Wax-O-Holics 'Featured Artist' Spotlight- with Nicholas Gagnon July 16 2014, 0 Comments
We Wax-O-Holics, a cooperative of artists bound together by the love of music, love to foster & support relationships with other creative, like-minded folks. Some of you may remember back in May we debuted our inaugural ‘Featured Artist’ Nicholas Gagnon and his work on this phenomenal screen print.
Nicholas' thought-provoking artwork can be seen via many other noted artists and labels. He has generously agreed to participate in the following Q&A with me, expounding a bit on his work, his preferred mediums and what typically strikes his fancy.
Please take a minute to introduce yourself… Do you prefer Nick or Nicholas? Where are you from? What is your background?
Hello everybody, I’m Nicholas Gagnon. Friends and family call me Nick, but I go by Nicholas on the internet to try and give myself an air of professionalism and/or more Frenchness. I was born in Boulder, Colorado in ‘89 but I grew up in few different places over the years because we moved around a lot. Broomfield, Arvada, Owasso Oklahoma for short time, Boulder during college, and currently live in Parker. Lots of schools, lots of time to myself spent practicing various artistic endeavors. I’ve always been drawing and doing art ever since I can remember actually. Family likes to remind me how my time in t-ball was spent drawing pictures in the dirt while balls would roll past me. I got pizza after the games anyway. Recently graduated with a BFA in Studio Art from CU in 2012 and mounted the piece of paper in a gaudy frame.
For our readers who may not already know, what artists/ promotional pieces have you worked with/ created for?
I am so thankful to work with a number of artists/bands and indie record labels on posters, shirts, cover art, a bust, and even a Kick Starter project. That’s been going on for just about over a year now. Bands include The Capones, Tennessee Jet, White Buffalo Woman, Ferocious Few, Three Cent Queen, Cherry Glazerr, and few I’m not at liberty to say just yet. Big fan of all of them. I’ve also done a bunch of stuff for Jett Plastic Recordings, a Shed House Records logo, and Wax-O-Holics graciously asked me to do their first guest artist screen print design. The Capones first vinyl release on Grimtale was so secret that I wasn’t informed about it until a month before it was announced. Still stunned my cover design has a little reaper on the back corner. We decided to do a small promotional triple-faced Capone bust with their debut CD album limited to 15 pieces. I kept 3 but gave away 2 of them, one to my Grandma who’s my biggest fan and another to master printer Mathias Valdez at Lastleaf Printing who did the first screen print poster for the band. It’s actually quite a strange experience to see people show pictures of physical things I designed on the computer. The first official poster I did was for a Capones show in July of last year. They had photos of it in the background of them playing and I had to show the whole family. Same goes for the all the vinyl art and prints of mine I’ve seen floating around on Facebook. One of the biggest highlights from this past year was being mentioned by Rob Jones on Animal Rummy for a little tear sprite sculpture I made just for him. Rob’s art is what got me into all this.
You market yourself under Obliquitous Art & Design- how did you arrive at that moniker?
Well, I used to do custom action figures all throughout high school and college under the name “The Underground Studio”. Since what I do now was mostly 2D design it seemed time for a new name with the fresh start. While doing the usual looking through the dictionary for interesting names I came across “obliquity” which is used to describe everything from moral deviation, to how much the earth is off kilter, to genetic abnormality. It’s a loaded word. The moral deviation part made me think of how some of my earlier drawings had been dealing with some touchy subject matter for what I thought were the right reasons. That mixed moral subjectivity and the effects it can have interests me. I’ve also always seemed to have trouble keeping things straight while drawing. Everything I do is always a little off to the left or right no matter how hard I try. That and the fact I found it amusing that obliquitous is not recognized as correct spelling, even as an adjective, was enough for me to choose it for my design entity.
Your sculpture pieces are quite impressive- how did you get into making those?
My brother and I used to kit-bash (taking parts from multiple sources and rearranging them into something new) our action figures when we were probably 10-12 years old. We destroyed a bunch of our 90s Kenner/Hasbro Star Wars figures making them into characters you couldn’t buy in the store. Hot knives, scars, super glue, and paint. We even repackaged them on customized blister cards and sold them online. It was interesting to see Hasbro put out a Jango Fett with flames coming out of his jetpack the same year after we had done it. Later we started collecting higher end 12” military figures made in Hong Kong and did the same thing to those. That’s around the time Band of Brothers was on the History Channel so we did characters from that series pretty early on. For certain characters there weren’t any heads or parts to find close enough to use. Around 2004-2005 I started sculpting and sewing to complete figures. My brother lost interest but I kept the practice up, expanding to all sorts of pop-culture characters. Sculpting was a huge challenge to teach myself. There’s a Korean 12” figure artist named Kojun whose head-sculpts I referenced very closely while doing my own. His work is otherworldly but as they say: practice, practice, practice. Over the years I got to the point where I would make entire characters from scratch, using only ready-made bodies to build on. My BFA exhibition piece was a self-portrait of myself in a miniature setting using all the skills learned since childhood. I don’t sculpt very often anymore but it’s like riding a bike when I do.
I also really enjoy the work you’ve done based on old photo prints. When you’re adding/ subtracting pieces to the mix, what generally feeds your overall viewpoint?
