Fine Arts professor Nick Lamia began photographing and painting abstract landscapes during an artists’ residency at the prestigious MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire over a decade ago. He would ride his bike along the countryside and come back and paint and draw the “lived experiences” he had captured in photographs. They would be captured again as works of art. Lamia has since wandered over more territory and more terrain.
His abstract interpretations often exist alongside his photographs. These “observational recordings,” as he refers to them, help to inform the viewer of his artistic process and imagination.
Now some of his landscapes are being featured in a solo exhibition, “Tailwaters Project,” at the AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH from October 14 through November 12. The audience can modify a live installation at his artist’s talk on October 28.
It’s all part of a logical trajectory. Before moving to New York in 2000, Lamia taught environmental science and was a wilderness guide in California’s Sierra Nevada. He also worked as a mate on ocean going sailboats and led sea kayaking expeditions.
He says his love of ecology and the outdoors didn’t disappear when he moved to New York. It continues to inspire his artwork. “It’s often the overlaps of the built environment and the natural world that are especially interesting,” he says.
Lamia began teaching at FIT in 2017 when he was invited to take on a figure drawing course for non-majors. Since that first semester, Lamia has gone on to teach drawing, printmaking, painting and an Art and Technology class.
Lamia led a series of faculty print workshops to generate team spirit within his department and has taken on the role of Diversity Ambassador, promoting diversity on campus and acting as a liaison between Fine Arts and the FIT Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
In New York, he says, one sees unending examples of society and nature conforming to one another in a way that is as stimulating as spending time in wilderness.
Lamia and ten extended family members moved to his mother-in-law’s home in Westchester for the first seven months of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“For me, it provided more time to do things outdoors.” Without a studio, Lamia spent time tinkering in his late father-in-law’s basement workshop. “My paternal grandfather was a contractor and boat builder. I have a bunch of his old tools and I’ve always loved working with my hands.”
His father-in-law’s fly-fishing gear also rekindled an old interest; he began taking trips to local creeks and streams in search of trout.
Because the trout fishing options around him were all tailwaters (the watercourse below a reservoir) and trout fishing is generally carried out in an upstream direction, he’d eventually reach a dam.
Dense underbrush and tree cover along the streams blocked Lamia’s view of his surroundings. He remembers “while I was exploring these creeks and rivers, it was easy to believe that I was surrounded by wilderness the way Thomas Cole or Frederick Edwin Church would have been while they sought inspiring views of the Hudson.”
The illusion that he was far from any part of our built environment would sometimes become overwhelmingly powerful. When he glimpsed an enormous dam through the trees, it was as if he were seeing something alien. This was, he said, similar to what it must have been like for Native Americans to witness the arrival of European ships.
Lamia says his tailwater experiences mimic painting at its best:
“It’s an extended period of exploratory moves, experimentation and feeling lost followed by a brief moment of clarity when the inherent logic of the image becomes clear.” These moments inspire new art.
Regarding the practice of photographing promising locations and using his photos as references for paintings and drawings:
“Few people would guess these paintings come from real life…when one looks at the paintings together with the photographic references, the connections are unmistakable.” Then the goal is to create artworks that “evoke, rather than illustrate” his observations of the intertwining of society and nature.
Lamia says he feels fortunate to have been embraced by the Fine Arts department. “It’s a hidden gem in New York City and there is so much potential here.”
Lamia is a founding member of the Faculty on Inclusive Learning group, for which he is helping to organize a second year-long series of online faculty discussions on topics ranging from cultural appropriation to socio-economic diversity in the classroom.
He enjoys teaching at FIT for its range of diverse students and the enthusiasm they bring to his classroom. He says he’s had a particularly good time taking on the challenges of guiding senior painters through their thesis projects during their final year on campus.
“I love it when students begin to connect their concepts with their craft. That’s what senior year is all about: bringing the technical skills they’ve honed as they progress through the visual arts program together with their personal interests and curiosity.”
When that happens,” he says, “it is beautiful and exhilarating to see. I am fortunate to be able to play a role in helping them to realize their ambitions.”
For his exhibit in Lebanon NH, Lamia is donating half of his portion of any sales to the Greater Upper Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited.
To see more of Professor Lamia’s work, visit his website at NickLamia.com and on Instagram: @nick_lamia_studio.
To learn more about the Fine Arts AAS and BFA programs, visit School of Art and Design Fine Arts at FIT.
All images used with permission.