by JENNIFER LIEBRUM
Anyone who walks into Gail Severn’s gallery in Ketchum this afternoon and recognizes a familiar face, standing near painted work of a familiar place, shouldn’t expect a long-winded sell. Don Nice is not going to try and talk anyone into liking what he’s done. Either there will be a connection or there won’t.
He said his intention is only to represent the forces of nature and the earth itself. His perspective on it from above, in spots like Trail Creek, Bald Mountain and Silver Creek, will be on display at longtime friend Severn’s gallery in a two-day “pop-up” show titled “Sun Valley From the Top,” which will only be previewed Aug. 22-23 from 4-6 p.m.
The artist emerged on the art scene 50 years ago with the same determined force that he had used in college, then as a University of Southern California football player bursting through the cheerleading banners to get onto the field. He took art classes at night so as not to interfere with his sport.
Nice has a genetic predisposition to engage in seemingly contradictory exploits. His grandfather was a noted physician, gold prospector and amateur painter. As a younger man, Nice punched cattle while making watercolors.
His dual existence lent itself to breaking mores, which led him abroad and ultimately to earn the label of a “new perceptual artist” who wanted to put context back into painting. He notes 1958 as his formative year, when he journeyed by Vespa from Florence to Salzburg to study with the acclaimed teacher Oscar Kokoschka.
“Kokoschka taught me how to see” and to “forget about making paintings and concentrate on painting,” Nice relates in the book “The Nature of Art,” a retrospective of his life and work to which he refers the curious if they want more of his story.
The story includes a number of plot twists and epiphanies, critical successes and major shows in major museums. It also brought him into the bosom of Sun Valley, through friend Glenn Janss, one of the founders of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts.
Nice was encouraged to consider looking at this valley through a similar lens as he had the Hudson Valley in the 1980s. These are not just landscapes, they are in fact a reflection of a reconsideration of the power of nature and the punishment it has taken from people and their pollutants over the years.
This influence came from his brother Hubert’s early death from inhaling pesticides from the research nursery where the botanist worked.
“So my paintings would have a context that is different from that which would have occurred in a painting of fish by Winslow Homer, for example,” Nice wrote. “For me, this is a matter of life and of art.”
And so his landscapes include images of things that influence and counteract nature’s bounty, items from the material world like sneakers and packages.
“It’s a well-worn phrase that anything you can do to raise people’s consciousness in a world that is moving so quickly is worthwhile,” he said from a cabin in Silver Creek last week where he’s putting the finishing touches on his latest series. “The reason people come out here is to enjoy the landscapes, but to me the story is about how that affects our lives and how we have to learn to respect that.”
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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.