Conversing with Chicago artist Pete Nawara

    Artist Pete Nawara at work. Photo by Lauren Ruth / North by Northwestern.

    Artist Pete Nawara lives and works in Logan Square, which can be described as the next Wicker Park due to the rising numbers of artistically-inclined young residents (but it’s not too expensive…yet). In a typical Nawara piece, faces and clothing become colorful topographic maps — think Photoshop in your head. Now try painting that on the Rock.

    Does Logan Square feel artsy?
    It’s the last place to get power back after a storm.

    If you had to explain your work what would you say?
    There are definitely solid ideas behind what I do that could be written up and explained, but when I work, I try to make sure that explanation isn’t necessary at all. I’d rather have people be able to look at the work and appreciate it solely for the aesthetic quality, like use of color balance and composition.

    What was your first experience with art like?
    I was always doodling, drawing, fingerpainting. I have three older brothers and we’re all very into artistic expression in some way shape or form. My older brother had this friend who did this drawing of a vampire in the back of my sketchbook. I remember going to school when I was 10 or 11 and drawing over it, and showing the other kids in the class and being like, “yeah, see, I did this.” And I totally had stolen it from this guy. I would do more drawings on my own that were similar, and that was the point at which I realize, I really enjoy drawing. And I remember, I was back at home and this guy was visiting my brother and hanging out, and he looked in the journal and saw that I’d drawn over his drawing. He was super pissed off at me.

    It seems like you mostly paint people. Why people?
    I think it’s because when I look at artwork, I generally tend to lean towards work that involves the human figure. I’m fascinated by it and I think that humans are generally interested in seeing other people. It’s how our brains work. It’s really interesting how we look at ourselves and how we look at other people, and our obsession with it, you know? Like these Us Weekly magazines and all the celebrity magazines. We can’t get enough of it, of seeing other people and prodding into their lives.

    When I met you at the Art Chicago exposition last spring, you were reading a book by Kandinsky. Do his artistic theories influence you? What are your influences?
    That guy’s insane. The book itself reads like stereo instructions, it’s really really dry. It gets a bit cheesy and abstract, but there are interesting ideas in it, like how he relates color and composition to musical notes and different instruments. As far as influences, I’m really really into Alphonse Mucha. In the early 1900s, he did all these kind of art nouveau pieces. He did tobacco posters in Paris, and it’d be beautiful women with just a soft outline and really ornate art nouveau patterns around them and stuff. I think his stuff is absolutely stunning.

    What advice would you give to people who want to be professional artists?

    It’s really obvious, but you have to keep it in your brain: You have to have content. Keep quality in mind, but you definitely have to always have some kind of project you’re working on regardless of whether or not you have a show, because you’re not gonna get a show if you don’t have content.

    And what do you do when you’re not painting?


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