Nicolas Party’s Latest Works Are For Sale at a Bookstore Near You

The Swiss artist ardently believes in the power of poetry: he recently created two new pastel paintings to cover the Paris Review’s new Spring issue. He spoke with ‘Surface’ from his studio about why it was more to him than just “a commission,“ and why he believes the genre provides the closest writerly equivalent to painting.

Credit: Juliana Sohn for the December, 2019 issue of 'Surface'.

We’re used to seeing Nicolas Party in illustrious company, past issues of Surface included. Yet the latest launch that brings the Swiss artist’s name to fore isn’t a gallery opening or an art fair, it’s the Paris Review’s new Spring issue, which features an Art of Poetry interview with Alice Notley. Party created two captivating pastel paintings to cover the newsstand and subscriber-only issues of the literary magazine.

One he describes as “a sunset landscape,” which he admired from his studio on a recent call with Surface to discuss the commission; the other is a still life of “melty, odd, colorful fruits.” Both can be purchased as magazine issues or poster prints. In an interview with Surface, Party chats about leveraging the art world’s largesse to fund other art forms, what he’s reading, and the kinds of books that “stay with you forever.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Artists can be very selective about the commissions they accept. Why did the Paris Review make sense to you?

Usually the commissions that artists will be a little more careful with are very commercial collaborations. Obviously, [with] the Paris Review, it’s really not the case. It’s a cultural icon. So if it means more collaboration that will highlight so many creative writers and poets and also actually making art and the covers, it’s really an honor to be part of this wave of tradition in magazines. The Paris Review is more than a “commission.”

What’s your connection to the genre?

I didn’t say, “Oh, I’d love to do the poetry issue,” but I do read books and poetry. My wife is a writer and she reads a lot of poetry, and we share that together. If there’s anything in the writing field, poetry is probably the closest to painting because it uses words in a much more open way than journalism or nonfiction writing. Poetry is like a field where words can start to escape their very close meanings and definition. It’s where writers explore that.

One of the reasons I love painting is that it’s hard to define what’s happening. In poetry, it’s very similar. The relationship between the reader and the piece is big in shaping their perception of the poem.

Credit: Nicolas Party for the 'Paris Review'.

Were you given any prompts to guide the covers, or was the process open-ended?

It was very open. They said “Do you want to do the cover?” and I was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s awesome.” Another part of it was that we will sell the work for fundraising, so I had that in mind.

How so?

I ended up doing two covers because I was like, “The two motifs will fit very well on the cover, and they’re very recognizable.” Not that I expect many people that have the Paris Review to know my work, but the few people that know, they will maybe recognize the style or the type of subject and I wanted to do something recognizable. The commercial contemporary art world has a lot of money going into it. It’s a great way to redirect some of that money.

Poetry or prose, fiction or nonfiction: what have you been reading lately?

Isabel Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns, Truman Capote: Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, Hisham Matar and Xavier Salamone: Goya’s the Forge, Hisham Matar: The Return and A Month In Siena. I’ll mention my wife’s book, Alice Sadie Celine by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright, which came out two months ago. It’s a fantastic book.

That’s quite the range. So you like the heavy reads?

Actually, no! That’s not really, it’s funny, when I was saying the list I thought “This sounds very…”

It goes by period. Sometimes I read novels, classics, my wife’s [book] is obviously very new literature. I do sometimes read nonfiction—it’s very different. I feel, weirdly enough, with nonfiction, when you read those books you feel like you’re getting tons of information and you’re going to be so smart at the next dinner, but the months pass and you forget almost every fact. And you’re like “I read this amazing book” and you can only describe a little bit of it. I think novels stick with you much deeper. You connect with those fictional characters. You spend many hours with them. They kind of stay with you forever.

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