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In the Studio: Nick Alm

by Allison Malafronte

 Nick Alm in his Stockholm, Sweden studioNick Alm has made a name for himself painting remarkably engaging multi-figure scenes, the café and subway variety of which have garnered him particular praise of late. This multi-faceted artist who currently maintains a studio in Stockholm, Sweden, is a Florence Academy of Art graduate who also studied with Odd Nerdrum in Norway and France. He is one of many contemporary realists who has taken his classical training and melded it with his own inventiveness, imagination, and design-centric sensibilities to create a distinct style. As the images shown here attest, the artist specializes in creating compelling compositions with harmonious color schemes that capture viewers’ attention and curiosity, regardless of whether he is working in oil or watercolor. Cleary enamored with enchanting and dramatic social interactions, Alm’s café and bar paintings are reminiscent of Golden Age of Illustration imagery, while his single-subject figures and portraits pay homage to several of his Old Master influences. In this Q+A, the artist talks a bit about some of the motivation and inspiration behind those paintings. 

Sleeping Blonde, 2020, oil on canvas, 25 ½ x 41 in.  Artwork available.

AM: Let's start with your training. I know that you studied at The Florence Academy of Art, as well as with Odd Nerdrum. Can you summarize the aspects of those training programs that are still serving you in your work today? 

NA: Painting from life was stressed in both places, and I think this was the most important aspect. Odd Nerdrum did not have an official training program at that time. You were free to work in any manner. I skipped transfer drawings in school, and I often skip sight-size as well. I have very seldom worked in sight-size since I left school, although I think it's a good method when it's applicable.

Champagne Breakfast, 2015, oil on canvas, 37 x 31 ½  in. Private collection.

AM: At what point after your formal training did you give yourself permission to start working from sources other than strictly from life (for instance reference photos and imagination?) Why was that important to you?

Lan (charcoal drawing), 2019, charcoal, dimensions forthcoming, Private collection.

NA: It was gradual. It was troublesome to always be dependent on life models. I didn't feel that it was necessary to always work from life since I often deviate quite a bit from nature. Working with photos and imagination reduces a lot of that stress, but it has its pros and cons, since stress has the benefit of making you more efficient.

AM: On that subject, let’s talk about design in painting. Are you of the mindset that artists should be able to embellish, exaggerate, and add/remove aspects of what they see in front of them in order to create a more aesthetically pleasing effect or to evoke a specific mood or emotion?

NA: Absolutely, otherwise you´re not much of an artist. It's those decisions that make it interesting.

AM: Let’s take your Yellow Bedroom painting as an example. The pale yellow, white, and gray colors of the interior all give the sense of airiness and lightness and serenity. But the colors of the focal-point figure laying down are much darker/in shadow and seem to suggest she is dealing with sadness, depression, or unrest. Did you purposefully set up that contrast in color between the interior and the central figure? Or were the colors painted exactly as they appeared in real life?

NA: The colors are invented to a high degree, and I also changed other aspects of the scene. But the darkness of the figure has mostly to do with the light situation and her skin type.

Yellow Bedroom, 2019, oil on canvas, oil on canvas, 35 x 35 in. Private collection.

AM: Where in Sweden is your studio currently located, and how long have you’ve been working there? What is the art community like in that region, and are they receptive to traditional realist art or more modern styles?

NA: It's close to the center of Stockholm. I've only been there since March of this year. The contemporary art scene around here is heavily tilted toward modern styles. All schools seem to be pretty like-minded. Figurative painting seems to be attracting more and more attention though.

Sevilla, 2019, watercolor on paper, 21 ¼  x 29 in. Artwork available.

AM: In addition to your oil paintings, you also work in watercolor. What aspects of using watercolor on paper do you find more appropriate or appealing for painting certain subject matter than using oil on canvas? 

NA: Watercolor is well-suited for small paintings with fine details, but not so much for the deep darks. The texture is the crown of the medium, both in terms of time efficiency and the aesthetic quality. Another advantage of watercolor is that a section can easily be painted in several short sessions with a unified result, unlike a wet-in-wet oil technique.

Café Scene, 2018, oil on canvas, 47 x 43 in. Private collection.

Bar Scene, 2015, oil on canvas, 47 x 29 ½  in. Private collection.

AM: The series of café and bar paintings you did a few years ago have become very popular. In these paintings and some of the other multi-figure work you create, there’s often this sense of a secrecy, mystery, and hidden drama. Where did the idea or inspiration for exploring these types of interpersonal dramas originate? 

NA: It's naturally the next step from single-figure work, and apart from being a social animal, another important reason for going multi-figurative are the creative possibilities. More figures mean more design elements. 

AM: How did you learn to paint multi-figure scenes? What were the tools that best taught you how to coordinate and harmonize all of the subjects?

NA: I learned that foremost by studying masterworks and the laws of nature. Analyzing paintings on all levels will guide you in what to do and what to avoid. You need to keep all elements in the same color family to achieve a convincing result, and to get there you need to practice painting and sensitize your eyes. 

Subway Geisha, 2019, oil on canvas, 31 ½  x 33 ½  in. Artwork available.

AM: Who are some of the artists or influences of the past that you look to for inspiration? What contemporary artists (even in other genres or media) inspire you?

NA: Rembrandt, Zorn, Sargent, Degas, Bonnard, Wyeth, Nerdrum, and so many others.

AM: What does the rest of 2020 look like for you in terms of shows, events, or creative plans? Are any of your events moving online or being rescheduled for later dates? 

NA: I might have a workshop at the end of the year. Everything else has been rescheduled. I'll continue to paint like normal. 

 Winter, 2018, watercolor, 26 ¾  x 41 in. Collection New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art (New Salem, MA).