Artist of the Month: Nick Clulow: Interior Acrylic Portraits

American Artist of the MonthClulow Apartment Sink acrylic This Maryland artist always paints from life, creating work that gives personality and history to inanimate objects.

Clulow Apartment Fridge acrylic
Apartment Fridge
2001, acrylic on panel, 5 x 7.
All artwork this
article private collection.

by Naomi Ekperigin

Nick Clulow paints household items with the intensity and reverence of a portrait artist. Painting directly from life, the artist attempts to reveal the personality of couches, chairs—even his own bathroom sink—and shows the viewer the beauty in spaces that are often overlooked. Clulow’s approach to painting developed while a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), in Baltimore. “From a very early age I was fond of drawing and known as a ‘good drawer,’” the artist recalls. “But it wasn’t until MICA that I took up painting.” It was under the tutelage of artist-instructor Mark Karnes [featured in the November 2007 issue of American Artist] that Clulow developed his approach to painting. “Karnes was a huge influence on how I thought about painting,” Clulow says. “He is quite certain about what painting is for himself, and he brings that to the classroom. But that’s not to say he is inflexible—he just has defined parameters. Namely, that painting is most rich when it is done directly from life and is a response to seeing with one’s eyes. Studying under Karnes, I became sensitized to the beauty and richness of visual experience—not only in painting, but in my experience of the world in general.” Clulow was also inspired by the early French plein air painters, as well as painters such as Fairfield Porter and Antonio López Garcia. These influences propelled the artist to paint in two ways: a broad and painterly sensibility, in which color and value are brought to the fore, and an intense and exact examination of the subject, in which he goes into as much detail as possible.

Clulow Apartment Sink acrylic
Apartment Sink
2001, acrylic on panel, 12 x 14.

These two approaches can be seen in paintings such as Love Seat and Apartment Sink. In the former, the drawing is more casual, and the artist focuses on creating a muted, cool atmosphere, devoting much of his attention to the colors of the couch. In the latter painting, we see the artist’s attention to detail, as his drawing skills are highlighted, bringing life to a seemingly lifeless object. “These paintings show my interest in portraiture, with the furniture, appliances, and hardware acting as the sitter,” Clulow explains. “The aim of portraiture is to represent what is particular and peculiar about the subject, and that’s what I strive for in my painting. I feel that simple, straightforward compositions strengthen this sense of portraiture and examination.” Creating a personality for his subjects requires an intimate dialogue with the subject, and for the artist, his resulting drawings are a response to this dialogue. For Clulow, such interaction enables him to not only appreciate the world around him, but also to understand it.

“Wherever I am, indoors or outdoors, I observe objects and spaces,” the artist says. “I don’t search for anything in particular; I just remain open to anything that presents itself. Light plays an important role in much of my work.” Apartment Fridge, for example, depicts an object that the artist sees and uses daily, but only when bathed in this specific light did it inspire him. “I saw it with sunlight on one side, creating a kind of half-shadow in the front, and I sat down then and there and painted it.” The same can be said for the painting Kathy’s Couch. “I created this piece when I was taking care of a friend’s plants while she was away. The time of day was such that the light brought out this wonderful quality in the couch and seemed to imbue it with character. Over the next several days of watering her plants, I stayed for as long as the light was agreeable and sat on the floor and painted.”

Culow Kathy’s Couch acrylic
Kathy’s Couch
2002, acrylic on panel, 2007, 7¼ x 13½.

The artist often returns to the subject at the same time of day and under the same lighting conditions over a period of time, especially when he wants to go into greater detail or create a large piece. Clulow’s preference for painting from life also means that he often has several paintings in progress at a given time, allowing himself to respond to changes in lighting and weather, as well as his mood. A painting may take anywhere from an hour to several days to complete, but the artist always works quickly, responding intuitively and immediately to his surroundings. “I often paint alla prima with little or no preparatory drawing,” he says. “I do this not only because of time restraints, but because I like to start fresh.” Clulow first began painting in acrylic primarily because the materials were cheap and could be purchased in large quantities. “Of course, after buying large bottles of paint, I had to make use of them, and I quickly became accustomed to painting in acrylic,” he says. He also notes that many viewers initially mistake his paintings for oil, reducing his desire to switch media. Acrylic paint tends to dry quickly, especially when working en plein air—a property of the medium that the artist finds to be more of an asset than a drawback. “It allows for building up of layers and revising quickly when necessary,” he notes. “I also paint very thin layers, which partly removes the unappealing plastic finish that acrylic can produce.”

Clulow Love Seat acrylic Clulow Hotel Chair acrylic
Love Seat
2006, oil on panel, 3½ x 5¼.
Hotel Chair
2007, acrylic on panel, 6½ x 6.

In addition to his portraits of interiors, Clulow also creates a painting every day, which he began doing after an accident resulted in an injury to his right hand. “I was concerned about my painting future after the accident, so I decided to try painting very small, simple pieces with my left hand,” the artist recalls. “Surprisingly, they turned out fine, and soon after I regained full use of my right hand. However, I still continue making small paintings each day, and I limit myself to an hour of painting time for each.” These paintings, usually of animals, are far different from his studies at MICA and the interiors he enjoys, but he finds them to be an excellent way of sharpening his skills, and applying the lessons learned to his interior paintings. “They have been quite useful in terms of honing my ability to invent spaces, especially in terms of color, light, reflected light, and shadow. In many ways, they are similar to my ‘portraits’ of everyday objects,” the artist says. “I like what is peculiar and characteristic about the subject, and just as with my interiors, I know a piece is finished when the surface has life, and the light allows the viewer to believe in a particular space, object, and moment.”

For more information on the artist, e-mail him at, or view additional images at To view Clulow’s daily paintings, visit

Naomi Ekperigin is the editorial assistant for American Artist.


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