Photos by Ali Hibbs / Spotlight News
DELMAR—When Delmar resident Pam Skripak walked into a pop-up art exhibit in Tupper Lake with her mother last year, she didn’t expect to encounter the expansive, textured and colorful abstract paintings of Michael Nighswonger, the artist currently showing his work at 343 Delaware Ave. in Delmar.
“It was Tupper Lake,” she said, standing amid paintings on the ground floor of the space at the former TD Bank. “We were expecting tame landscape paintings. But nothing like this. I just loved it.”
Skripak asked Nighswonger what he was doing hidden away in the Adirondacks. According to the artist, he had moved to Tupper Lake to escape a career that was beginning to feel inauthentic.
From Hollywood, Nighswonger began his artistic career as an independent filmmaker in the early days of reality television. He and a partner undertook to drive across the country to get footage for a reality series depicting the lives and struggles of real Americans, push-back against a nascent genre he saw becoming riddled with the sensationalism of man’s worst impulses. Unfortunately, a falling out with his partner forced him to rethink his path when he found himself stranded on the east coast with no money or footage just before the turn of the century.
Stuck in Fayetteville, NC, near Fort Bragg, Nighswonger was initially unwilling to give up his vision. It was at a party, while he was talking about the series he wanted to get back to L.A. to make, that a friend asked if he had ever tried painting. Nighswonger said no and, two days later, the same friend showed up with a box of Rembrandt chalks.
“He saw something,” Nighswonger said. “He told me two things: ‘Look at something the way you see it, and then take that box of chalks and pick a color that speaks to you. And I knew what that meant.” A few days later, while listening to Vivaldi, he said, he was moved by a bottle of wine and the color cobalt blue. “It was like, ‘Hello!’ For the next few weeks, I drew everything I could get my hands on.”
After attending a rave in the area, where he drew on the walls of the venue, Nighswonger began to do live art at electronic music events and, eventually, was making art on stage during live band performances. “It got wild,” he said. “But something just wasn’t right. And I wanted to pay attention to that because I was really just beginning to trust the process.”
He abruptly left the scene one night after seeing his face on a poster made it all too real. “I called my buddy in Tupper and said I gotta get out of here. I knew I had something here, but I had to learn what the hell I was doing.”
After three years, Nighswonger moved back to North Carolina to pursue his craft and met with some commercial success. Then, after two large commissions were abruptly rescinded, he returned to the Adirondacks determined to do things his way. He got a job, built a studio and began to create.
And that’s where Skripak found him. Wanting to help him promote his work, she invited him to come down to the Capital District, where she has helped him find spaces to show his art. She said that when she saw the For Rent sign on the old TD Bank, she knew it would be perfect.
The show, which is free and open to the public, will run through Sunday, March 25, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. While Nighswonger will be on hand to talk with visitors every day, special artist talks are scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. on Monday, March 19, and at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21. Children’s art activities, such as a color scavenger hunt, have been planned as well, according to Skripak.
“My relationship with the piece really begins with stretching the canvas,” Nighswonger said of his process. “Because then I’ve created space and now it’s real, now it’s in the world. After that, it’s really more of a surrender. And a commitment.”
The artist generally doesn’t know what he’s setting out to do when he’s setting out to do it. “You just know when it feels right,” he said, comparing painting to being in a relationship. “It’s really a very passionate relationship. At times it’s beautiful and at other times you fight. But that’s also where you make it real.”
For additional information, call: (518) 577-6068.