Nicolás De Caro on creative routine, large-scale painting, and how the new year may bring colour to his traditionally monochromatic practice
Painted onto curtains, drawn onto rows of paper, and adorning huge hanging sheets of fabric, the work of Nicolás De Caro is dazzlingly large scale. His artworks fill the walls of his workshop/home in Floresta, where he works with painting, drawing and printing to investigate and break down shapes. With such big artworks, often constructed on soft fabrics, you’d think it would be hard to produce uniformity and sharp lines. But Nicolás blends digital and analogue painting processes to do just that, creating clean shapes that capture the energy of drawing by hand.
“I like to think of my style as handmade stamps,” Nicolás told Evermade in a recent chat. “Although in my workshop I have an engraving press and sometimes I work in screen printing, it would be very difficult to create large sized stamps working just by myself. This is why painting in this format allows me to explore dimensions that would be more difficult using other techniques.”
If you dive into Nicolás’ work online – an exercise we’d recommend (!) – you’d find these “handmade stamps” are typically painted in black and white and usually engage with shapes from nature. Plants often appear, their organic lines providing the perfect inspiration to fill Nicolás’ large canvases.
When the team at Evermade first reached out to Nicolás about a print collection, we were so excited to see what shape-based investigations he would come up with - and how they would translate to our smaller scale printer. Transforming two symbols of nature – corals and flowers – into new shapes, Nicolás bowled us over with his response. Below we ask the artist to tell us more about the series and his career so far.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and the story of your practice.
Since I have memory I have creative and artistic concerns. As an adolescent I always carried a notebook where I wrote and also drew. As time went by those notebooks transformed into sheets and papers and today I can say that format got bigger and it's the width of fabric that gives me a size limit. I studied a bit of graphic design but dropped it knowing I wasn't interested in working in that, and started studying photography. After that, by necessity, I started working as graphic designer in a magazine and I also learned that I wasn't interested in working as a photographer either, since photography, to me, transformed into a way of telling something very personal.
Years went by and, my head being a mess, I decided to start a new career in University of Arts. This pushed me to start setting up a workshop at home and gain constancy in the work of drawing and finally find something that I like and help me get out of bed everyday.
I think basically that's the story of how I got transformed into what I am today.
What mediums do you work in, and which do you feel gives you the most creative freedom?
Although my work is usually done on fabric, the first shapes start appearing on paper draws, and then there's some computer work that allows me to visualize how the final piece will look like, allowing me to correct lines, distances, spaces, and accommodate the different elements within the space. Also sometimes I just unroll the fabric and start drawing with only a slight idea of what I want to do, letting intuition and the hand be what starts forming the image. Perhaps this is the way I feel more comfortable, but in which I work the least because I want to control it all.
I love the blend of directness and personality in your lines. How would you describe your style?
I like to think of my style as handmade stamps. Although in my workshop I have an engraving press and sometimes I work in screen printing, it would be very difficult to create large sized stamps working just by myself. This is why painting this format allows me to explore dimensions that would be more difficult using other techniques.
You're also a great portrait artist. What do you like about portraiture?
What I like about the portrait is to resolve it with as few elements as possible, and if in the end the draw reminds of the portraited person, much better. I don't think it's a problem to me that the portraited person and the drawing don't look alike (although portraited always want to feel identified with the drawing, haha). With practice and time I understood that all the portraits I made were for me, for my collection, and although many of the portraits don't look alike, I know by the details of the drawing who they belong to.
Symbols of nature seem to emerge frequently in your work. Is this a source of inspiration for you? If not, what is?
Of course they are an inspiration to me! Of nature elements I like to find simplicity and start deforming it. Many works start having a strong reference of a particular plant, but in the process many times that figure starts deforming until its transformed into a new shape, where it's no longer important to me that the images resembles any shape in particular, but the force of the work is given by the new shape that appeared in the canvas.
What’s a typical day in your creative career in Floresta like?
For starters, I'd like to say that it's really difficult for me to separate my creative time (or work time) from my leisure in my home/workshop. Just as sometimes I need to have the whole workshop in order to start working, I need the house to be in the same way.
Usually my day starts with a good coffee and a to do list for the day (first item is always "coffee/shower" since I need to start the day with the first item of the list crossed). This list goes from groceries to picking up clothes from laundry, or painting X amount of works. Once the list is ready, I try to get rid of all housekeeping tasks, so I can have all day for focusing in the workshop. Once I'm in there I first get rid of responsibilities, pieces I have to deliver, works I have to iron or sew, etc. And after that, which is usually when the night begins, the most fun remains: painting for pleasure, drawing in papers, exploring new shapes, textures and seeing how projects progress, although sometimes they remain suspended indefinitely. I think I'm pretty methodic when it comes to work, and that works for me.
What have you been listening to lately?
Since I spend a lot of time at home and the workshop, I'm always listening to a lot of music and of all kinds. What cannot be missing at some time of the day are Boleros: my romantic side has to appear a little. But lately I've been listening to tropical rhythms more than anything, which arose from wanting to investigate the old Peruvian orchestras music (my mother is Peruvian and there's always something with my roots that I have to investigate one way or another), and one thing led to another. This playlist is what resumes that in some way:
What draws you to work largely in black and white?
BnW appeared for different reasons. First, I come from drawing: always line on the plane, and when moving to the canvas I wasn't interested in the search for the color. What I always say is that my work is about research about shapes, and for now I think I'm still in that research process, but I don't rule out that soon the "color" element will start appearing in my work.
Second is that the universe of images I have in my head when working comes from the world of graphics, printing, screen printing, photocopying, from DIY with few resources, and I like that is something my work keeps although it has evolved.
Let’s talk about your new prints with us! What was your process and thinking for these works and what did you enjoy about it?
What I like about this series is that it brings together different moments of my career, different researches that emerged from different concerns. The "Corals" were born working for an exhibition I was preparing at a friend's house, where she lent me her apartment and prepared different works that were accommodated in all the spaces of the house. Tapestries on the sofa, rugs and even a shower curtain. The flowers arise from a more simplistic investigation: how much I could deform the typical drawing of a flower, and what new forms could appear. The first part of the investigation arises from drawings in canvas straps and the second, which is the one I'm currently working on, it's drawings I do in my phone and then continue deforming in my computer: stretching, multiplying to generate new shapes that reflect on the fabric. It seems to me a good summary so that a new audience can come to see my work.
Where do you hope your practice will take you this year?
I have many pending projects, so I want 2022 to start to renew energies and gain strength. I'm starting to work in some sort of patchwork, which allows me to generate pieces even bigger than the ones I've been working on. And of course that it's always an idea for the color to start appearing, but we'll see what surprises this year brings.
Check out more of Nicolás work and upcoming projects on his Instagram here.