Nick McPhail

Windows to the Soul

<em>Hill</em>, oil on canvas, 60 in. x 48 in., 2019
Hill, oil on canvas, 60 in. x 48 in., 2019

Nick McPhail became a painter when he realized it forced him to be immediate and intuitive with his artistic process. After moving to Los Angeles 15 years ago from Michigan, McPhail began making paintings of the city’s buildings — particularly their windows. “In my work, I think a lot about public space and private space,” he says. “How are you afforded glimpses into a private space while in a public space? And if you’re in a private space, what does the public look like from the inside?” McPhail likes to go on long, meandering walks through his neighborhood in LA, paying particular attention to the built environment. Even when following the same route, he often discovers new architectural elements or new perspective of a scenic view, which he will then depict on six-foot canvases — large enough to render the smallest details. “It’s about slowing down and noticing the boring things,” he says.

McPhail starts each composition with a strong, warm orange or red to prime the canvas — an idea he experimented with after studying the Italian Renaissance painters. Loose brushstrokes fly across in arched patterns, revealing the peachy hues of the primed canvas beneath. McPhail uses emerald and turquoise for buildings and foliage, softening his scenes of concrete and urban life. “I’m drawn to colors that might be associated with a certain design movement or aren’t meant to go together, like green and pink,” he says. “I also do a lot of collage and shape, color design studies—just putting shapes and colors together and seeing how they work.”

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Noelani Kirschner is a former assistant editor for the Scholar.


Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Thanks for signing up