There’s a deceptive simplicity to Brad Nack’s paintings. Their vibrant colors and whimsical subjects flash a wicked wink at artistic pretensions, which is a bit ironic given Nack’s own pedigree.
Nack’s mother, Jonella, was a talented painter, and his father, Ken, was a renowned Chicago artist who studied with Fernand Léger in Paris in the 1940s and exhibited all over the world before becoming a beloved art professor at SBCC in the ‘60s.
The son portrays his art-filled childhood as a rather humble way to grow up, as if going into the family art business were about as romantic as running the family dry cleaners or insurance company. Nonetheless, by the time he was 5, Brad and his sister, Anne, had “seen every museum in the world” and hung out in Paris with Picasso’s peeps.
“My parents never really forced me or even encouraged me to become an artist, but I think it was subliminal in that they always made it an option and always made it seem like something that you should be doing,” said Nack, who now shares his childhood home, a rustic Campanil Hill art studio/house with artist Tara Patrick, a Chihuahua and two Dachshunds.
“I remember being a kid and saying ‘I’m bored,’ and them saying, ‘Oh well, here’s some paper, here’s some pens, do some art.’
“I didn’t necessarily plan on becoming an artist, I just think it’s something that I inherited, the concept that I already was an artist.”
Nack’s inherent — possibly inherited — talents are on terrific display this week at MichaelKate Interiors & Art Gallery, 132 Santa Barbara St., which features 15 new pieces, as well as recently unearthed work by Ken Nack (who died in 2009) and five collaborative pieces by father and son.
“I really think his work is incredible,” Nack said of his father. “We worked on a couple of pieces when he was living, collaborating together, so I decided to finish some of his paintings. I don’t know if anybody has ever done that before. I think of it sometimes as collaboration with the deceased, which I think is kind of a funny term.”
The 10,000-square-foot gallery space at MichaelKate (where Nack also serves as curator for a slew of other artists) is particularly ideal for larger paintings from both Nacks. The clean, comfortable lines and color palette of the furniture on display are remarkably well-suited to the art.
When asked if his new paintings have a conceptual relationship to his father’s work, he says he isn’t sure. But the work clearly represents a turning point for Nack, who is probably best known locally for his quirky reindeer paintings (he’s done more than 1,000 of them) — a local holiday tradition for the last 15 years.
“I do think this body of work is the beginning of a new direction for me,” he said. “This is the beginning.”
A recent surfing accident at Jalama Beach may also be influencing Nack’s new artistic direction — a sophisticated leap into more complex, layered figures from the look of it.
Told by doctors that he couldn’t surf for a few months, he suddenly had more time on his hands.
“I realized I spend so much time planning on surfing that doesn’t even result in me surfing,” he explained. “I’ll check all the weather and I’ll know all of the buoy forecasts, and I’ll know all of the potential swells that are coming from Antarctica and New Zealand and then some weird swell that’s coming from Japan and the angles. And then I’ll make all of these estimates about what will maybe be happening next Tuesday.
“My main job has just ended for three months,” he chuckled.
Nack credits the late artist Robert Frame as an influential teacher (“His thing was to put out a big palette of tons of colors”), as well as his father for encouraging him to use lots of brushes and take time to really work on each piece.
“I tend to work really fast and he said to think about it a little bit and just take a break and look at it,” he said.
The effort to take his time with each piece is evident at the MichaelKate show.
When Nack would get frustrated with a painting, his father often said, “‘That’s almost done.’ He would always encourage you to rethink it and keep going. I can’t look at a painting without wanting to change something.”
In addition to curating shows at MichaelKate, Nack has waited tables at Roy, 7 W. Carrillo St., for more than 15 years and still enjoys his weekly shifts.
“It feels like I’m hosting a little dinner party every time I work and it’s great,” he said. “You see people, you can catch up, but then you can always walk away because you have things to do.”
In the Nack family, art was always about the process and not the recognition for it.
“In my family, the idea of being creative or doing art work was always the most important thing,” he said. “It absolutely took priority over everything.”
That creative spark still runs strong in Nack. He had a music career as part of The Tan, is credited with discovering Toad the Wet Sprocket and managing their early career, and has recently delved into documentary filmmaking.
When asked if these artistic endeavors inform or affect his painting, Nack reflects.
“What I’ve been attracted to is that it’s a collective thing,” he said. “I like culture and I like people, and I like what people are doing and I like to find out and be involved in what people are doing. Art is kind of a solitary thing, at least for me.
“I think I approach filmmaking and definitely music and art in exactly the same way, which is just kind of creating something and being part of something.”
That inclusive spirit is evident in the shows Nack curates at MichaelKate, an eclectic collection of themes and artists that consistently draws crowds and kudos to the Funk Zone locale. After Nack and Nack, “Paintings of the Funk Zone Buildings” will be on exhibit from Sept. 28 to Dec. 3, followed by “Holiday Affordable Art” and numerous creative confabulations in 2013.
“I would totally be into seeing the art of anyone who wants to send me a painting or a jpeg of a painting for a possible for curating at MichaelKate, because we have all kinds of things coming up,” Nack said. “It’s maybe a gift and a curse that I really can see potential in so many things.”
Brad Nack teams up with his late father, Ken Nack, for a two-man art show through Sept. 23 at MichaelKate Interiors & Art Gallery, 132 Santa Barbara St. The opening reception is 5 to 8 p.m. Friday with an art talk featuring Brad Nack and artist Wayne Hoffman (Ken Nack’s longtime friend and associate), moderated by Noozhawk columnist Leslie Dinaberg, who is also the editor of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.