A Closer Look: TM Nicholas
As part of the exhibition “Backgrounds & Foregrounds” Quidley & Company is pleased to present an online catalog, which explores the artistic backgrounds of these outstanding New England landscape painters. For this show, the blog will host three separate posts in the ‘A Closer Look’ series, one on each artist William Davis, William Duffy, and TM Nicholas.
Learn about how TM Nicholas grew out of his father’s shadow to become the foremost painter of the Cape Ann School tradition.
TM Nicholas has been immersed in the art culture of Cape Ann since birth. He has studied with many of the areas most renowned painters, including his father Tom Nicholas, a National Academician. Now, TM is considered the finest painter of his generation representing the Cape Ann School and its 150 year tradition stretching from Fitz Henry Lane, to Winslow Homer, to Charles Gruppe and now to TM Nicholas. Following this continuum, his painterly style captures New England in magnificent color and rich textures.
In many ways, TM has great expectations to live up to, following his father, and carrying on the Cape Ann tradition, however, he doesn’t seem overly concerned with any of it. In this lies the key to his success. TM paints because he loves the process, he loves the exploration, the challenge and the discovery that comes with painting plein air, responding to nature and light. T.M.’s humility and passion for painting are as important to his success as his artistic roots or his immersion in a historical hot-bed of American painting.
Some of the well known painters who’s styles helped define the look of the Cape Ann School; Frederick Mulhaupt, Edward Potthast, Max Kuehne, Harry Vincent, Charles Hayley Lever, and more recently; Tom Nicholas, Anthony Thieme, Don Mosher, John Terelak, Paul Strisik, Emile and Robert Gruppe.
The North Shore has been home to, and a destination for many of America’s most important painters. Although there is a general style to the Cape Ann School, a variety of styles and ideas were brought to Cape Ann over the years, this is an important part of the area’s diverse artistic make up. Fitz Henry Lane (Luminist), Francis Silva (Hudson River School), Winslow Homer (American Realism), John Sloan (Ash Can School), Cecilia Beaux (high society portraitist), Frank Duveneck (dark, painterly Realism), Child Hassam and Guy Wiggins (American Impressionists), Edward Hopper, Stuart Davis and Marsden Hartley (early Modernism),Milton Avery (color field Abstraction), Mark Rothko (Abstract Expressionism).
Nicholas literally grew up knowing the area’s top painters as family friends. He absorbed knowledge of the market, art history, painting techniques, and philosophies as he grew up in ‘the family business’. TM always liked to draw from a very early age. By age 20 he was teaching and painting regularly on the side. TM went on to study painting at the Montserrat School of Art and John Terelak’s Gloucester Academy of Art. His work initially followed the look and feel of his father’s. TM is pleased to tell you that to this day his father is his biggest inspiration. As he developed, his work began to take shape as we know it today. He attributes the initial stylistic break to his interest in form, whereas he says his father is more concerned with texture.
TM would go on painting trips with his father out to California, studying and working beside well known California plein air artists Donald Teague, Millard Sheets, Jade Fon, George Gibson and others. These California trips were very important to TM’s artistic development during his teenage years. The exposure to different styles driven by other ideas was influential and motivated a young TM to explore plein air painting in a new light (literally and figuratively). He took at least a half dozen painting trips to California between 1977 – 1982.
Working all day, everyday, during these California workshops helped establish a work ethic that is attributable to his current success. The ideas developed in the field, and at the nightly critique sessions would merge with what he knew from Cape Ann. “I think that artists that work outdoors, there’s a similar vein, cause they derive things from nature, and it has that similar chord running through it, different styles, but there’s similarities from working from observation.”
There are the important ideas that he takes from Cape Ann’s rich artistic history. He seems to favor certain North Shore artists for their intentions and ideas as much as for their paintings. For instance, a favorite of his is Aldro Hibbard who painted outdoors in the most rugged conditions, famously painting snow scenes at the expense of his own health. T.M. admires the commitment to plein air painting, and Hibbard’s relentless exploration of how to paint white. He also notes Walter Palmer for his studies of snow and its endless possibilities for color, something T.M. passionately explores.
Nicholas has taken away many ideas from his time with great artists on the North Shore and in California, and from Cape Ann’s rich history which he is very familiar, but like all great artists, he has developed his own style.
‘I grew up in the area, was born here, my father knew all the old artists here. I always admired them early on, but I really just live on Cape Ann. I’m not trying to be anything other than what I am. I think that artists that work outdoors, there’s a similar vein , cause they derive things from nature, and it has that similar chord running through it, different styles, but there’s similarities from working from observation.’
TM does not seek to stand on the shoulders of giants that came before him, nor does he feel burdened by a responsibility to carry on the rich history they have made. In an era of self-awareness; a modern time where there’s a compulsion to rank everything, and project others’ places in history, it is inspirational to find someone who is not concerned with any of those centric obsessions. He has freed himself from his history, though it is undeniably in his blood. By being his own artist, he is becoming a better artist, and in doing that, he truly is moving the Cape Ann tradition forward.