The Big Story: Nick Sinclair


Doug and I met up with local artist, Nick Sinclair, the other day at Goodbye Blue Monday to get the latest on his upcoming show “Lost Souls, Found Art” and (reportedly) the last Lowbrow High Octane event he organizes each September.


AMY: I used to work in a sign shop and we worked on everything: pinstriping cars, vinyl, sandblasted signs, hand painted signs, everything….so when I first moved to Northfield we hit the Lowbrow High Octane show and I thought, “Oh my god! I love this place!” and just seeing all of the hot rod art totally reminded me of the days working in the sign shop. It got me wondering where you picked up your style? I’m seeing some inspiration from Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and the whole Kustom Kulture style.


Hot Rod bike - pen and inkNICK: I didn’t even know about him until like…how far back do you want to go? You know what got me started? Thriller. Michael Jackson. That’s what got me into this whole weird thing. Ok, so I had the big poster with all the [Thriller] monsters and then that led into all these B-movies, and I got obsessed with that, and then I found Gwar, and I got all obsessed with them, and that led me to finding Lords of Acid, and that cover with the devil chicks and I was like, “Who’s this guy?”

So I started digging around and I found Coop [Chris Cooper], Kozik [Frank Kozik] and all those other guys, before I actually found Roth…I actually met him once, which was kinda cool, at World of Wheels in like ‘98 or ‘99. It was winter and I was working in Uptown. He [Roth] was going to be working at World of Wheels, and I had a portfolio that just sucked. It was just horrible, I didn’t want to show it to anybody. But I gave it to him and he said, “Well this is how we work…I send you pencils and light stuff, you ink it and mail it back to me. I critique it, and mail it back to you.”

And I’m like, “Are you kidding me? That’s how you start”, and he says, “Yah”…and then he died.

Wow. I was like this close, to being that artist who could do Roth stuff, but whatever. He was an influence.


AMY: What do you think is your definitive style right now?


NICK: People can pick it out, but I couldn’t tell ya.


AMY: I’ve seen your stuff on everything from cloth to wood to metal…and now i’m seeing your latest work with pencil tattoos being applied to existing pieces of art. How did you get started with it?


NICK: Utter accident. Here’s what happened…I had done a show at High Noon, and I got sick of running to Ikea or Target to pick up nice frames, and I was getting ready to do a show in Hopkins. I had this low brow illustrated stuff in these really ornate, gaudy frames with a black mat, and I thought, “That’s cool!”. I liked the juxtaposition between the two styles. So my wife and I started thrift shopping for frames and we were getting ready for a show, and I had a frame with a picture of a girl in a bonnet, and I was gonna throw it and use the frame but I was like, “I’m outta time! I’m gonna tattoo this stupid painting!”. And so I drew on it and I put it up and it sells…


DOUG: And I walked in and I said, “I LOVE THAT!”


NICK: It was instant…in like 45 minutes. And I was thinking, “I have another one at home.”, so I did it, and brought it into a car show called, Chrome and Candy, and within an hour someone comes up and she says, “I’ll take that, that, and…holy shit…I’ll have that.” So I was like, “Screw it. Let’s just do a show.” So I started collecting alllll sorts of crap.


DOUG: It’s interesting because you talk about the juxtaposition of lowbrow art in the fancy frame, but this is also taking that same juxtaposition of fine art.


NICK: To me, finding the little kid stuff is the best…there’s a creepy factor. And I’m getting better at it. Finding out how to work with it. Every medium is different…some paper has a “tooth” to it, but the printed stuff, acts differently.


AMY: So what pencils are you using?


NICK: 4B to 6B, and 2B to sketch stuff out. Sometimes a 4H to fill in…but I don’t know until I get to it. Some of them are pen and ink and they don’t lend themselves as well as a believable tattoo. It’s almost like graffiti with the pen and ink.


AMY: I’m wondering what imagery you decide to put on these prints?


NICK: [Looking at Creation of Adam] The Michelangelo stuff is just great. This one was easy. I’m a Believer…I study the Bible, and I’ve been dropping a lot of verses in things. So you’ve got the Creation of Adam…you’ve got life. And then Adam and sin…you’ve got the apple, the serpent, and skulls. But for some of this stuff…I just make it up. There’s no rhyme or reason. I just do it.


Mona Lisa TattooedAMY: Some of this artwork reminds me of the Mexican Day of the Dead.

NICK: Yah, that’s actually pretty big in the Rockabilly scene. It’s the Day of the Dead face painting, so I just brought that in. So let’s say she [Mona Lisa] really did this, in my mind this is face paint, and the rest is tattooed.


AMY: It’s interesting to hear you talk about where you find a print. Are you making a list of prints that you’d like to do next?


NICK: I’m really trying to find pieces that are iconic and easy to recognize. If you put things out there that people don’t immediately recognize, there’s too much education that has to happen. Like the image used for the poster for the show…my mom had that on the wall when I was growing up, so that right there connects people.

And I did a little research on public domain and copyrights, and pulled the Renaissance pieces from Wiki commons that was labeled public domain, no copyright. For those pieces, I’ll make prints of my originals and sell those. For the stuff I find in the thrift store, I do not not have rights to those original prints, so I just sell my original pencil on the actual thrift store find. I’m starting to sell them on Etsy.

The only requirement is that there needs to be enough skin to tattoo, and it has to be a realism painting. It can’t be too abstract. And I’ve got two rules: I can’t tattoo Jesus, although I tattoo God, [chuckles], and Mary is off limits. Although there’s soooo many great Mary paintings.


DOUG: It’s interesting that culture of Avon and Hallmark that people had in their homes when they were growing up…everybody had that same print in their living room. It’s interesting to mess with that.

AMY: Yah, immediately I’m thinking of Norman Rockwell. You have this idealized Americana and then you see your poster, and it just hits you…it’s so powerful. It’s twisted in such an amazing, awesome way.


NICK: I didn’t really think this through. I just did it. Well maybe subconsciously, but I didn’t really plan it. And I might have 4 of the same images, but they’ll all be different.


Lowbrow High Octane 8AMY: One of the things that I totally love about the whole night of Lowbrow High Octane is the amazing, artistic, funky people that come into town. Would you say in the Twin Cities area there is that strong Kustom Kulture presence?


NICK: I think so. I think the Cities are strong. I think the Midwest is strong. We have Back to the 50’s, which is the largest car show in the country…all pre-64. And there’s a lot of hot rod artists in the area.


AMY: Do you identify with that genre?


NICK: I think so, but I don’t really join groups. Ya know, I’ve never been in a car club…I’ve always kind of stayed on the outskirts…which is kind of ironic. But I know all of them, so I’ll go to a show…but I don’t really get involved.


AMY: So you mentioned back in May that this was going to be the last Lowbrow that you were going to do.


NICK: Yah, I’m just done. It’s so much work and I don’t make any money. I either break even or lose money every year. I also just want to end on a high note.


And on that note…Thanks Nick!

Check out the Lost Souls, Found Art show:

Saturday, August 31st 6 – 9PM

High Noon Tattoo & Gallery

306 Division St. Northfield