An Artist and His Journey
By Haley Chouinard | Photography courtesy of Nick Sider
Looking at a half-finished painting in Nick Sider’s Brooklyn art studio, you’d think someone had digitally cut out the middle of a photograph. The painting, a wildlife scene, though a work in progress, already has the disarming realness that is characteristic of Sider’s hyperrealistic work. Considering the skill shown in the many paintings that dot his workspace, it’s hard to believe that Sider picked up painting professionally only four years ago. In early 2013, while working in community outreach at a church in Canada, Sider decided to quit his job, move back to America, and give painting a try.
“I was twenty-five at the time and wrestling with the fact that I wasn’t happy with my career choice,” Sider says over coffee in a small shop in Gowanus, an industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn. “My parents actually suggested that I quit my job. They reminded me that as a kid, I always wanted to be an artist. They said, ‘What do you have to lose?’”
After moving back to the United States and completing his first original work, he was asked to do a commissioned piece. Three months after moving, he was comfortable enough to quit his side gig as a waiter and become a full-time artist.
“There’s a difference between art you love and appreciate and art you actually enjoy creating. I came to terms with the fact that this is how I work and this is the type of art I love to make.”
Sider specializes in hyperrealism, a genre of painting that resembles high-resolution photography. He was drawn to the style before he even knew what it was called. “I experimented with other styles when I started painting, but I don’t like working in any other style as much as I do hyperrealism,” Sider says. “There’s a difference between art you love and appreciate and art you actually enjoy creating. I came to terms with the fact that this is how I work and this is the type of art I love to make.”
Sider’s influences range from Chuck Close and Robert Bateman (whom Sider refers to as a Canadian national treasure) to Pablo Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat. His own work consists mostly of portraiture and wildlife scenes, though he’s also tried his hand at more abstract works. Despite experimenting with other subjects, scenes of nature are his favorite to paint.
“Since I was a kid, wildlife and art have been one and the same to me,” Sider says. “When I became an artist, I noticed that wildlife art and contemporary art were completely separate from each other. I tried to get away from painting wildlife for a bit, but now I’ve leaned into it. I try and make it accessible to both audiences. It’s become consistently what I sell the most of.”
He works mostly from photographs, which allow him to zoom in and integrate the tiny details that make his work distinctive. When he has an idea of what he wants to paint, he searches online until he finds what he’s looking for and then reaches out to the photographer to ask permission to use it. A painting can take him anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to complete, depending on its size. Sider paints in acrylic, which dries quickly and works well for paintings that have a lot of layers, as his do. He’s quick to add that he began working in acrylic because his mother, an artist herself, passed on her set of acrylic paints to him when he started out.
He’s quick to add that he began working in acrylic because his mother, an artist herself, passed on her set of acrylic paints to him when he started out.
When he began painting, Sider started posting his work on social media. His use of platforms such as Instagram has provided a direct line to a clientele that he hasn’t found through the New York gallery scene. When asked if he’s found the New York art community receptive to his work, Sider chuckles and says, “No.” While many artists rely on gallery representation to sell their art with the gallery receiving a percentage of each sale, Sider quickly realized he wasn’t interested in working that way.
“When I first moved here, I started chasing after what I think is this ‘New York’ idea of success in the art world—to get into the biggest gallery, sell paintings for a lot of money, get big collectors buying your work and become famous,” Sider says. “I met a lot of people who had those goals, but, for whatever reason, that was never my dream. It made me question whether there was a place for me in New York.”
He left the city for about six months, but then his work started to amass an online following. He currently has over twenty thousand followers on Instagram, and one video of Sider working on a self-portrait has garnered eleven million views on Facebook and even got noticed by rapper 50 Cent. Sider decided to move back to New York, but with the understanding that he would do things differently and work on his own, without gallery representation.
Though he has done two gallery shows in Manhattan since returning to the city, most of Sider’s success has happened independently. “It’s been very organic,” he says. “People will message me on social media, or they’ll see one of my videos and e-mail me. It’s all been great because in the beginning stages, you’re so worried about how to get your art out there, and now I’m just keeping up with demand. I get to focus on the painting.”
His storefront-cum-studio is in Gowanus and sits on a side street that also boasts a trendy-looking kosher steak house and the Bell House, a popular music venue. Sider paints in his studio nearly every day. “Even if I have other things planned, my first thought in the morning is usually that I should be painting,” he admits. “I see how artists can get burnt out, and I’m working on striking a balance and actually taking days off.”
This whole journey for me can be boiled down to one question: Would my kid self be applauding what I’m doing with my life? Right now, I know that he would be. It’s a great feeling.”
At this point in his career, Sider defines success as making enough money to continue painting.
“Someone recently asked me what my five-year plan is,” Sider says with a slight grin. “I don’t even know what’s going to happen month to month, let alone in the next couple years. Five years ago, I wasn’t even painting, so who knows? This whole journey for me can be boiled down to one question: Would my kid self be applauding what I’m doing with my life? Right now, I know that he would be. It’s a great feeling.”
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