Slideshow: Nicoletti overcomes ‘tyranny of object’ in representational painting

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Photos by Roxana Pop | Staff Photographer

Joe Nicoletti calls himself a representational painter.

“It’s a fancy way of saying, ‘I paint stuff,’ ” Nicoletti said.

At 7 p.m. tonight in the Hultquist Center, Nicoletti will share slides of his work in landscape, figure and still-life art, as part of the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution’s Visual Arts Lecture Series. He plans to compare his paintings with some of the famous pieces of art that have inspired his work.

For example, from a “Madonna and Child” painting produced in Giovanni Bellini’s workshop, Nicoletti borrowed the green tapestry backdrop and the marble bench in the foreground. Instead of the famous mother and son, he painted a still life of four vases and a bowl of fruit. He arranged the vases in the same isosceles triangle formation typical of the Italian Renaissance, and in a color palette inspired by Mary’s traditional red and blue dressings.

Nicoletti will also discuss how he tries to combine the three genres in which he works into single paintings. For instance, in his “Still Life After Bellini” he painted an Italian countryside landscape around the edges of the green tapestry, which had the still-life vases in front of it. He also paints self-portraits set in his studio, with objects set up for still-life painting also included in the painting.

In Nicoletti’s most recent series, he said he tried to get away from “the tyranny of the object,” or having to look at something in real life in order to represent it in painting. He has been inspired by French painter Henri Fantin-Latour. Nicoletti borrowed a vase and some flowers from Fantin-Latour in one painting. He then imagined a set of bowls that would look nice next to the vase and painted the bowls from his mind, rather than observing the bowls in real life.

Nicoletti calls this work “synthesized,” as he combines elements from other paintings, his imagination and real-life models until it “feels like one thing, one experience.”

Nicoletti trained as a painter at Queens College, City University of New York, then at Yale University. He moved with his family from Italy to New York City when he was 4 years old, but he has traveled back to Europe many times. Painting has been a way for Nicoletti to interiorize his experiences.

“I feel that painting is a wonderful way to fix an experience inside yourself,” Nicoletti said. “Just the mere act of spending two hours looking at something and analyzing it and thinking about it makes it so that you never forget the experience.”