The artistry of Nick Papadakis is the meeting point of the visual and theoretical. The praxis of his craft digs deeply into the myriad of traditions that we think of as the fine arts, including photography, graphic design, printmaking, metal-working, furniture design, and holography. Add his collaborative forays into hot glass, film, video, and sound design, and it’s hard to imagine how he begins the process of selecting from these creative approaches.
And yet, this is what makes Papadakis stand out as a singular artist.
Process Versus Product
On the other side, Papadakis is a husband and father who settled into the Park Slope neighborhood five years ago. “I like that it’s a complete part of my life and lifestyle,” he says. “Park Slope right now, in this generation, is built for kids. It’s a community that takes care of kids.”
While speaking with him in his home on a weekday morning, Papadakis switches easily from the patter of his children having breakfast in the kitchen to an extremely detailed conversation about his process. And that’s what is the most exciting about our discussions — the process to him is just as exciting as the finished work.
Papadakis, who studied at Rhode Island School of Design, refers to one trajectory of his oeuvre as erosion painting.
“It was in part suggested to me based on actual physical properties of elements,” he explains. “It’s about finding experimental solutions to the frustrations of making photorealistic transparent oil-glazed paintings.”
The Value of Imperfection
The process is a massive experiment, involving the usage of hundreds of raw-powdered pigments. Looking at a Papadakis erosion painting is very much about staring into layers upon layers. The paintings seem to visually multiply and gain immense depth and texture.
“I try to find the right pigment that has a wide tonal range. The work can go from jet black to white, but always includes tints of colored pigment,” he says. “I love being able to saturate.”
Imperfection also plays a role in his work. “I’m looking for pigments that have flaws in them because what I do is find that flaw in the pigment and expand on that flaw, and let that flaw dominate the work,” he says.
Papadakis’ exploration and experimentation begin when he was very young. His parents were very interested in art, culture, and especially American antiques. They ran a weekend antique business, and the family often traveled throughout the country for a variety of shows.
“At home, we’d clean everything,” he says. “I’ve been awash in objects all my life. It’s been a never-ending ocean wave.”
Experimentation is Freedom
The experiment brings freedom to his work. When Papadakis studied art in school, he struggled with some of what he considers to be drawbacks of the academic world.
“Schools want to be your boss, and that wasn’t part of my personality,” he says. ”My major had the least amount of core requirements. I chose painting, in part because it had the fewest studio classes.” He was able to have conversations about multiple mediums, “which allows me to participate in those fields without being a master.”
In September, Papadakis was involved in the first annual Art Slope, a nine-day arts festival which took over the neighborhood in September 2016. His “Clear Child” was situated over the Prospect Park lake by the Boathouse near Lullwater Bridge, creating a striking visual presence of a youth which seemed to hover over the water.
Unfortunately, the object – constructed from glass, plastic, and resin – was stolen early in the Art Slope festival. While it was subsequently returned, the serenity of the installation was broken.
“Ironically, the sculpture, a life-size realistic figure of a child cast in transparent resin, was part of an on-going series of transparent sculptures placed in nature settings that question the transience of human experience within the billions of earth years and the oversized impact of our actions on environments that will outlive us,” Papadakis told us at the time of the incident.
While frustrated, Papadakis credits Art Slope for providing new insight into the neighborhood. “What’s fascinating about Park Slope, is it has so many generations and lifestyles, and sub-cultures, that you don’t see it unless you get invited into it,” he says. “When this opportunity came up, I thought ‘oh, what a great way to become more aware of the community.’ I feel much more invested in Park Slope now.”
However, Papadakis’ process is a journey which takes him all over the world. “I’ll seek out the antique restoration supply stores, and hunt down local pigments. If I’m in Istanbul — it opens the door to pigments of mountain and river valley regions. If I go to the Painted Desert – I’ll scoop up earth samples and put them in jars.”
Mysterious Envelopes in the Mail
In an odd reversal, visual elements sometimes seek out Papadakis. “It used to be that I’d get a box or envelope” with various random items. They came from people who he met through his travels around the world. Some of those mysterious envelopes arrived without any hint of the sender.
Papadakis’ works aren’t small. And in order for him to experiment, he needed space. Years ago, he used his Greenwich Village apartment as a workspace. But it wasn’t exactly the healthiest for him. “I used to have film [from his artwork] settle on my toothbrush,” he explains.
Later on, he took over a “giant, messy barn” in the Jersey countryside. “There was more space than I ever knew what to do with,” he says. “That’s where the erosion paintings happened.”
His workmanship has been featured in a variety of art worlds. His diverse clientele includes advertising agencies, boutique designers, and theatrical productions.
And yet the experiment continues.
“I create ten paintings for every successful one,” he says. “A friend of mine termed it ‘collateral damage’. Something is going to get destroyed each time.”
While Papadakis is seasoned, accomplished, and successful, he remains deeply grounded the pursuit of new ideas.
“Within every process, there are other inspirations,” he says. “Learning curves, pitfalls, micro-second inspirations. One inspiration leads to a tangentially different place, and new discovery. The tangential thread of self-discovery is what creates an artists body of work.”
To learn more about the work of Nick Papadakis, view his website here.