Art & Design

Studio Visit with Chinatown-based Artist Nicholas Wachtel

Art & Design

Studio Visit with Chinatown-based Artist Nicholas Wachtel



Self-renovated head to toe by the artist himself, Nicholas Wachtel’s art studio sits on the crotch of Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges—the city view laid out before his window like a woman with her legs spread open. The space is filled with art and light, dancing on the walls to the tune of his vintage record player. A surprise sanctuary in the midst of the chaotic LES.

Towering over the sketches spread on his bed, Wachtel explains his artistic process:

Tell us a little bit about your background. What made you interested in art? Who were your early influencers?

Punk and metal album art, and skateboard graphics are probably what really drew me in. I loved the art of Ray Pettibon, although I admittedly didn’t know who he was, but I recognized the artwork.

I was also really into Pushead’s stuff. All his stuff for Zorlac and Metallica. Neil Blender was another big one. I was probably 9 or so when I got into that scene and started copying their artwork. It was just something very meditative for me as hyperactive kid.


Explain your process, from concept to completion.

I’m very much into classical sculptures at the moment so I’ve been photographing and sketching them from photos. When I draw or paint, I try to create movement—bringing the sculpture to life in some sense. It’s also sort of the way I visualize things. Nothing sits still.

I also keep a sketch book and glue stick with me at all times where I sort of collage items from the day layered with drawings or notes. Often i’ll turn some of those into paintings if I feel it translates.

How has your style—and tools—changed over the years?

It’s extremely hard to stay in one style because before I can finish anything I’m already thinking about something else. I wish I could just stick with one style for years, and refine it. Unfortunately, my brain just doesn’t work that way. I’m starting to revisit some things though.

As for tools, I’ve only been a dedicated painter for the past five years or so, and for the past 2-3 I’ve worked almost entirely in oils and enamels. I mostly just did drawings before that, and played around with spray paint. Which was more just an outlet rather than a focus.

Do you have any rituals or activities that lead to creativity?

I definitely seem to work better when I’m sober, and first thing in the morning if I can manage to keep myself away from all my distractions. East River Park makes me want to create. The Cloisters, nature in general tends to put my mind in a good place. Getting away from the overstimulation of the city makes me get back to work immediately when I come home. There’s always the obvious, museum/gallery visits can often spark that flame, but they can also have an adverse affect and kill it for me.

Do you ever experience creative blocks? How do you cure them?

Yes, of course, sometimes I feel as if they’ll never end. Just feeling frozen. I don’t cure them. I think I just sort of have to let them pass. Try to read, and be active as much as possible when I’m in those places. I think i’m getting better at that with age.

Who are your current art inspirations? Do you look to other contemporary artist’s work during your artistic process?

So many….Frances Souza, Ray Johnson, Helen Frankenthaler, Philip Guston, de Kooning, the sculptures of Aristide Maillol, and Henry Moore. Just discovered Louise Bourgeois, Her stuff is insane! I’ve been watching a lot of Youtube interviews and documentaries lately. Notable ones that made me wanna create were David Hockney, and Robert Rauschenberg.

Honestly, this is all fairly new to me. I would see all this stuff in the past, and think it was very interesting, but I was too busy being a young dad, and just barely getting by financially, to create. I never went to school, or even graduated high school. Most of the artists I know now, I’m just now learning about. It’s pretty fucking exciting. My friends Tommy Malekoff, Thomas Bachman, Alec Martin, Terence Koh, Rich McIsaac… Although most of our mediums are different, their energy inspires me.

What are your thoughts on the art scene of New York?

Feels quite phony.

How do you think the Internet has affected the art scene?

It lends access to so much information many of us wouldn’t have access to, and can be great for exposure. But in the same token I feel it can definitely make us lazy, possibly more unoriginal.

It can make us reluctant to get out and see the work first hand, or to go outside and physically search for inspiration. The social media thing, for me, opens doors of self-comparison that really need to stay shut.