Brooklyn’s burgeoning art scene is full of juxtapositions.
There are fine artists and found artists, painters and tattooists, sculptors and multi-media creators, and printers and graphic designers, all at different stages in their careers – from aspiring to established – and with different styles and methods of selling and displaying their work – commission or retail, and public space or private gallery. Oftentimes, people cross mediums in order to make a steady living by applying their trade.
For painter and muralist Mason Nye, making art has always been a matter of creating site-specific works that “enhance architectural spaces with painted decoration” – a practice that he notes in his website, MasonNyeMurals.com, has existed since the days of cave paintings to beautify, as well as add “special significance” to interiors.
“I started out doing commercial art right away, doing external murals,” said Nye on a recent evening between painting jobs and packing up for an impending move. “I really like working on a large scale. It feels right. I like the public-ness of it – that not just a few people see it; that a lot of people see it.”
Nye’s murals over the past 15 years have included four health-themed murals in the lobby of Bristol Myers/Squibb’s headquarters in New Jersey, a sunrise/moonrise timetable mural for New York Hospital’s In Vitro Fertilization Room, a ceiling mural of the sky in the lobby of the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel, dining room murals based on the wood block prints of Japanese artist Hiroshigi, and a panorama of historic New York Harbor and Brooklyn as seen from Manhattan.
Another of his more notable murals is the one depicting the history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, from the 17th century arrival of wooden Dutch ships and settlers to what was then known as Wallabout Bay, all the way up to our modern reinforced steel warships and cargo ships docking at the revitalized business and shipping hub at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
“My imagery comes from the clients and what they need,” explained Nye, who works from a studio in a Navy Yard building that is rented by dozens of artists. “They usually come to me with the request and an architectural space for the mural [and] then I develop a style that I think will represent that request in the best possible way.”
In addition to murals, Nye also does on-site decorative work and gold leaf stenciling for clients as diverse as Macy’s and British Airways to Grand Central Station and Columbia University. “There is a whole spectrum of painting skills that are kind of high-end, that a lot of people that do murals also do,” he said. “That keeps us busy.”
Since graduating from Connecticut College in 1977 with a degree in painting, Nye has worked as indeed kept busy, first as a full-time artist at Evergreen Painting Studios in Manhattan, then as a freelancer. According to Nye, he “was an abstract painter at first, but was always good at presenting things realistically.”
“That gave me an opportunity to work commercially,” he said. “I could apply those skills more easily and could turn artwork into a job right away without having to get famous first. I could immediately paint murals.”
Nye uses oil and acrylic, sometimes separately, sometimes together, as when he uses one and then layers the other on top. Each project can take anywhere between one and three months, even occasionally nine months, as the Navy Yard project did.
Moving forward, Nye said he hopes to do more large, public murals like the one at the Navy Yard. However, “it’s very hard to find those [and] a lot of times, clients go to fine artists for that. But I feel like once you get in the door, they give you more.”
“The whole mural business,” he explained,” is going through a slump right now. It goes through periods of popularity. Before the downturn in the economy, there was a run of 10 or 20 years when murals were popular.”
Nye, whose siblings are more into music – his brother is a guitarist and his sister plays the piano – is the only artist in his immediate family, although his grandfather was a lawyer who took up painting when he retired. “He painted Impressionist landscapes.”
Like his grandfather, Nye just wants to enjoy his work and hopes that others enjoy it as well.
“My murals don’t usually have a particular message, [although] the Doe Fund mural message is kind of the dignity of work. I just want people to enjoy it,” said Nye. “It’s something that when you see a mural in a building, hopefully you’ll stop, look at it, and won’t just rush through the building.”