Whether you’ve had a cold beer on the patio at Creston Brewery, enjoyed something savory at Two Scotts Barbecue or attended a show at 20 Monroe Live, you might have noticed bright, bold murals. That’s the work of Nick Nortier, a muralist whose work has been popping up all over West Michigan since 2015.
“A lot of my influences come from the graffiti world as well as the comic book world,” Nortier said. “I grew up reading comics and drawing a lot, so that’s how I started to get into art in the first place. A lot of my illustration style draws from aspects of comic books. I tend to do stylized realism in a sense — it looks like what it’s supposed to be, but it’s not photorealistic.”
You could say nature is Nortier’s muse — many of his murals are imbued with flora and fauna.
“A lot of the reasons why I paint foliage and wildlife so much is because I like being out in nature so much,” he said. “It’s something that’s helped me personally a lot as someone who has suffered through depression for a good portion of my life. I also feel that it’s really, really easy for humans to disconnect from nature, even though we ourselves are nature.”
Nortier’s portfolio consists largely of murals, but he also designs everything from stickers and bottle labels to T-shirts and wooden sculptures.
“I really like doing print-making, mostly screen printing, but also a little bit of wood-block printing here and there,” Nortier said. “It’s a ton of fun because I can make one image and then I can reproduce it and then be able to offer it at a reasonable price, rather than just making one of something and having to sell it for a higher price.”
Earlier this year, Nortier was commissioned to design a Michigan-themed mural for the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. He had a few ideas in mind, but in the end, one concept outshined the others.
“I think blue herons are just incredibly, incredibly beautiful birds, and I’ve only ever seen them in the wild a couple times, and each time I’ve seen one, I’ve just kind of been awestruck,” Nortier said. “To me, it represents our responsibility as humans to protect this wildlife and protect the natural spaces where these creatures can live. I think going a bit deeper, I guess it can also be a comment on climate change and that our human activity is having a profound impact on all species, and we need to get our act together and figure this thing out.”
It wasn’t long after Nortier finished the mural at the airport that COVID-19 took hold, affecting local enterprises and artists alike. If the virus has a lasting impact on the way we perceive space, Nortier said, he thinks smaller galleries will have to be resourceful.
“Some places are pretty small,” he said. “The last gallery show that I went to before the quarantine was in an incredibly small space, and there’s absolutely no way that you could social distance in there. How do you get back into that — does everybody wear masks? I think people are going to end up getting really creative to try and still do these events and make them safe.”