To The Foundation: Nick Peña’s Landscape Paintings
Text by Connor Bran | Photography courtesy of Nick Peña
The pressure to stabilize our families and our homes—the structures that make up our daily lives—can feel personal, alienating and monotonous. This pressure, however, is a societal condition that speaks volumes on how our nation’s culture is in a state of constant change, and proves that defining the American Dream has become more elusive than ever before.
Through deft use of structures as metaphors, artist Nick Peña explores psychological structures of stability in relation to the natural world. Peña boldly expresses this concept through vivid juxtapositions of familiar representations of structural stability (i.e. homes) with innovative abstractions of space, creating a visual instability and tension that challenge not only the viewers, but also Peña himself.
“Homes are very much a huge part of our lives,” Peña says, “but they are in a market full of instability that we have no control over. So this symbolic ideal of stability, at its foundation, is just a cultural perception.”
Peña’s structures take on a larger, cultural importance. The combination of the familiar structures and fragmented landscapes emphasize the constant shift of what the American Dream means.
Raised in rural Illinois, Peña holds a deep reverence for geology and society’s relationship with nature. It was during his formative years that Peña began drawing, as he says, “to keep up with [his] older brother, and to see who could draw better” in the classic little brother-big brother competitive spirit. That same competitive drive led Peña to become a seasoned artist and skilled athlete as a teenager. Possessing a natural intuition of systemic patterns, Peña observed structural connections between these two seemingly different pursuits; specifically, how the evolution of both has led to cultural shifts in how society approaches them.
“Take basketball,” Peña says, “it’s almost always played on the same rectangular court. As basketball evolved, legends of the sport have forever changed the way we look at the game by innovating within, and yet adhering to, that structural parameter; and that level of innovation absolutely occurs in art, as well.”
Being astutely perceptive of the structures that define both the small and larger aspects of our culture is not Peña’s only source of artistic inspiration. He attributes his influences to the stylistically venturous beginnings of American landscape artists such as Thomas Cole, who captured the dichotomous richness of tragedy and hope in their works.
“I strive to carry on the tradition of landscape painting by contributing something new to the existing conversation that could seek a truth about our socio-cultural condition in a unique way.”
Peña holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Southern Illinois University, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Missouri. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and has been featured in New American Paintings. Currently, Peña teaches a myriad of visual arts courses as an Associate Professor of Visual Art at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. His oil paintings begin at $2,400, and his watercolor and sintra paintings are priced starting at $600.