A box of Cheez-Its on its side; a heavyset women perusing a yard sale; a young lady reaching for a jar of jelly in the fridge; various plastic bottles of drinking water on display; self-portraits that are so uncanny they will make your head spin.
These are some of the genre paintings, or, more specifically, the “petit genre” works done by Nick Kozak, who prefers to paint ordinary people and everyday things. His style is classical yet modern, colorful yet sedate. In a geographic area where landscapes and ocean scenes dominate the walls of galleries, Kozak paints in realistic snapshots, yet from a clearly abstract frame of mind.
Kozak, 32, a Westport resident, is a full-time art teacher at Dighton Middle School. Kozak will tell anyone who asks, his students included, that it isn’t the subject matter that interests him most, but “how these people and objects relate to each other and share the space around them.”
His studio is a small room in his house, with one window on the north side. It’s not very neat. “I have small piles of books and paintings throughout. There’s a TV in the corner; I like to play familiar movies like Star Wars in the background while I work. It gives me a reference of time so I know I’ve been painting for two hours [when a movie ends],” he says. “I have a very bright overhead light and a separate spot lamp since I often paint at night and want my light to be as consistent as possible. My studio is technically not large enough for the size paintings I like to work on, but hopefully I will soon move into a larger space to allow me to step back from my paintings more.”
Kozak’s favorite media is oil. “I feel that it still presents a challenge. There are so many difficulties to overcome when working with oil. I like to create compositions that will provide me with obstacles to overcome,” he says. He also challenges himself by experimenting with the surfaces on which he paints. “I have explored painting on a variety of canvases, woods and metals. They have all offered unique qualities to the paintings, but I still gravitate to canvas. Canvas is lighter, more portable, and easier to frame.”
In painting there is very little uncharted territory, so he experiments less to please the public and more as a language by which he can express himself. “I hope people are interested in what I show and how I show it. In this area, I know I am in the minority as a figurative painter. The bulk of local art tends to be saturated with landscape and still-life,” says Kozak, also being sure to mention that many of those artists are quite talented.
As a youth, Kozak copied cartoon characters and drew every chance he got... even in class. In fact, most of his early “art experience” was gained through drawing during school when “I should have been doing other things.”
It was a few years after graduating from high school and working non-art-related jobs (retail, construction, restaurants), that Kozak realized he had strayed too far away from the thing he felt passionate about. “When I looked at my possible future, I did not like what I saw, so I made an abrupt change in my lifestyle and sought to bring art back into my world.”
Kozak started dabbling in paint and enrolled at Bristol Community College for a drawing class with David Barnes. “I immediately knew I had found my place,” he says. He studied full time with his family’s support. Eventually he met his very encouraging wife who inspired him to get his fine arts degree from the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth. Kozak also began working for Tom Deininger, a local artist. It was full immersion.
“I learned as much about art from my time with Tom [Deininger] as I did from school. I was very fortunate to have been surrounded by great artists, teachers and positive influences and I owe my success to a lot of people,” he says modestly.
Kozak appreciates artists from the French Renaissance because they painted what they believed in. “They weren’t painting for the money, they were painting for themselves. I believe that is a factor in a successful painting; not to paint what you think others will want to see, but what you want to create. I feel that all my most successful paintings have been the ones that fulfilled my own interest of subject and style, rather than follow a trend in the art world.”
Nick Kozak has displayed his work at studios throughout Massachusetts and in Tiverton. See it online.