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Culture » Culture Features

Street Pop Maestro

An artist profile of Matthew Nicolau



Matthew Nicolau has a brilliance only an unpredictable life can produce. His work in multimedia confounds the armchair art critic because there is so much to gain from it. There are so many layers to each piece that they become impossible to unpack on the first few viewings.

"For me, making art is not an intellectualized venture," Nicolau writes in his artist statement. "Making art is a frontier of playful aesthetics and wild dreaming...I start down the path of a particular piece with an idea of where I want to go, but no clue what I will find when I finally get there. During the process, I discover the colors, the shapes, the character, and the content that tells my story, while at the same time taking me on an uncertain adventure."

He defines his work as contemporary street pop, as if any easy categorization will suffice: "While it's easy to look at my work and try to simply categorize it as pop art, there is also an undeniable influence from the graffiti and street art movements. I loathe calling myself a pop artist and I can't say that I'm a street artist either because I'm not working in the streets."

Nicolau grew up in Fresno, California, "in what people and pop culture euphemistically refer to as the 'ghetto.' My mother was mentally ill and not very present and I had never met my father," he explains. "I grew up pretty much doing the things that kids do to survive in those kind of violent unstable environments. School of hard knocks."

He relocated to Bend when he was 19, reinventing himself instantly. After enrolling

at Central Oregon Community College in forestry and finding it wasn't for him, he dove into the photography program until he realized that Bend wasn't big enough for him and sought new adventures. Getting accepted to NYU started him on that path. When waiting tables wasn't enough to keep him enrolled in school, he took a job at an art gallery in SoHo called The Time is Always Now, which was dedicated floor-to-ceiling to the work of Peter Beard.

"A year later they made me the manager of the entire archive, estimated to have about 2.5 million Peter Beard negatives, hundreds of prints, and other rare stuff. I regularly handled original Salvador Dali drawings, original Warhol creations, Francis Bacon paintings, Peter's many photos of all these artists, as well as Picasso and Karen Blixen and Rolling Stones and on and on and on," Nicolau recalls. "Another year later I was still managing the archive, but also doing sales upstairs. I made $1,500 a day in commission sometimes...The gallery atmosphere was cocaine and naked super models; celebrities that were star-struck to meet Peter Beard. Unreal glamour and page 6 gossip in the New York Post."

Eventually, he became first assistant to Peter Beard, learning a lot about being an artist in the process.

"During that time I started messing around with mixed-media stuff," he says. "Rocks, bones, driftwood, any images that resonated, but I was just making art for myself."

After graduating, he started taking acting classes at the legendary Stella Adler Studio. After studying for a few years and getting some work, it still wasn't the challenge he was looking for. After making a documentary about finding his birth father in Iran, moving to Los Angeles to become an actor, and becoming disillusioned with the whole thing, Nicolau remembered his initial love of mixed-media collages and constructions. After many more adventures (the entirety of which will be available to read on, he found himself back in Bend with his first solo show ever coming up.

"What I'm doing now with each piece is trying to tell the story of America that I witness. I've been through many of the same things as any other American who has had to work and survive and keep believing," he says. "I've had bankruptcy, lost houses, lost businesses, sacrificed the good times with friends and family members for the future that may or may not ever give those moments back to me again. I've had huge successes and devastating failures. I've had a marriage and children and a past that isn't always happy to recall."

Still, he doesn't regret the past and recognizes it all made him who he is now.

"I've had the greatest times of my life chasing my American dream and sometimes it was wonderful and sometimes it was horrific and it is what it is," Nicolau explains. "Every medium I tried. Every creative project I undertook made it possible for me to arrive where I'm at today. All I want now is to do the work I know I am meant to do and the work I inadvertently and unbeknownst to me was already giving everything for anyway. Hopefully, I never have to start over again...unless that's what it takes to keep the dream alive."

Solo art show for Matthew Nicolau

5-9pm, Friday, October 2

Astir Agency, in the historic O'Kane Building

115 NW Oregon Ave. Suite 30


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