Frederick Nitsch

Chicago, USA

philosophy student turned full-time artist

My favorite obscure word is pareidolia.  It refers to the human brain’s tendency to find or attribute visual patterns when presented with random physical stimuli.  The most common examples of this are seeing shapes in clouds and finding a man in the moon.

Frederick – from existential psychoanalysis to art!

I was writing a very long senior thesis about existential psychoanalysis and a friend of mine was worried that I was becoming obsessive. She suggested that I try visual art but I protested that I didn’t know how to draw. She smiled and said that this didn’t matter, that all painting means is learning how to move colors around. So I bought a canvas and some paints and absolutely loved it. Within a few months I was putting up my first show at a local coffee shop.

At what age did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I had known since high school that I wanted to be an artist, but specifically a writer. By college I’d written a lot of poetry and prose and was involved in the Boston literary scene. But I always coveted the kind of immediacy of expression that visual artists were able to share with their audiences. Abstract expressionism had always been my favorite artistic movement, and in college I took courses about the interwar period – surrealist and dadaist art. It was then that the concept of viewer interpretation and the psychology of meaning began to take root in my mind.

What is the earliest artwork you did that you can remember?

When I started painting in 2006, I began by painting abstracted versions of simple motifs: mountains, skyscrapers, a horizon line with a sun somewhere. People who saw these paintings would see what I’d intended them to see – but, to my surprise, they were far more interested in other details of the paintings – more subtle lines and blurred colors that to them suggested something else entirely, complicated images like faces or flowers that I’d not intended to be there. This was interesting to me, and I began to find people’s reactions to my paintings just as enjoyable as making them in the first place. I soon discarded my attempts to intend or suggest anything at all, and embraced the idea of composing entirely abstract images. Curiously, much more meaning would be projected onto these pure abstractions than on my previous attempts at realism.

Which classical or contemporary artists have inspired you?

The first artist to really blow my mind was Turner. I remember my mother taking me to New York City when I was young and showing me his sea and cloud scenes. I was mesmerized by the depth of his blurred colors, by the simultaneous energy and calm of his paintings. A few years later, I found myself alternating between the frenzy of Jackson Pollock and the soothing intensity of Mark Rothko. After I had begun to define my own style, a friend in Germany suggested that my work reminded him of the abstractions of Gerhard Richter, who is now a great influence and inspiration.

How would you describe your artistic style?

I first came across the concept of pareidolia when I was studying philosophy in graduate school. Viewers of my work told me that they ‘saw things’ in my paintings that I had never intended to be there: faces, bodies, mountains, rain. Over time, I began to understand how my blurring technique could be used to suggest, but never define, organic shapes. My paintings were functioning something like colorful Rorschach tests. My goal is to create imaginary spaces whose meanings are defined as much by the viewer as by myself. I want to create beautiful things that connote something personal for my audiences.

When did you first sell an artwork? How did you feel?

I actually sold a painting during that first show at a coffee shop in Boston. When I met the buyer, he told me that he had just gotten married and the painting was going to go in his and his wife’s new living room. This just felt incredibly special to me, that something I had made was going to be part of these people’s new life.

What's your workstyle? Do you work on one piece at a time or work simultaneously on multiple pieces?

I usually start 2 pieces but focus on one piece while doing the background color on the other. I need to finish a piece in one sitting because my technique requires me to work while all the top colors are still wet. So I’ll do one piece while preparing the canvas or panel for the next.

How do you get the inspiration for a new piece?

The inspiration is usually just the colors themselves. I only use the primary colors and occasionally white, so what happens on the canvas is a result of how much color theory went into its creation. Recently, I’ve been working on a series in which each new painting is inspired by a detail of the last; if something cool happens in the corner of one painting, then I’ll explore those colors by making that juxtaposition/blurring the focal point of my next piece.

Tell us a bit about your personal life ...

I grew up in a suburb of New York City before going to college in Boston. I moved to Chicago to pursue a PhD in philosophy, and left that program after four years to focus on my art. I just realized that I’d rather express myself visually than verbally. Aside from art, I’m also studying acting and have been performing in small shows for the past year or so. I live on the far north side of the city with two friends and two cats.

I want to create imaginary spaces whose meanings are defined just as much by the viewer as by me; I want to know what people see when they look at my paintings.

A few pieces from Frederick’s gallery

Everything Was Once Born

The Sound of Them Walking

Why they love Frederick’s art

Javier, Brussels, Belgium

“You can gaze at Frederick’s art for a while.  It generates many different interpretations…You keep looking back at the painting in a whole new way.”

Marianna, California

“I have three of Fred’s paintings in my living room.  They are somehow bright in the morning and brooding at night.  And the fact that they look so textured while actually being smooth to the touch…it’s just really beautiful.”

More about Frederick

Shows & Exhibitions

Morpho Gallery, Chicago.

11th annual emerging artist Exhibition. Feb 26th-Mar 12th.