The ordinary moments of the everyday generates strangely humorous yet compelling imagery for Torquay artist Nick Morris.
Muscle cars stretched across nature strips, elderly women navigating through shopping centres with their hands clasped to a walking frame, uncomfortable strangers sitting on opposite sides of a park bench – each scene, despite its mundanity, sparks interest for Nick.
But it’s what unites each eccentric image that provides insight into his artistic influences. Nick, 53, said Australian culture continues to be a focal point in his work.
“There’s something about Australian culture that I just can’t get away from, and I’m happy to celebrate that. I think we’re pretty lucky to live in a great country,” Nick said.
Nick, who is best known for his Andy Warhol inspired screen-printed works, said he’s reached a point in his artistic work where he’s ready to break free from familiarity and enter the unknown.
The Patagonia graphic designer has spent the last five years hand painting, a skill he first unearthed when he began drawing at age six. He said art should be an evolution; a process where you’re constantly challenging yourself to do better and be better as a result.
“You can get stuck in a trap. If you do something successful, you kind of just end up painting the same thing over and over, which is the last thing I want to do,” he said.
“Art for me should be an evolution; it should be something, you know, you’re constantly challenging yourself and enjoying the process, not just discovering a style and being trapped in it.”
Having spent the last few years working fulltime after mixing paint in his home studio for over a decade, Nick believes he’s finally landed on a new style.
Determined to claim an Archibald Prize and/or a Doug Moran National Portrait Prize (DMNPP), Nick has made a conscious effort to refine his skills as a hand painter.
“I’ve been searching for a long time, trying to find my truth as a hand painter. You look at other people’s art that you admire and it’s actually quite frustrating. You think, ‘who am I?’,” he said.
“I feel like I know what I’m doing for the first time in four or five years. It’s really difficult as an artist being in the wilderness not really knowing what your next direction is. You feel like a rudderless ship, just floating in the ocean.
“People who have followed me would probably think I’ve gone off the boil, but it’s anything but. I’m working harder than ever.”
Rising at the crack of dawn every morning, Nick meditates before stepping into the studio at about 6am. His most recent portrait is of former Australian police detective Ron Iddles.
During his time with the country’s Homicide Squad, Ron Iddles’ conviction rate was 99 per cent. He’s been hailed as “Australia’s greatest detective”.
Nick, who entered the portrait in this year’s DMNPP, said Ron initially declined his request to paint him. In the end, it was Ron’s wife who convinced him to take part.
The outcome has seen Nick produce his most emotive piece to date. Titled ‘Failure is not an option’, a famous saying of Ron’s, the black and white portrait was created using the grid method: a process used to enlarge an image and create equal ratio on the work surface.
“I felt it (the black and white colour scheme) was really relevant to that painting. Everything to do with crime in the newspaper is always black and white, and even the kind of technical side with the grid; there’s all that crime scene investigation stuff,” said Nick.
“(Ron is) quite an incredible man, and very dedicated.”
Nick has also painted the likes of Helen Garner, Mick Molloy and Red Symons. Although he’s entered a handful of portraits into esteemed prizes over the years, he’s yet to achieve finalist success in the Archibald Prize. He has been a finalist in the DMNPP twice.
Semi-finalists in the DMNPP 2019 will be announced on September 11. The winning portrait will see its maker receive $150,000; a reward that exceeds the figure offered by the Archibald Prize.
Nick is currently working on a self-portrait he plans to enter in this year’s National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.
“I feel like I can finally move forward instead of just fumbling in the dark. I feel like there’s a big tidal wave of creativity coming up.”
For more information about Nick and his art, visit nickmorris.com.au.