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ArtPrize Artist Profile: Eric Nugent

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Protect and Serve is the portrait of an old New York cop, lovingly rendered in oil on canvas. Protect and Serve is also a multimedia art project documenting painter Eric Nugent's process from stretching the canvas to the final brushstrokes.

Nugent started taking college-level art courses while he was still in middle school. He sites one particular Foundations of Drawing class that had a great impact on his life, the class that made him realize his passion for art. He continued taking college courses throughout high school, earning enough credits to start as a sophomore when he entered Kendall College of Art & Design. Nugent advocates dual-enrollment, saying " You not only have college credit for the future, but you also get to focus on what you want to do with your life." After graduating from Kendall in 2006, Eric worked as an illustrator for a Grand Rapids based promotional firm before leaving to found his own company, Nugent Artwork, which has brought steady work in the graphic arts. Next, he looks forward to breaking into the fine art business, creating serial paintings, having his work in galleries, and obtaining public recognition.

It was the desire for recognition that enticed Eric to enter the ArtPrize competition. "I think the exposure I can get from ArtPrize is priceless," he says. The fact that his art might net him the $250,000 prize that comes along with first place seems unimportant to Nugent. He's been too focused on creating a great piece of art for the competition to think about the money.

When I went to see Protect and Serve on the opening night of ArtPrize, Eric was tucked away in a back corner, hunched over his computer and struggling with last minute technical difficulties. In spite of that, he was warm and pleasant. As he showed his finished painting to me, he joked about his computer problems. "I'm running around like a headless chicken trying to get this done," he said with a grin as 6 p.m. and the official kickoff of ArtPrize rushed toward him. I left him to his work and took a few minutes to examine Protect and Serve: the policeman's face lined with age, the sadness in his eyes. Maybe he's seen too much over the years. Everything seems to rush around him. He alone stands still, one distinct person in a sea of faceless people. The background is rendered in an impressionistic style, with large spots of rough color. The primary subject's face and uniform are rendered with smooth lines and texture.

Protect and Serve is a multilayered work that could be described as a video based on a painting based on a photograph.

Nugent started with a photograph he took of an old policeman in downtown New York City. "I remember speaking to the man briefly and I felt intrigued, so I took his picture," Eric says, " He had a fascinating face. I wanted to show his emotion." The next and most labor-intensive stage of Nugent's artwork involved creating an oil painting based on the reference photo. The entire process was captured by the third aspect of Protect and Serve, a video that plays side by side with the painting. "I wanted to let the viewers in on the process and not just the final painting," Eric says. "I want people to be able to see behind the scenes what goes into making a piece of art and how the painting came to be."

Nugent usually takes his camera along when he travels in order to capture images of interesting people. "You tend to get a greater array of people with photos," he said, "unlike having a live model." Eric is dedicated to portraying everyday people, the sort you might pass by on the street, and uses the motto "Real People. Real Art." to describe his work.

Nugent's Protect and Serve is showing through October 10th at Alten Place, located at 17 S. Division in Downtown Grand Rapids.

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