Nick Bontorno: Painted Portraits


Nick Bontorno is a talented painter with a distinctive style and original compositions. He received a BFA from Brigham Young Univerity-Idaho and an MFA from BYU. Bontorno is from New York state and lives in Jackson, Wyoming.

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You once spoke about your ‘ability to relate to others’ through your art and specifically your figures. How does art help us communicate? Well art helps us see what we might not on our own. So portraiture is great in that it introduces us to someone via the artist. It’s hard to do commissions for me because I paint people the way I feel about them, which is not always how another would feel. Anyway, we all walk around summing up each other, sometimes too quickly, sometimes too forcefully, and we are efficient at it. If we like someone we are much more generous. I like everyone I paint, even if I don’t know them. It’s like saying “here’s what I think of this person. What do you think?” To connect in this very basic humane way is important for our spirits. A lot of people go days without real interactions, no eye contact, no connections. I want my pictures to be able to be connected to. People need people. I make sure my portraits are looking at you, so that there is an almost real exchange happening. I have a hard time making eye contact with people, so this is kind of a crutch for me too.

What has changed with your approach to your art? I think my color usage has improved in the last few years. Looking at Whistler has taught me that you cannot just use any old neutral or grey arbitrarily; there are functional neutrals. I’ve been looking into what colors work with what greys… its interesting. Also I am less afraid of bright colors. But I am just getting started with this.

How do you feel about the Mormon art community? What would you like to see going forward? The Mormon art community is hard to define. We love trend, as everyone does. We are an interesting micro market. I love the old school Mormon illustrators Anderson and Freiburg. They brought seriousness to their faith. The cute, quirky, or fantastical trends today are hard to relate to for me. As for the fine art side of things, I think there are some great LDS artists. The thing we struggle with is following trends as religiously as we follow our faith. There’s also been all this ‘alternative’ Mormon art going on trying to look intellectual. Being in dissent is not that interesting. Our art should not grovel in politics. Besides all that I am excited for Mormon art. I hope people make their own. I hope it stays colloquial. The quilt show in Springville—that might be my favorite Mormon art. The main thing is that the gospel expands our minds and hearts, and art can assist in that.

What’s next for you? Well I am working in a studio in Provo and doing a lot of side jobs/projects. Having to make money is always the other side of things. As Wallace Shawn says “When I was young all I had was money and all I thought about was art. Now all I have is art and all I think about is money”. I don’t know what is next for me but I am happy to have this experience as an artist and laborer at the same time. I need a life to make art about.

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