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Check out Nick Angelo’s Artwork

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nick Angelo.

Nick, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I grew up in Atwater Village, a neighborhood in Northeast Los Angeles nestled right between the Los Angeles River and San Fernando Road. My experience and socialization was outlined by the cultural architecture of gentrification–social and economic juxtapositions, contrasts, confusions, and frustrations were rampant. At the same time, the neighborhood was a lot different when I was growing up. It was still a community. There were families that had been there for generations and had known each other for generations. People really looked out for one another. Even if you were homeless and living on the river, we still knew each other a lot of the time and treated each other like humans. My friends and I didn’t have to use the phone to find each other, we could show up at each other’s houses or find each other on the street. We were a family. There were so many stories and characters too– whether it was inter-quarreling between families or someone using a refrigerator as a boat to go down the river, it was all beautiful.

Unfortunately, every story has a dark side. My friends and I stuck together no matter what. We got into a lot of trouble throughout our adolescences, and by the time we were in our early 20s, succumbed to the opioid epidemic. There was a lot of destruction and sadness. Some of us got out, but some died, and some are still out there on the streets.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to leave when I get into college at the New School in New York City when I was 21, so I moved to the city and received my bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies a few years later. My undergraduate studies were essentially devoted to developing an understanding of the structural factors that denoted my experience and socialization as a youngster, i.e. crime, drugs, violence in a neighborhood undergoing rampant gentrification during the era of late American capitalism. Upon graduating, I discovered that visual language felt a lot more effective in the ways that I wanted to explore and exhibit research and ideas. Building upon that is how I’ve arrived at my practice today.

We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I make objects that index and document research, studies, reflections, and intersubjective narratives that arrive by way of painting, sculpture, installation, and photography. I am mainly interested in the representation of the sick, addicted, and mentally ill, and in my practice, work to establish a balance between exploring the subjectivity of such individuals while clearly establishing my belief that an individual narrative or experience can only serve as a puzzle piece of a much broader cultural, political, social, and economic paradigm. I like to think of my practice as being driven by individual experiences that resonate in conceptual and anthropological frameworks.

Currently, I’m working on a series of paintings that map topographical networks of autobiographically- and metonymically-charged architectural representations. Each painting begins with an image of a building that is connected to my past, such as my childhood home my high school. I then surround it with facades of contemporary American institutions such as Sackler-owned Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Kushner Company/Zaha Hadid (alongside architect Patrick Schumacher) proposal for a fascist architectural spectacle at 666 Fifth Ave alongside dope houses, methadone clinics, and rehabilitation centers that, in regards to the pharmaceutical industrial complex and the opioid epidemic, function as the wheels of labor which allow the formerly mentioned institutions their power. The finished pieces work to visualize networked power structures often difficult to be recognized during an age of disinformational velocity and hyper-obfuscation, or a body that is not immediately visible.

Another project that I am currently in the midst of uses site-specific architecture as a medium to explore the relationship between large pharmaceutical corporations, the sick, addicted and vulnerable, and the artist. In the Winter of 2019, I traveled to the Northeast to photograph the headquarters of five pharmaceutical corporations named complicit in perpetuating the opioid epidemic through false advertising and fraudulent practice. I took large format photographs of each building while noting their blackened windows and secretive, ominous designs. Designed with this gaze of power, I used a powerful camera to rob them with another type of powerful gaze. I like to think of it as taking a small piece back from what these big Pharma corporations take from the sick and using art as a way of accomplishing this.

The main thing that people should know about my artwork is that in no way am I wanting to exert any authority on my subject matter, especially in regards to addiction, other than a little bit of personal experience. I can’t speak for anyone but myself and my own observations. However, as I mentioned before, I do understand that my experience can serve as a piece of this giant and complicated puzzle, and are welcome to relate to it if they’re able to. Relatability, and more importantly understanding, towards a population of people that are generally underserved, underrepresented, and historically misunderstood is what I hope people can take away from it. Not sympathy, not anger, not fear nor empathy, but understanding. There is a big difference.

The stereotype of a starving artist scares away many potentially talented artists from pursuing art – any advice or thoughts about how to deal with the financial concerns an aspiring artist might be concerned about?
Personally, I have found it very helpful to have a day job that is stable and is not directly intertwined with art world finances, or better said, that specific facet of my career. Upon receiving my MFA, I was lucky enough to get a full-time job with a non-profit called Community Health Project Los Angeles. We’re a harm reduction organization that runs a mobile needle exchange and also specializes in overdose prevention. We distribute clean needles, clean injection supplies, and Narcan, which is the drug that reverses opioid overdoses. The organization was actually started by artists during the AIDS crisis in the early 1990s as a subcommittee of ACT UP. I was interested in this type of work because it’s absolutely adjacent to my practice, in a way a social practice to accommodate object-making. Most significantly, I have a stable income, health insurance, and other benefits that come with working for a non-profit.

Still, this comes with setbacks. I work 9-5 five days a week and the nature of this job can be pretty taxing, emotionally and physically. I generally go to my studio after work and am there Saturdays and Sundays. I’ve found that maintaining a balance between work, the studio, self-care, and socializing has been very tough. So it’s really been about making sacrifices and prioritizing what I feel is going to be important in the long run. For the first few months out of graduate school and back in the working environment, I hardly slept, and it absolutely caught up with me.

Something else that I didn’t recognize is that social services such as these are considered essential, so I have been gainfully employed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn, as this does come with a lot of discomforts. Never in my life did I expect to be close to the front lines of a pandemic, and a lot of the time I don’t want to come into work for fear of the virus. But overall, I’m incredibly grateful to be employed right now.

The advice that I would give to those struggles to focus on their artwork would be to think about your priorities and work to build your life around them. In this day and age, with rents high and wages low, I imagine that it will take some sort of sacrifice as time is limited as well as precious. My experience has been hard, but I’ve been able to make it work. During COVID-19, I don’t know if I’m even qualified to say any of this as financial concerns have become magnified in a historical and unprecedented manner. Obviously, there is a lot more to come and a lot more for us to learn.

Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
I was recently part of an exhibition at Chateau Shatto in Los Angeles called “The Conspiracy of Art, Part II.” Images are available for viewing on their website.

Otherwise, the best way to see and support my work is through either my website, Instagram or email.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Portrait: Photo by Dan Monick, Painting with green background and “the situation” and “the good life” texts: Image courtesy of Chateau Shatto

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