What some may see as discarded, unusable items, Prince Rupert’s Nicholas Thomas John sees as a blank canvas to showcase his creativity.
And now one of his pieces will be showcased on the global scale as the only Canadian finalist among 92 artists from 21 countries at the Stencil Art Prize Exhibition in Sydney, Australia from Oct. 16-30.
Nicholas, who works as a graphic designer at Stuck On Designs after studying Graphic Design at the St. Clair Centre for the Arts in Windsor, Ontario, discovered his passion for art at a young age.
“I used to do more drawings and paintings, but I have always done stencils. They used to be more along the lines of what I would use to make T-shirts in college and high school to sell to my friends, so they were more crude, more simple. Then I started doing silk screening and saw the relationship between the two, so I started adding more and more layers,” he said.
“It has developed even more since I moved here and I have created a studio where I can mess around with my spray paint to add more and more layers and more and more details as the work progresses.”
Along with creating a studio, Nicholas has found a new muse of sorts in the pristine environment of the North Coast, an environment which “coexists with an increasingly urban and industrial landscape”. Regardless of the creation, Nicholas said the process is consistent.
“Either I work from a drawing I have made or I work from a photograph. Pretty much what I do is rip it apart on the computer and put it together like a puzzle — it will be ripped apart into its base components and colours, usually from lightest to darkest, and then they go on top of each other. I then print them out on big sheets with alignment points and once they are all cut out, which is usually the longest part, I can bring them to my studio and make the painting,” he said, noting all the work is done in spraypaint.
“I have a studio in the backyard and the place I live in is covered in art.”
For the most part, Nicholas’ work was done for personal meditation, but that changed when he entered the Ridley Terminal North Coast Art Initiative last year.
“I got in, so that told me someone likes what I am doing. So since last December I have entered five competitions and figured out through online research where I can display my art and which competitions I fit into,” he explained.
It was in that research that Nicholas found the Stencil Art Prize competition. The artist submitted three different pieces to organizers and admits his Sidewalk Closed piece was not the one he was expecting to be highlighted.
“I had shown them two pieces I was really proud of and thought were really good and I didn’t want to show them a third of the same, so I wanted to give them something that was quite a bit different and they ended up picking that one,” he recalls, noting the canvas used came from simply walking around town.
“I found that sign just walking home from work one day. It was literally buried under some dirt and covered in rust. It was just a found object and I started painting on it, but wasn’t thinking much of it at all. I actually submitted three pieces to the competition I got into and that one was my wild card.”
With his artwork selected to be one of those displayed at what is recognized as the largest stencil event in the world, Nicholas is now focused on making his way to Australia for the opening of the show. To that end, he will be hosting his first showing this weekend from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at his residence at 250 Alberta Place.
“Ultimately I want to go to the exhibit and this is a way to help with that goal,” he said.
– With files from Kevin Campbell