Stories from the Inside

Painting 2

Interview with Nick Ballesteros, MFA 2016

At the close of three successful MFA thesis exhibitions at Gallery 400, we highlight the work of graduating MFAs by looking more closely at their individual practices. Nick Ballesteros earned a bachelors degree in art from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. He has shown previously at NYCAMS gallery in New York and at Coffman gallery in Minneapolis. While his past work has utilized appropriated media to form collages, drawings, and videos, his more recent work takes a new direction. Having taught himself to paint through a digitally mediated paint-by-numbers technique, Ballesteros utilizes a conceptually driven painting practice to explore the depths of domesticity and romantic relationships.

You are setting up an interesting dynamic between photography and painting in your work. What is it about painting that makes it the appropriate media to make these kinds of images?

The paintings are informed by the photographs, and the photographs are informed by the fact that they could become paintings. In this way, both mediums lean on one another in a mutual dependence. But in the last instance, I am a painter. Painting allows me to do something that I could not do if I were to simply enlarge the photographs. There's a slowing down in painting that's not possible with photography. And this translates into the finished product.

Painting 1 Nicholas Ballesteros, The Makeup, 2016, oil on linen, 64 x 44 in.

Your subject matter is quite intimate to you, but your painting method is more mechanical. What is the relationship between how you paint and what you paint?

There are instances of personal warmth in the technique; it's not just a mechanical coldness. That's my simple answer. For a longer answer, I can give as an example modern art. Artists were always producing new aesthetic restrictions and taboos. Artists, for no readily accessible reason, were constantly introducing self-imposed limitations. You had artists only doing abstraction or only doing ready-mades or only using words. I only make certain images and I only paint a certain way because drawing upon restrictions or limitations produces generative results.

At the level of form, love is kind of the same. It is highly selective. You have just this one person who is everything to you. You pour all this emotional devotion and attachment and meaning into this one person, and you don't sway in your commitment.

Studio 2 Nick in his studio in Art & Exhibition Hall at UIC.

What was the most valuable thing you learned while at UIC?

I learned to surround myself with intelligent people. The faculty and the debates and discussions that would transpire at critiques teach you to listen. Dan Peterman referred to the program as a "pressure cooker."

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What is next for you and your art practice?

I just started painting. I have to keep making paintings! There are a lot of resources to tap into in Chicago to help me realize my passions.