The Night of the Hunter
David Niec spends long hours in the night woods to create unique paintings.
David Niec grew up near Green Bay in an area that is now more suburban, but at the time was farm land. In high school Niec’s father would take him bow hunting and they’d sit in a tree for hours at a time waiting and watching. Niec says this was a crucial step in his process of observing for long periods and learning the patterns of the moon. Nature has always been a part of his life and his work.
Niec got interested in art at an early age, inspired by his mother who he says “played around” with painting and drawing. When she noticed his interest, she bought him a sketchbook and some art supplies and started teaching him some drawing basics, such as how to draw a can in perspective. By age 12 he was drawing from observation constantly. He also started to develop his love of the moon and its cycles by observing the sky on frequent visits to the family summer cottage near Krivitz, Wi, about 50 miles north of Green Bay. The cottage is on a lake across from a marshy area reserved for deer hunting.
Niec attended a Catholic high school in Green Bay and had a very supportive art teacher. He said his teachers just let him “do what he wanted.” The commitment and focus were already there, he just needed time to work.
Niec got a Bachelors in Fine Arts at UW-Milwaukee and then got a teaching certificate to assuage the concerns of his parents, who worried whether he’d be able to make a living as an artist. At the time, Richard Dorneck was the Art Supervisor for Milwaukee Public Schools and was teaching one of the classes necessary for certification. He told Niec, “You know more about art than anyone in this class, but I don’t know if you actually want to teach it.” Niec thought about it and said, “you’re right, I don’t.”
When one looks at his paintings you sense the story of the painter who creates them. Niec is the opposite of the “crazy” artist stereotype. He’s extremely focused, a perfectionist and a careful technician. His work reflects an interest in science and astronomy, yet has a magical quality that suggests the wonder of the young boy who spent untold hours looking at the sky.
Niec met an important mentor and friend in 1999 at a master class in Massachusetts. The English sculptor David Nash has an international reputation for his sculpted wood pieces made from living trees. “When he showed us his work,” Nash wrote in an essay about Niec, “we were all in awe.”
Nash has been great influence on Niec, as well as a patron and spirit who owns 35 of his paintings. Nash wrote the essay on Niec for the Dean Jensen Gallery, where the Wisconsin artist’s work is showing through September 26. “David Niec is an artist/hunter,” Nash writes. “He lives like a trapper, most at home in the wood and marsh… The night sky is a mighty subject. It requires a commitment equivalent to that of a hunter whose life revolves around his quarry. The hunter has to love his quarry without sentiment, learn its habits, lay in wait with all the material of the trap primed.”
As Nash notes, Niec works from direct observation, watching the lights in the sky and observing the moon rise and its progression through the night, and creating drawings and sketches, which become the basis for his paintings. His work is carefully painted in the studio using the classic layering of thin films of paint, a technique called glazing. This lends a richness and depth to the surface of the works by trapping the light and translucence of the paint. In some cases this careful technique is juxtaposed to looser or more gestural painting, so there’s a lovely interplay of precision and play, science and nature. One example is “Moon Cycle, Summer (2014-2015),” a large piece made up of 25 sections, each with a different view of the night sky, each separated by a thin red line, creating a kind of passionate astronomy that stays in your mind long after you look at it.
“Where the Night, the Moon and Waters Meet, Recent Paintings of David Niec,” at Dean Jensen Gallery, through September 26. http://www.deanjensengallery.com