Interviewed by: Suzan Sherman and Daniel Wentworth
Shot and edited by: Melissa Friedling/Slouch Productions

The Artist’s Life: Thomas Nozkowski

Thomas Nozkowski was born in Teaneck, NJ, in 1944, and attended The Cooper Union in the mid-60s where he studied with some of the great Abstract Expressionists of the day, who taught him that spontaneity is key to innovation. Because of this education, he avoids preparatory sketches and instead improvises his colorful, geometric compositions over time, sometimes over the course of several months or even years. Each time he re-approaches a work-in-progress, he scrapes the entire surface clean, putting every part of the composition into question as he works toward a final, resolved image. Nozkowski paints objects, places, and emotions from his personal experience, but his subject matter is rarely identifiable: his decidedly abstract works are all untitled and he is reluctant to offer clues on the “seeds” from which his works arise.

We filmed Nozkowski in his home, roughly 90 miles north of Manhattan, where he has lived and worked with his wife, the sculptor Joyce Robbins, for 30 years. The campus of their two-person artist colony includes two beautiful freestanding studios that were originally barns, and serene flower gardens. Their home, whose original structure dates back from the 1840s, is filled with their own artworks and those of friends. Lunch was served on plates of Tom’s design, commissioned by an esteemed restaurant in Italy. We sat with Nozkowski in his remarkably tidy studio, which contains two imposing, alphabetized libraries—one of CDs, the other, artist monographs. There, amongst paintings in various stages of completion, Tom talked to us about the thrill he finds in investing a single edge with tension and power, and about the kinship he feels with artists across time.

Thomas Nozkowski received a BFA from The Cooper Union in New York City in 1967. He began exhibiting in group shows in 1973, and made his solo debut six years later. To date, Nozkowski’s paintings have been featured in more than 300 museum and gallery exhibitions worldwide, including nearly 70 solo exhibitions. He has received four awards from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, the New York State Creative Artists Public Service Grant, and the National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Grant. In 2010 he was invited to become a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Nozkowski has been a Professor of Fine Art at the Mason Gross School of the Arts of Rutgers University in New Jersey since 2000 and has lectured at institutions across the United States. He lives and works with his wife, the sculptor Joyce Robins, in High Falls, NY, and New York City.

Amy Aronoff
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