Old photos and prints are the most fun to work with, plus the dead aren’t interested in royalties. I always listen to my gut when looking for a picture. If I react to something in it, odds are it will carry through to the finished piece. Sometimes I’ll have a concrete “this is the way it has to look, now go find the parts” idea in my head and other times I’ll let my subconscious take the helm. It can get pretty numbing looking at hundreds of photos, each one with so many possibilities, like staring into infinity. That fatigue instantly goes away once you find “it”. Adding all the pieces in photoshop will bring up another plethora of possibilities but you have to make decisions and trust your gut. It’s a sketching process. Everything always takes at least 2 full edits from what was first called complete, and even then you find something you could have done better.
From busts to bullet-ridden covers, you’ve had quite a hand in shaping the overall image coming out of The Capones camp. How has the creative process for that played out? Did the band have ideas or were you the primary visionary for their single, posters, merch, etc.?
It always goes according to the music and how it speaks to me. It gets played constantly while creating. All the imagery for the band was based on the only 2 songs that were available: "Old Tree" and "Nostalgia & Youth". Darren, who does guitar and vocals for The Capones, usually lets me run wild within reason for all the art. Often he’ll plant the seed though. He saw the fan art I was doing on the White Swirl and contacted me about doing some stuff for his band. I think the logo came first. It was a ready-made font I thought looked like pin-striped suits so I tweaked it a bit into what you see now. Everything possible relating to Al Capone was researched to compliment the visual direction from the songs. The connection between blues music, melancholy, lost love, alcohol, valentine’s day cupids, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, how Capone was both a villain and a saint at times, his middle name being Gabriel, fallen angels and many other little things all brewed in my brain. It produced a lot of great imagery, mostly violent which reflects the music. Think John William Waterhouse packing heat. One of my favorite concepts was the idea of cupids using tommy guns to blast people with affection. I also saw some significant connections between Al and Lucifer. The album covers for Troubled Me and the singles were inspired by depictions of Lucifer as described in Dante’s Inferno with three faces. A lot of that moral deviance mentioned in why I chose the name Obliquitous is displayed in The Capones artwork.
You collaborated recently with our own Nick ‘Boat’ Lynch and his band Three Cent Queen on their new singles cover and artwork. Again, what guided the overall vision in that process?
Boat is probably one of the most fun people to work with. I was honored that he asked me to do the art for that EP release since his abilities as a visual artist are amazing. Back in January we just started to mess around with imagery in a kind of “anything goes” approach. He’d have some pictures to play with and I’d put my personal touch on them. Skeletons, spiders, and a good dose of The Dead Weather sensibility. Since the band name came from a Canadian 3 cent stamp with Queen Elizabeth II on it, I researched her to influence direction. There were probably half a dozen front and back cover possibilities at least in the end, all some of my favorite pieces. Boat chose the one you see on the EP. Can’t wait for you all to see what else we cooked up.
What do you enjoy most working with smaller Indie labels?
The down to earth good people who love music, and of course, getting to know what is coming out before anyone else does!
If doing something just for yourself, what is your preferred medium?
Digital collage has become something I do for myself to work out my mind when projects are few and far between. There’s a certain flow I experience with it that other mediums don’t do for me.
You’ve hosted several artwork contests via White Swirl, of which your own contributions have been stunning. What have you enjoyed most about conducting those? Did you have your pieces completed prior or were they inspired by the contest itself?
Those art shows were all fun to do. I enjoy the sense of community that exists on the Swirl and people’s reactions to seeing what was whipped up. For the first one, there was so much White Stripes inspired imagery pouring out of my mind at the time I had to do something with it. My stuff in that particular show ended up turning into an homage to Rob Jones. I think they each started with just one piece completed for the announcement poster/image and then just working on as many as I could until deadline. There weren’t many participants in the White Stripes one or the Dead Weather one as it got closer to time, so it became even more of a mission to fill up the show as much as possible. Your “House of Bones” is the highlight of that Dead Weather show by the way.
Nicholas dares to answer The Official Five Wax O’s Gotta Know Questions
1) First vinyl memory
I was in college and the music department had a ton of old records sitting in a box for free. I looked through them sparingly and didn’t care at all. Some of the art kids painted on them.
2) What is an album you regularly spin for your own enjoyment?
My collection is quite small but I regularly spin “Siamese Dream” by The Smashing Pumpkins.
3) What was the last album you added to your collection?
Been buying a lot of 7”s lately but the last album I added was “Don’t Throw Me Away” by The Mumlers.
4) What was your favorite album or new artist from last year?
2013 was a great year. I’d have to say Lees of Memory is my favorite new artist and my favorite album was Hanni El Khatib’s “Head in the Dirt”.
5) What artists are you looking forward to hearing more of this coming year?
The Capones, Tennessee Jet, Ferocious Few, White Buffalo Woman, Three Cent Queen, The Ill Itches, Joel Monroe, Smashing Pumpkins, Hanni El Khatib, The Dead Weather, Lees of Memory, Turbo Fruits, Karen O, Bosnian Rainbows, Willy Moon, KT Tunstall, La Luz, Will Sprott, Brother O Brother
Again, thanks so much to Nicholas for taking the time to participate in this, our first ever 'Featured Artist' Spotlight! We Wax-O-Holics really appreciate all of his great work and look forward to seeing what his creative future has in store.