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SALT Profile: John Nieto

When John and I first met I confess an instant crush. He pulsates amazing energy and generosity of spirit that draws you in and creates an ease of friendship. Visits to his home/studio were an enviable destination filled with art, music and genuine conversation. It took awhile to learn the art I enjoyed was of his own creation and even longer for me to convince him to sell me a photograph.

I had recently purchased three works from auction and included his photo to flaunt my new acquisitions. It was his image everyone gravitated towards and thankfully that feedback was just the push he needed to agree to participate in my first curatorial project and to be knighted as one of my "J3" -- the first three artists I worked with (John, Jander and Jerome).

This is where our story began and this is how we move forward. In love and gratitude...


When did you know you were “called” to be an artist?
When time freed up in my life and all I could do was shoot and edit constantly. Sleep became secondary to creative flows and visions.

What are your inspirations and influences?
The life and shapes around me. 

How long have you been a practicing artist?
I don't remember a time without exercising creative expression. As a kid, our home was filled with the paintings and drawings from both my mother and father. My mother at the time was also into pottery.

There was always a guitar or piano being played; not to mention the passion for cameras - both movie and film - that my father exposed me to from the beginning. I studied piano at a very early age which shifted to trumpet one day when my father shared the one he grew up playing. I found I had a flare for the sculpting and shaving of hair in the late 70's early 80's which led me to eventually becoming an art director for Toni&Guy.

Photography was a natural extension of the hair and fashion world and I've always appreciated and explored that landscape. More and more of my work today is reflecting those shapes and movement found in nature and merging with the physical body as hair or limbs. They are often one and the same to me. 

Untitled from The Chosen Ones SeriesAt one time you were involved in a family run gallery, how did that affect/influence you as an artist to be able to be "on the other side"?
I think ultimately it wasn't in my nature to be responsible for such a big machine! A pretty important part of me wasn't finding room to flourish creatively and the only way to get back on track was to honor that and remove myself from the equation. In the end it was certainly better for all of us.

The following year I had some of the most profound breakthroughs creatively that I've ever experienced. (I get this mental image of a champagne cork popping off.) Many times sacrificing a restful night's sleep to see an idea through to it's end. I'm smiling from the inside again. ;-)

Do you have formal training?
I have no degree in a formal education but I would say my time at Toni&Guy was as close to formal as I've known. There was, and is, a very high standard of procedures and set of specific behaviors that is unprecedented since my time there.

How has your process developed over the years?
I think for me I started off shooting and documenting my life, like many people, and over the years have realized, somewhat unconsciously that I continue to develop a style that merges these disciplines into images. I often hear music in a cityscape or see the same movement of hair and body in a landscape.

Any gallery/exhibition experiences you’d like to share?
Of course, my dear friend Sharon Reaves having the bravery to go out on a limb not only for herself but for others and cast me into her first curated show ever is something I will never forget. I am quite grateful for that move. 

Where/when do you like to create art? 
In a cozy room with candles lit and good music on. Photographing happens under all conditions but when it gets down to editing I absolutely work while listening to music and often candles lit. My creative juices are definitely peaking after the sun goes down. They always have.

You've won the digital photo awards two years in a row, can you tell us more about that as a newly accepted art form and how it has changed the way you "shoot"?
Actually, I was a finalist in last year's Mobile Photography Awards and this year, 2013, received Honorable Mention for a piece I shot at Ocean Beach, San Francisco. To this day some of the most inspiring images I've seen are ones I've seen through this competition and I am very grateful to be included with such talent.

I've had an affinity with electronic toys and devices as far back as I can remember and I enjoy the ease and spontaneity of shooting with my phone, it's very liberating versus my larger hi-res camera. Having access to so many photo editing apps on my iPhone has suited me just fine. I shoot a lot more as a result.

Tell us about your current body of work.
I continue to shoot a lot of street photography including landscapes/cityscapes however my current little obsession is juxtaposing elements found in nature ie, tree branches, seaweed, bones etc, and crowning the heads of my loved ones, friends, family, fellow artists. Sometimes merging bits of my hi-res photographs with a background or a leaf from an iPhone shot. I'm having fun bringing a pitch of fantasy to my images with an end result being a few notches more dramatic than the experience may have been.

I've always believed in magic and I enjoy creating images that  support an attitude that my time here on earth has been quite a good one.

Any advice to aspiring artists?
Patience and commitment! Resistance is a noise that will always be biting at your feet or putting it's hands over your eyes. Practice believing in yourself and embracing the things, and moments and people in your life that simply make life worth living.

Posted by Sharon Reaves on 4/22/13 | tags: photography digital graffiti/street-art figurative

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