“THE THREE THINGS I love most are art, the outdoors, and music,” Nicholas Robles says, on top of Stanford’s McMurtry Art Building. He strokes his beard, straightens his newly pressed button-up, and adds, “I am my art. I show things I like, who I am, my style, what I care about and how my brain works.”
Nicholas, a freshman here at Stanford, is an artist who finds inspiration in a variety of things from nature to social justice. Lately, he has been aiming to reflect positive social messages in his art. “My art used to be just art for art. Now it’s art for thought.”
"Everything I see around me I use as inspiration. You make mini yous with art."
I noticed a lot of your work is done in black and white. Why is that?
I just don’t understand color. I’m colorblind, and I mess up colors enough that when people say “oh those colors don’t go well” I don’t know why. I can’t see it. I want to avoid that, so that’s why I like to work in black and white. Plus, my style is typically very clean, precise, and detail oriented, so working in black and white eliminates any of that mess for me.
Whether it’s drawing, or metalworking, or sculpture, you won’t find maker-error [in my work]. You’re not gonna know how I made it. You’re not gonna see off pen lines, you’re not gonna see erased pencil lines. You’re not gonna see a seam if I’m putting two things together. I’m going to make sure of that.
What inspires you?
I originally focused on racial inequality in the U.S, expressing [my observations] through printmaking and drawing. Kendrick Lamar inspired me to explore the hip-hop social movement aspect.
Describe yourself to a complete stranger.
If I were an animal I’d be a rainbow trout. Just chillin' in the water in my ideal environment, in a mountain stream, going with the flow. I tend to just enjoy myself anywhere.
What environment do you work best in?
I like to think I work in clean, tidy places, but I just can’t. If I’m in a clean space and it’s tidy and quiet, I have to make the noise. The more I need to accomplish on my desk, the messier I need it to be.
Who do you admire?
People who do great work, but don’t seek recognition for it.
For visual artists, there’s this guy, Kehinde Wiley who does oil paintings of African Americans, portraying them in very regal, beautiful portraits. Also Cleon Peterson, who does very 2D, two-color graphic work of humanoid figures killing each other. There are social implications about lynching, or murdering people in the streets.
What kind of response have you gotten from others about your work? Have you had any particularly memorable reactions?
I visited my friend at his university, and I was talking to his roommate because we both like hip hop. And then I showed him my Kendrick piece. He looked at it, put the phone down, and just lay down on the bed. I showed him the rest, and because of my race he didn’t expect me to have such socially conscious pieces. That spoke to him, and he was just blown away. He hugged me and was like, “this is why you got into Stanford.”
One of your pieces is called “Indian Bow Guard”. A lot of your work is reminiscent of Native American jewelry. Is that something that inspires you?
I love how Native Americans in the Southwest incorporate turquoise in their jewelry. I think Native artwork is overlooked, and I appreciate their views on respecting the earth. I am very inspired by nature. It's humbling to see such beauty that doesn't try to change itself, that’s beautiful just the way it is.
What do you have planned for the future?
Right now I have a concept in printmaking for pieces about mental health. The whole concept of will be to make pieces centered around mental health perceptions in society, and the feelings associated with mental health issues. [I have] an arts grant in sculpture, so I’ll be playing around with many materials.
CHECK OUT MORE OF NICHOLAS's WORK HERE.
By: Katherine Eisenbrand
Photos by: Kelli Santos
Illustrations and jewelry images courtesy of Nicholas Robles