switch, art filled the room with possibility, while all other careers disappeared into darkness.
So to your question, “What drives me to create?” I say… Everything. Life. Existence. The simple fact that I can. The fact that if I don’t, then I won’t exist. For me, the act of making art is no different that the act of being alive.
Colin: What or who inspires you?
Craig: I believe that art, in its many shapes and forms, no matter how relevant or seemingly mislead, is, at its very root, little more than circumstance. Art exists as it was made, within a time and space relevant to its message. To observe it outside of that environment however, is to do little more than reflect on that dialogue within that time, inside of that space. And because I can’t fully connect with something that I didn’t live or experience, and I can’t look the artist in the eye, or smell the freshness of the paint, or listen to the tone in her voice as she tells me about the events that led up to that painting, then I for some reason, can’t be inspired by it, Not fully. Not completely.
People who know me know that my memory is questionable at best. The things that I tend to remember, are colors and smells and tastes and shapes and sequences and interactions with other people whom vividly embody these things, so ironically, it seems that that which does inspire me, is actually circumstance.
There are moments in life, curious bits of fleeting time wherein remarkable things take place, unexpected genius and indeterminate beauty to name a few. Looking too intently guarantees they go unnoticed. Inspiration, like a shooting star; is best captured in our peripheral vision, where we aren’t looking. And it’s because of this that I gracefully bow to the world around me; trust it to take the reins so that I can happily intuit my inspiration from my surroundings. The only requirement I have is that it moves me, passionately, without question, like a sturdy sailboat in a strong breeze.
Colin: Does beauty play a role in your work?
Craig: Beauty, in so far as beauty is synonymous with aesthetics, does exist within my work. In fact, it is the only aspect of the art object which I actively decide upon. After intuiting the content, the media, the technique, and every other aspect of the art, I then allow myself to arrange said characters, objects, concepts, ideas, and so on in a manner that is pleasing to my eye, I never intend to tell a story however. Any narrative that results within my art is a product of chance and intuition only.
Colin: What do you hope viewers’ takeaway from your work?
Craig: They say that on average, a work of art receives less than fifteen seconds of attention from anyone whose attention it’s lucky enough to catch. What they don’t say, or perhaps, what they can’t say because it’s impossible to measure let alone witness, is how long and how strong the memory of a work of art exists within an audience member’s mind long after they’ve left its presence.
If I could aspire for my art to do anything, that is, anything within the limited parameters that art’s uniquely secluded existence enables it to do, then I would like for my art to inspire and to continue inspiring. The more people my art moves to action, the better. If my art can elicit thought that garners physical proof then I will have deemed my job complete.
Subscribe to The Morning Email.Wake up to the day’s most important news.
Colin: What does it mean to be a successful artist?
Craig: Success is subjective, especially in regards to the arts. I’ve spoken with professional artists who believe that success is achieved when an artist is able to make art on a daily basis. If those are the perimeters for success, then I’ve succeeded. I know artists whose only goal is to sustain themselves financially with their practice. Boom! Success. I’m there; well, barely, but still, job’s done. For me personally though, I’m not certain there is a cut and dried definition for success.
I subsequently fail then succeed, fail then succeed, over and over again, innumerable times throughout each day. Hell, I’ve failed and succeeded two or three times on both ends of the spectrum just while responding to this question, which I believe to be a good thing. I think that a general familiarity with at least some failure and some success is the potential charge that sparks progression. It’s like I tell everyone who loves my art and asks me, “How did you do that?” I tell them, “Editing; I fail then succeed enough times, to the point where my successes outnumber my failures two to one, and the object into which I just poured my passion pleases me immensely, in a way that only a creator can appreciate.”
And considering that my life is devoted to the production of objects, essentially, things that are intended to influence and inspire long after I’m gone, then I would surmise that the success of my actions as an artist couldn’t possibly be tabulated until every work of art I’ve produced has not only ceased to exist on Earth, but has also ceased to exist within the memories of those who inhabit it. If what I’ve done has had a positive effect on what others have done during that time, then that is when I have succeeded.
Colin: What are you currently working on?
Craig: After a veritable hiatus from the business of being an artist, I decided to focus my attention where it’s needed. My last two exhibitions were almost a year apart; in 2012 I participated in a remarkable three month residency with Red Bull house of Art. In 2013 I showed at Devos Place during ARTPRIZE. And now I’m getting back onto the jet propelled horse in typical Craig fashion, by diving in face-first. I figure, if you’re going to go splat, you might as well make it a big splat, right?
As January approached, I began planning somewhat of a world tour, just a little something to breathe life back into my veins, a sort of self-driven business trip if you will, fueled by spontaneity and curiosity. My first stop has me shacked up in a flat at the center of Milan Italy, developing and exhibiting a series of drawings during and after fashion week. The latter half of my three month stay in Milan will be devoted to planning and implementing an auction/fundraiser for breast cancer awareness in collaboration with the artisanal lingerie boutique INDIVIDUALS, also based here in Milan.
Come April, I’ll be popping up in London for more art making and good times where after, I’ll either leave for Indonesia in July to photograph Orangutans or leave for the next location that beckons my presence. It’s all spontaneous.
The Orangutan photos will be used to make paintings intended for an Indigogo fundraiser. The fundraiser is actually going live in conjunction with the release of this interview and will benefit Indonesia Culture Exploration (www.culturexploration.org), an American non-profit which aims to “save the rainforest via culture”. Our aim is to raise $30,000, a sum that will be used to purchase and secure land in Indonesia, essentially protecting and preserving a section of the rainforest inhabited by orangutans and other nearly endangered species.
At the same time, I am and will be completing works of art for an exhibition at Morpho Gallery in Chicago, scheduled to take place in September 2014 and Detroit Repertory Theatre. 1xRUN will also be doing a Craig Paul Nowak print run this spring. Be on the look out.
Colin: What’s next?
Craig: Back in 2011 I was the director of a small Detroit gallery called Art Effect. I left that position to apprentice under a stone sculptor in Santa Fe, NM, but before I left, we produced some phenomenal exhibitions featuring only local artists. Later this year and all throughout 2015 we will be entering round two of that project via a series of two-person collaborative exhibitions entitled “Cowbird Collective Collaborations” or “3C” for short. The artists involved were asked to choose a peer from the Art Effect era and develop a joint proposal. Trust me when I say that these artists will change the way you look at art. There are some truly incredible things in store, must see exhibitions if I do say so myself.
Other projects include a multi-city tour of Craig Paul Nowak solo shows held in collector’s homes instead of galleries throughout 2015. This series will be entitled “Homeseum” and is intended to question the role of the institution as well as its monetary hold on artists while simultaneously highlighting the importance of contemporary fine art collectors. I’ve already got shows slotted for New York, Chicago, Santa Fe, Austin, TX, Daytona Beach, and Detroit with more on the horizon. Fun stuff all around.