Thursday, November 9, 2017

Artist Spotlight: John Nagridge

I haven't posted anything on here in quite a while but I'd like to share my interview with local Detroit artist John Nagridge, which was published in the Ukrainian Metro News (Detroitski Novyny) magazine. John's an incredible artist and his art (along with other local artists' works) will be exhibited at the upcoming Grand Opening of the Ukrainian American Archives & Museum on November 11 in Hamtramck, Michigan. If you live in the area, stop by Saturday or on Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. for the Open House. Click here for more info: Ukrainian American Archives & Museum Grand Opening Celebration

When it comes to landscape painting, John Nagridge likes being outside, always on the lookout for an inspiring vista. It allows him to be spontaneous and encourages him to interpret the world around him in a way that painting a scene from a photo simply can’t.

Photo by Jovan Jacobs
John grew up in Detroit and attended Immaculate Conception Schools. His drawings, etchings, woodcuts and paintings have been exhibited in various Detroit galleries, including the Detroit Artists Market and the Scarab Club. He was awarded a David Groff Purchase Award for a woodcut that was later exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts. John also designed the 2013 exhibition catalogue “A CULTURAL THREAD: The Enduring Ukrainian Spirit” for the Ukrainian American Archives & Museum of Detroit, art directed the display boards that were exhibited at the Detroit Historical Museum, and created the Ukrainian Museum website.

How did you first get started on your path as an artist?

My start began with a love for Peanuts comic strips. My dad bought me a paperback collection when I first learned to read. I learned to draw all the characters from it, especially Snoopy. I was pretty much self-taught until I went to Immaculate Conception High School, where I had art classes every Friday afternoon.

I majored in art at Macomb Community College and the Center for Creative Studies. I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a Concentration in Drawing and Printmaking from Wayne State University.

After graduation I continued woodcuts and linocuts. These printmaking mediums don’t require a special studio with chemicals and acids. I’d also do an occasional micropoint painting, a technique that involves masking a canvas and applying colors with spray. It’s like doing the pysanky technique on canvas. A few years ago, I started concentrating on painting and fell in love with it.

Please talk about your earliest influences.

There have been so many influences: teachers, friends, artists!

My first fine art influences were Mychailo Dmytrenko’s paintings on the inside of Immaculate Conception Church in Hamtramck. I love how he mixed realism with cubism with mosaic with Byzantine icons. His use of color and composition was so original. On the front right wall of the church is his painting of the Holy Trinity laying the crown on the Virgin Mary. It’s been one of my favorite paintings since I was in first or second grade. I don’t know if I’ve ever paid attention to an entire Mass whenever it’s been in my eyesight — including my own wedding!

Caterpillar and Alice
My high school art teacher Luba Kytasta encouraged me to sketch. I would draw scenes from a violent Conan the Barbarian tale or a strange comic book character to try to shock her. Instead of being shocked, she simply nodded at each page and pointed out a shading technique I could try to get my effect across better.  She then told me to draw more for her to view a week later.  The constant output of sketches dramatically improved my drawing.  She’s been a supportive influence ever since.

At Wayne State, I was strongly influenced by Stanley Rosenthal, Michael Mahoney and John Hegarty. Other early influences include Detroit artists Stephen Goodfellow and Lowell Boileau. They taught me micropointillism.

The rest of my influences range from comic book artists to Michelangelo to the 19th century Romantics to the Impressionists and the German Expressionists.

What impact has your Ukrainian background had on your work?

Like a lot of Ukrainian youth, I attended Saturday Ukrainian school. In between the lessons on grammar and memorizing the usual poems and songs, our teacher, Mrs. Julia Kapitanec, told amazing stories. I loved the tales of the rulers of Kyiv Rus, especially the Death of Prince Oleh. Mrs. Kapitanec also introduced me to the character Baba Yaga. I did a lot of sketches and paintings based on Baba Yaga tales with the thought of maybe doing a children’s book one day. One of my Baba Yaga paintings was exhibited in a show dedicated to Ukrainian artists at the Scarab Club in Detroit, coincidentally where I also showed my five-color linocut of the Death of Prince Oleh. Another favorite is the Revenge of Queen Olha (a subject I would love to paint).

Dzvinka Hayda has made a huge impact on my art. I met her when she was the president of a Ukrainian art organization named ADUK. She invited me to show at the Scarab Club Ukrainian art shows. She introduced me to the writings of Nikolai Gogol, whose scary and funny tales set in Ukraine influenced some of my art.

Baba Yaga

What’s the best advice you ever received and would like to pass on about being true to your creative vision?

Make art. A lot of it. When you’re done, make some more. The concept of talent is overrated. You become a good artist because you worked hard at it, devoting countless hours to your craft. To admire an artist’s work and say he or she did it out of talent, dismisses all the hard work and practice the artist put in over many years of development.

What inspires you?

Other people’s art! Whenever I leave an art museum, art fair or gallery, I’m very eager to get working on my own work. When I hang around other artists and talk with them, I can’t wait to draw or paint.

You’ve used various techniques in your artwork throughout the years. Can you talk a little about the evolution and why plein air knife painting is now your preference.

I met Kim Rhoney at the Northville Art Fair. She did these gorgeous knife paintings with amazing color and nice, thick paint.  I asked about her technique and she generously gave me tips to start. The next day I used a knife on a small oil painting, but didn’t care for it. I returned to brush and acrylic paint because I felt more familiar with them. A year or so later, I gave a mini painting workshop to a niece and my wife’s goddaughter. While they were painting, I thought I’d do a painting of them. Since they took my brushes, all I had left was a painting knife. This time the technique took. I did a quick acrylic painting of them and everyone loved it. A couple of years later, I took a workshop with Kim and she converted me to strictly oil painting. I haven’t stopped since. 

Aged Splendor

It’s a great technique for me. It forces me to not get fussy with details. I have to simplify the forms in my painting. It encourages me to be loose, free and generous with my paint. It’s so expressive that I can’t help but reveal my mood or personality in every painting I do. Hopefully, that’s a good thing, ha ha!

The past few years, I’ve really gotten into plein air painting. My in-laws have a neat little place in the Thumb. My wife and I will go up for a week or even a long weekend. I’ll bring my supplies and paint in Caseville, Bay Port, Kilmanaugh, and various parks and nature centers. It’s especially lovely in the fall.

Pumpkin Patch

Elmurst Fall
What's next for you on your artistic journey -- exhibits, plans, dreams?

I have a few paintings hanging at the new location of the Ukrainian Museum in Hamtramck. In August, I’m also participating in the Dexter Paint Out. I’ll make my usual treks to the Thumb area to do more plein air painting. One day, I’ve got to do a painting at Dibrova.

Caseville Breakwall

My dream is to retire from my job as a graphic designer and have all the time I want to paint, paint, paint. In 10 to 15 years, who knows?

2 Arrows Sign

For more information about John’s art, check out his website at: or

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