The art of A K Nicholas is an unapologetic celebration of the female nude. It invites the viewer to explore a dreamlike world full of beauty and passion. The camera is merely a starting point on this visual journey to unknown destinations. His fantasy compositions draw upon disparate influences from French modernism nude paintings to more contemporary pinup art, mixed with elements of theatricality and performance. This unorthodox aesthetic blends sensual imagery with a painterly style of manipulated colours.
A K Nicholas’ view of beauty is not overshadowed by eroticism nor is it obligated to modesty, so it’s not for the timid. By design, these images appeal to select collectors; viewers who engage emotionally and intellectually, seeking inspiration rather than being told what to think.
Exclusive interview with A K Nicholas
What made you decide to focus solely on the female form?
When I was learning photography, I photographed females, males, myself, places, objects and a few landscapes. I also painted as much as I worked with a camera. When I was a sophomore, I was approached by a gallery who wanted to show my work, but they wouldn’t show anything but my images of women. Accustomed to placating the praise of the college environment, I was offended. After graduating, images of the female form continued to be the only thing that sold; it took two or three years before reality sunk in.
On your website it says “The camera is no more than a starting point on this journey toward undetermined destinations”, does this mean you go into a photo shoot not knowing what you want the outcome to be? Or do you a have a faint idea that grows and morphs into something new?
I have more than a faint idea. I know who the subject will be and where it will take place. That stacks the deck in my favour. From there, I want to explore. I like the subject to be genuinely curious about where we are and how she is positioning her body. For many photographers, the outcome is a documentary each time they click the shutter. I’d be proud if I could make compelling images straight out of the camera that way. To me, a photo shoot is when I gather raw materials. It may be years before I have enough to finish a particular piece.
Some of my compositions are obvious montages. But I approach every piece the same way as I would a painting: What color do I want her hair to be? Which direction do I want the right hand to be pointing? If I don’t have the right components, I look for them in previous shoots or wait until some future shoot.
When I look at other people’s work, say a painting in a gallery, it can be obvious that some awkward detail is there just by chance. They took a photo, it was okay but not great, and copied it into paint, flaws and all. I think we need to do more, even as photographers, not to settle for less than we can produce.
How did you create this alternate reality that your artworks depict and live in? Was it always a desire you wanted for your work or has it evolved into what it is today spontaneously?
The best answer is, “I don’t know.” My first daydreams that I turned into art were crude schematic drawings of rocket ships. I did this probably from the age of five to eleven. I would try to draw science fiction inventions in the vein of Leonardo da Vinci. But other than that, I hated art when I was a kid because my mother would make the family spend hours or days in museums while on vacation.
That changed with a surrealism art history class in high school.
“Engaging the viewer emotionally or intellectually, art should inspire our thoughts, rather than tell us what to think” What thoughts do you wish to inspire in the viewer?
None. I don’t anticipate what the viewer will think; on occasions where I tried to, the artwork ended up being a disaster. I can’t illustrate concrete ideas. The images are explorations. I don’t know what the destination is; that is determined by each viewer.
Why did you choose photography as your medium when you had been formally trained in painting and drawing?
As I touched on earlier, it occurred to me that I don’t do those things very well. I’m technically competent at getting oil paint to stick to canvas, and I still paint and draw using my photos as a reference. But it’s just a mental exercise to analyze my composition. The resulting product falls short of my standards. I’d say I’m satisfied with about 10 percent of my photography and a percent of my paintings and drawings as something I would put on my own walls. So I stick to what I can do.
Would you consider your art education as a crucial part of where your art practice is today? Or do you think that you could have achieved the same things without the formal education?
I have no basis to know for sure, but I’ll make a wild guess. If I hadn’t grown up with a parent who was an artist and if I didn’t have an art degree, I wouldn’t be the same person. I’m passionate about making art. That drove me to get a formal education, not the other way around. Many things added up over my whole life, not just building technical skills and a work ethic, but also a vision that I suppose led me to be passionate about making art.
I can’t stop making art. It’s not a choice for me.
What projects are you working on currently? What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I’m printing a series of photo books that should be available by the end of the year. For example, I am working on a square format photo book, which, in addition to digital images, includes a Hasselblad black and white film shot and maybe a Polaroid if I can achieve the one I want.
Next year, I’ll be traveling for shoots, mostly in the United States. I have been compiling a list of places I want to shoot. Some are scenic, like in the desert Southwest; others are abandoned places or other curiosities that are visually interesting in unintended ways.