From street artist to painting star: Nicolas Party

The world in pastel

With simple portraits and landscapes in pastel, the Swiss painter Nicolas Party succeeded in rising to the top of the art league. The former graffiti artist captivates with universal themes and used the pandemic for monumental projects.

by Marius Damrow, December 12, 2022

Montreal, Milan and Hong Kong are the cities where Nicolas Party has had solo exhibitions this year alone. The Swiss painter prefers pastels, which he uses to create colourful yet eerie landscapes and portraits. Ever since visitors to an art fair in Brussels in 2017 crowded as if in front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre to catch a glimpse of Party's paintings, he is no longer considered an insider tip. Since 2019, the Hauser & Wirth gallery has represented him as one of the youngest artists (*1980) in its ranks.

Nicolas Party
Photo credit Steve Benisty
Nicolas Party

From graffiti to pastels

»SEAM« and »REAL« were used by Nicolas Party as tags in the 90s, when he was still a graffiti artist. »My particular thing was to be a bit more skilled in terms of figuration, because I was drawing a lot, and not just doing the letters. Most people didn’t do characters, the kind of goofy heads and stuff that I was working with, these sort of monster creatures«, he explained in an interview with Artnet. Party, who was born in Lausanne in 1980, was active in the street art scene until his early 20s, when he was arrested. By his own account, it took him about ten years to pay off the fine in full. Party first studied at the Lausanne School of Art, then at the Glasgow School of Art, where he graduated with a Master's degree in 2009.

For several years he worked with oil paints. However, the rather moderate nature of this technique due to the drying times made Party dissatisfied. So he devoted himself to pastels, with which he finally began his (successful) career as an artist. The incentive came from a small pastel portrait by Picasso. Party saw it at an exhibition in Basel and was particularly impressed by the possibilities of soft shading. The very next day he obtained the materials and copied the portrait several times. To this day, Party's enthusiasm for the medium, which is rarely used in the 21st century, remains unbroken.

The age of the filter

Nicolas Party, Sunset, 2018
with kind permission of Xavier Hufkens Gallery
Nicolas Party, Sunset, 2018

»I always look for a feeling of awkwardness hidden in a world of seduction«, is how Party describes his artistic mission, and with it the sense of unease that arises when looking at his paintings. During his studies, he experimented a lot with animation, developing a special eye for surfaces. Party describes life in the 21st century as life with filters − shaped by social media. He transfers the idea of superimposition to his paintings, in which something uncanny − because invisible − resonates. Using pastels, which served as make-up in the early modern period, he alludes to the deep cultural roots of self-dramatisation.

In addition to paintings, Party also creates ceramics, installations and sculptures such as his approximately 1.5-metre-high colourful busts with wide-open eyes or the body parts that are modelled after fragments of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. Painted stones, which he transforms into fruit with the help of acrylic paint, are also part of his repertoire. The Swiss landscape aroused the fascination of the painter, who now lives in Brussels and New York. His time- and place-less paintings, however, spring from his imagination; he paints neither en plein air nor with models.

Nicolas Party

Blakam's Stone (Apple)

Found at Phillips, New York Auction
New Now, Lot 132
3. Mar - 3. Mar 2021
Estimate: 10.000 - 15.000 USD
Price realised: 22.680 USD
Details

Monumental commissions

Party also accepts commissions that lead him to monumental works. For a children's hospital in Los Angeles, he painted a 60-metre-long corridor leading to the operating theatres. Every year, 16,000 children pass through this corridor. Party decided on a thoroughly frightening enchanted forest that reflects the seriousness of the situations for the staff and parents and limits uninhibited optimism. At the same time, the children are to be reminded that they actually do not belong in this place, but in a more beautiful one, as the artist explains.

From September 2021 to October 2022, much-needed repairs were made to the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, D. C. Partys' work Draw the Curtain, meanwhile, adorned the circular building with a circumference of 250 metres. Original pastel paintings show the artist's characteristic faces, they are partially obscured by trompe-l'œil curtains, as in 17th century Dutch paintings. The works were digitally strung together and printed in gigantic format. It is the painter's most monumental work to date.

Nicolas Party

Portrait

Found at Christies, New York
Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale, Lot 111
13. May - 13. May 2022
Estimate: 300.000 - 500.000 USD
Price realised: 693.000 USD
Details

Unusual strategy with small galleries

Although Party has been represented by the large Hauser & Wirth gallery since 2019, he continues to insist on representation by Xavier Hufkens in Brussels and smaller galleries in Milan, Glasgow, Zurich and New York, with whom he has been under contract for some time. A rather unusual tactic in the art market − but one that proved fruitful. Party's appreciation on the market was slow but steady, and has been at a high level for several years. On several occasions, his paintings have fetched millions at auction.

The Swiss painter captivates the public with his universally understandable content and striking visual language. Collectors from all over the world aspire to his works, as successful auctions in New York, London and Hong Kong show. Recently, Party has tried his hand at oil painting again − albeit in a much smaller format than his pastel paintings. It will be interesting to see in the next few years whether this will herald a new creative phase and how it will be received on the market.Art.Salon

Nicolas Party

Landscape

Found at Christies, New York
21st Century Evening Sale, Lot 3 A
9. Nov - 9. Nov 2021
Estimate: 300.000 - 500.000 USD
Price realised: 3.270.000 USD
Details
Deep dive:

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