Nicholas Party was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, spending his formative years surrounded by the lakes and mountains of the Swiss countryside. After a sharp trajectory of success, Party now lives and works in New York and Brussels and is a darling of the contemporary art world. Party studied at the Lausanne School of Art before taking an MA at The Glasgow School of Art.
Party developed a distinctive style very early on in his practice. His canvases and 3D works incorporate precise figurative forms within the recognisable genres of portrait, landscape and still life. However the adjective “otherworldly” is often associated with Party’s work. This “otherworldiness” is part formed by Party’s ability as a colourist, critics often cite the instinctive and bold use of colour across the majority of Party’s output. He also has the knack of delivering the uncanny without losing this pleasing decorative edge. The pictures are lyrical, undemanding and beautiful, yet they remain utterly unique and sometimes a little disquieting. His portraits, trees, birds and fruits belong to a candied vocabulary of simplified shapes and forms whose lustre and detail create a delightful surface world where any depth or meaning is hard to penetrate. It is this engagement in mood over realism or scrutiny that leads to a slightly unsettling feeling when viewing a whole Party show. All the faces begin to look the same and the landscapes tumble and fall into each other. Canvases sit on top of murals awkwardly. The all-encompassing, super-generalisation of content: the stones, fruit, heads, pots, interiors, exteriors, walls, objects and paintings merge into one language of beautiful forms. This seductive style strips the subjects of their history and leaves them beautiful, but essentially bare. However, this is to the work’s credit. Party is intentionally picking saturated subjects to paint and rejuvenate, his achievement is in reanimating historical subjects that have become weighed down by centuries of high-art meaning and association.
As well as Swiss artists such as Vallottan and Hodler, Party also cites arch-modernists such as Guston, Avery and Giorgio Morandi among his influences. Yet, given his studiousness, Party never takes himself too seriously, as Chris Sharatt writes: “although they display a seriousness about painting’s craft and traditions – art historical references come thick and fast, from Jean-Baptiste-Siméon-Chardin to David Hockney – there is a lightness and humour in the works.” As Party explains: “I am trying to find the moment where an element that is very recongisable, like a tree or a bush or a cloud… switches into what we call a shape”
Party is also partial to the odd publicity stunt. In 2011 he designed a seven-course “still-life” dinner with original plates, stools and tables. He has also taken on large-scale outdoor commission such as the spray-painted mural at The Walled Garden in Glasgow, 2013. These performative elements are a legacy of his collaborative approach in his student days when he experimented with graffiti, 3D animation and happenings. These elements grow his reputation, but never seem attention-seeking, they are nearly another avenue in a practice that is strongly rooted in traditional draftsmanship.
A number of notable shows shot Party to his current position. Sunrise, Sunset at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC in 2017 received particular attention, as did his transformation of the Xavier Hufkens booth at a Brussels art fair into a surrealist chapel. Part of his success in catching the eyes of the art world lies in Party’s ability to create immersive shows through multi-disciplinary works. Often using murals, sculpture and installation as well as traditional canvases on the walls, Party alters spaces and creates worlds of his own. A rare colourist and prolific creator (he has just switched to working with pastels to add yet another dimension to his practice) Party’s popularity doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Based between Paris and Brussels he retains representation with Hufkens, Kaufmann Repetto, Modern Institute in Glasgow, Galerie Gregor Staiger in Zurich, and Karma, New York and Hauser and Wirth.