“If I have attempted to do anything fresh as a landscape painter it is that experience of stopping to look at what can be just around us if we take the time to see it. Most of the images I have painted are from fairly mundane and innocent locations that are often overlooked but exist right around us.”
(American, b. 1942)
William Nichols was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1942. He spent parts of his youth in upper Wisconsin hiking, fishing and exploring, memories of which continue to inform his work. He studied at the University of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (BFA, 1966), before earning an MFA from the University of Illinois, Urbana in 1968, and a Fulbright Hayes Grant later facilitated his postgraduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Art in London in 1968–69.
In the early 1970s, Nichols re-conceived his work from scratch, turning to the landscape, and experimented with painting from nature, in the en-plein-air method. He sees the landscape for its potential as both a conveyor of visual beauty and a messenger of meaningful experience. Nichols work aims to reinterpret the landscape genre by immersing the viewer in the beauty and density of nature close-up. When explaining how his method conveys this sense of intensity, he describes “I thought that through the increased scale of the canvas and treating the surface almost as a watercolor, I might be able to get closer to that sensation. Also, I felt that by developing the surfaces with more gestural brushstrokes, I could mirror the organic nature of the subject itself”.
In order to prepare for a painting Nichols often takes hundreds of photographs and visits a location numerous times to both understand it’s special qualities and to study the visual architecture necessary to reflect it. When discussing his process, Nichols reflects that, “since viewing art is often like reading a book, from left to right, did I want the viewer to be walking into the shadows or out of them? This small decision could create a change in the experience of the subject and its meaning”.
Curator John Arthur emphasizes Nichols’s framing of the landscape with close, screen-like, enveloping views that often lack contextual clues such as horizon, and merely hint at the expanses beyond with light penetrating dense enclosures of thicket and foliage. Nichols’s style bridges seemingly contradictory movements such as Realism and Photorealism with the painterly traditions of Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism; as a result, art historians and critics sometimes create labels for his work such as “Painterly Realism,” “Photo-Impressionism,” or “Gestural Photorealism.”
Nichols work can be found in the collections of many institutions, including the Milwaukee Art Museum, Butler Institute of American Art, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Haggerty Museum, Erie Art Museum, Museum of New Art, Rahr West Art Museum, and the collection at Stanford University. His work has been included in several major group exhibitions, as well as numerous solo shows. Nichols currently lives and works in Chicago, where he continues to produce intricate and immersive landscapes.