This is the second installment of my new project, Fellow Artists. I met Nick about two years ago and was immediately taken by his enthusiasm for anything to do with artmaking. A son of Washington Heights, I knew his Q&A would turnout as colorful and fascinating as the depths of the world he invites you visit in his work.
What was Nick’s Washington Heights Like?
Growing up on a dead end street atop the stairs on Pinehurst back in the 70’s was both wonderful and treacherous. As a kid all I wanted was to be outside either exploring the streets or in Bennett or Fort Tryon Park. My family was a small tribe of Cypriots living in and around the same building, my cousins all going to the Greek School St. Spyridon, back when teachers were allowed to hit you. I enjoyed playing curb ball, stick ball, box ball and whatever we came up with using those wonderful little pink Spaldeens.
I loved making Super 8 movies with my cousins the first one was called The Hit Team. I played a kid who stumbled across the killers and gets kidnapped. Later on I get tossed out a window. I made the dummy, it was the first prop I ever made. Last week I made a prop soap dish for the movie “Irreplaceable You” with Christopher Walken and Kate.
Were you aware of Taki 183 growing up?
Yes, that’s a familiar tag from a time long ago. It was all over the place back then.
Who in particular was crucial in exposing you to your interest/love of marine life and imagery?
This one’s easy, my parents. Our summer vacations out in Montauk drifting among the sea life. Snorkeling or holding my breath for as long as I can letting the water take me where it wanted, becoming a place for small fish to seek shelter all of us pretending to be one larger fish. It’s my happy place.
Who are the paper people?
They are anyone, they are us. Because of their simple shape they take on the characters of who is playing or looking at them. I started making them when I was Bartending in Soho Circa 2000, out of drink orders I didn’t have to make. My favorite would be to hold up one of the paper people and Fumiko, the dancer and waitresses would strike the pose. My regulars would get a kick out of how many I would make and they loved to play with them, putting them into all different scenarios. Now I make them from scraps of paper I find in my pocket at the end of the day.
What specific cultures have influenced your work?
The tribes of the pacific North West have greatly influenced my work. The idea of combining the strengths of different animals into one totem animal is one of the techniques I’ve ingested from them then I’ve added west African Symbolism to further combine cultures, kind of like our city does.
What never seems to change in an ever changing NYC?
The noise defiantly the noise… and our resilience for all cultures to live together in one city.
Who is “Sloppy” Joe Ramsey?
Sloppy Joe is a character I played in an independent feature called The Deviants. A Film shot a long time ago on 35mm in the era of Clerks. Sloppy Joe was a deviant indeed, The film opens on Sloppy handcuffed to a bed in a brothel being whipped, read Shakespeare and barking like a dog all while making final prep for his wedding. Not a role model but a fun character to play.
Is nostalgia important?
I think nostalgia is an important piece of the whole. When I create I try to be in the now or the present, draw upon the nostalgic past and project into the future in a lucent, liquid state.
What was your worst art exhibit experience ever?
A show in Little Rock Arkansas hands down. Eight paintings stolen, two speeding tickets and had to stand between the door and a Mafia Hit Man who wanted to take care of a couple guys who just disrespected his daughter.
Do you have a daily ritual?
Coffee and create.
What is the role of the artist in today's world?
Artists are Shamen, poets and prophets. Artist through the ages have taken on one of these roles, in our respective tribes, since we’ve been drawing on cave walls.
What are you working on now?
I’ve got two deadlines I’m working on at the moment, April 1st and April 2nd. I’m part of the Sing For Hope Pianos Project, 60 working pianos, painted by 60 artists placed around all of New York’s 5 boroughs. This is my 4th piano for SFH and it’s titled “Octopus Among Us”. The Octopus can form itself into a myriad of shapes and colors. It can become anything like the promise of our city.
Hunter's Point South Park
near Borden Ave and Center Blvd
About the Piano:
I've conceptualized a giant, colorful octopus crawling across the top of the piano with the tentacles exploring and intertwining around the sides and legs of the piano.
Nick's website: http://nickstavrides.com/