Nicholas Coley


Nicholas Coley
Oil on Canvas

Nicholas Coley was born in Connecticut in 1971 and raised in Muir Beach, California. He moved to Europe and studied art at L’ecole des Beaux Arts in Aix-en-Provence and at the Marchutz school in Le Tholonet, France. He holds a BA in painting from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

He lived, studied, and meditated daily for a year in a Buddhist Monastery outside of Bordeaux. After reading ‘The tropic of Capricorn’ by Henry Miller, he decided he was not meant for the disciplined, monastic life and went off in search for a more creative and spontaneous world, taking him to Prague for a year and selling paintings to tourists on the Charles Bridge. From there he took the Trans Siberian Railroad through Russia and deep into China.

Coley is a plein air painter who captures primarily San Francisco and Marin county scenes. He has been painting full time for almost 20 years and has exhibited in multiple solo and group exhibitions since 2001. His work is held in university, hospital and corporate collections, as well as private collections across the United States and Europe. He has had a phenomenal success in many exhibitions and is often one of the top selling artists. Coley explains “Before I had kids I painted on my birthday and Christmas and New Year’s Eve finding myself with a headlamp on in the dark. I’ve had almost no friends and aspired to be just like Van Gogh not manic but driven… I mean it’s very healthy as addictions go. I just love to paint and discover and each day I live or die by the little successes or failures that come about in playing with color and seeing what feelings can be nuanced”.

He currently lives with his wife and three children in Marin County.

Artist Statement

My painting has its roots in the fanatical ethos of a small school in the South of France, which made Cezanne its figurehead and had a very black and white view of art history. L’ecole Marchutz was a great place to get rooted in a concrete perspective of the fundamentals and a format of painting from real life. Twenty years later, I still paint on location, finding myself in relation to a place and seeking unity with my surroundings. Only now I’ve exchanged the south of France for the open-air nut house that is San Francisco.

Coming home to the states and studying art was an ambiguous affair, where pluralism and general creativity replaced the achievements of a rooted tradition. Influences such as Wolf Kahn and other Bay Area figures allowed color theory to take a back seat to a generally looser love of all color and made more of a proclamation with bold brushwork and gestural lines. I looked for compositions with energy and tried to impress the immediacy and rush of painting beside major thoroughfares and in parking lots.

More recently the matter of composition has played a prevalent role in my work, as I experiment with less conventional dynamics to arrange the urban and natural environments. For example, in my Market & Pearl Street series, I use the empty asphalt of the street to create a sparse and uncluttered majority of the canvas and forcing detail and subject matter to the periphery. Along the edge I use the darkened, unresolved negative space of a row of cars as its own color field, creating reductive and raw elements of form and a chance to interpret color as broad fields, which unifies for a spontaneous, perceptual painting as one might see if blinded by sun.

I see no end to the possibilities of painting out in the world. Just stand there long enough until the light shimmers off the pavement, or until you see the comforting pattern of parking meters, the side view mirrors, the shadows under cars. If you love nature enough, you will see it even here, in our urban world.