I was eager and excited to interview expressionist artist Nym Pedersen and get a sneak-peek at the method behind the madness of his exquisitely beautiful expressive works. From where he started to where he is now, here’s the inside scoop on Nym Pedersen. Enjoy:
Have you always created expressionistic work or have you ever dabbled in more traditional styles? Do you have a desire to?
I think there is something called an “art instinct” which becomes the foundation for the path of making pictures. As a boy I can remember copying realistic drawings from a book about Norman Rockwell and later, underground comics like those by R.Crumb. But perhaps a big turning point was seeing an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum of German Expressionism in 1980, and also being exposed around that time to the paintings of Douglas Pedersen, my father, who lived in the Southwest, and who I had not seen in many years. Expressionism is how the human condition manifests itself in art in the most fundamental way, at least as I see it. It also goes way back to Primitive art, so in a sense it’s steeped in tradition.
I have from time to time explored other styles of art. Certainly as a student at the Art Students League of New York I had to learn to draw the figure from life. This approach to art is about as traditional as one can find. I have painted abstract works too, but often I would see them as missing something. Enter the figure. So you see, I have to follow my instinct.
You’re known for your off-the-cuff style, capturing emotion more so than exploring specific ideas. Have you ever looked back and noticed any common patterns or themes within your work that perhaps you didn’t consciously realize at the time of creation?
I grew up in New York City and would have to say that alienation was a theme that recurs in my earlier work. My work has lightened up since moving to Virginia in 1997. A theme that surfaces from time to time is human suffering. This expression comes from my own life, as so much of art is really portraits of the self, and also as expression of the world. Ortega y Gasset, the noted Spanish philosopher, noted in writings from the 1930s that the individual habitually lives the life of the whole world. He was referring to how news of far-off places travels around the world through newspapers.
Look at us now. It is hard to live in the dark unless we head for the mountains. Years ago I met a Vietnam veteran who indeed lived in the mountains, in a cave in northern New Mexico. He wanted to have nothing to do with any of it. Art is a vehicle to engage with the world in all its shapes. And sometimes those shapes display “the ebb and flow of human misery” as Matthew Arnold so eloquently wrote.
You work in drawing, painting and sculpture. Is there one medium that you find more fun or expressive than the others?
I love working in all mediums, painting, sculpture, collage, drawing. Often the amount of time I spend on a particular medium is a result of the time I have to work in my studio, as I do other work to pay the bills. For example, these days I do more work on paper, as I don’t have the time for oil painting that I need.
What’s your experience with being an artist in the modern world? How has it changed, if at all, since you started out?
As for my experience being an artist in the world today, well, that’s a topic to be answered on several levels. I’d say that it’s equally hard to make a living as an artist as it was 30 years ago. But my life has changed in unforeseen ways that have informed how I make art and what I paint. Marriage and children have provided a fullness and ballast that have enriched my life as an artist and human being.
Making art is a necessary instinct. The commodification that began to steer the “art world” in the 1980s in New York and other large markets certainly has created a growing stain on how art is perceived by the public and in some ways has challenged the idea of art as an authentic experience. But those matters come and go throughout history, and there will always be artists working away regardless of the marketplace.
If you could have one story from your life turned into a work of art for yourself, which would it be?
A story from my life? That’s difficult. Maybe getting married under the wedding tree at the former Stonewall Jackson Park by an Albemarle County sheriff who told me to tuck in my shirt before he continued.