Nick Sweetman and Waves Apparel
Nick Sweetman's wall in the Waves Apparel HQ
Cartoons and comics. When you’re a kid, their stories can transport you into a different world where your sense of wonder can flourish. Growing up in Toronto, Nick Sweetman was one of those kids. Doodling in his early years and focusing on visual arts in his teens, Nick's main passion was art for as long as he can remember.
Inspired by the stories he read as a child, and later Pop Art and Surrealism, Nick was also awestruck by the world of graffiti, constantly looking out for new pieces by his favourite artists, and collecting his findings in photos. Visiting England in 2008, he saw a street art exhibition at the Tate Modern and admired the towering murals by artists from around the world transforming London’s walls. The experience impressed upon him the power of public art and inspired him to explore painting on a larger scale, projects that had the potential to transform the cityscape in the same way.
He began experimenting with spraypaint and paste-ups, going on solo graffiti missions and trying to push his skills farther. After living, working and travelling in Asia for a year and a half, Nick returned home and started painting and doing freelance work full-time. He completed his Masters of Fine Art from OCAD University in the Interdisciplinary Art, Media and Design program, where he pushed his practice into unfamiliar territory, exploring new media like installation, sculpture, photography and video, and writing his research assignments on graffiti and street art. His thesis work analyzed the act of representation through digital and mixed media studio-led research, and resulted in his first solo show, "Digital Adaptations," at the OCAD Graduate Gallery. He also started exhibiting paintings in a variety of venues, from restaurants and bars to group shows in galleries around the city, where he made important connections in the Toronto mural scene.
He began working in the public art sphere at this time, completing a mural training certificate through Mural Routes and collaborating with local youth groups on public art installations through non-profit organizations like the STEPS Initiative. Through these networks, he started getting offered mural jobs, and has been fortunate enough to head up a number of mural projects across the city as well as collaborate with many artists he grew up admiring.
Asked how he has been given so many opportunities to paint the last few years, Nick admits a lot of it is being in the right place at the right time. One of the first large-scale multi-artist walls he was part of, the Essencia Art Collective's WATER mural at Jane and Highway 400, happened by chance: he was visiting the site to say hi and take pictures when one of the 20 artists scheduled to paint called to say they would be unable to come, so project coordinators Bruno Smoky and Shalak Attack gave Nick the spot.
When it comes to his dreams and aspirations, Nick couldn’t put it better himself:
“My dream is to continue collaborating with other artists and learning about how they work as well as the process of working together... putting our strengths together to produce something that couldn’t have been produced individually, I think that’s one of the most exciting things about getting to work on city mural projects.
It makes you stronger as an artist to have that give and take... and I’m always looking to learn what I can from the artists that I admire, whose work I like to see. So if I can crush out a wall with like Peru or Smoky for example, not only is it a really fun day, it’s a great learning experience for me. And that feeling of wonder that I want to make for other people, that’s what I feel watching them work. It’s a pleasure in every way to be a part of that collaborative process.”
Everyone uses terms differently, but Nick wouldn't call what he does now "graffiti," though he has a deep love and respect for the art form, and he knows that if it weren’t for the writers that came before him, he wouldn’t have the opportunities he does today:
“I owe everything I have to the artists that paved the way for first graffiti, and then street art, to be accepted and sought after in public space. The people who inspired me before I was a painter, people who often worked and continue to work in secret, people who created the styles and techniques and spectacular art that has been exploding on walls and trains and into galleries all over the world for decades... I'm honoured to continue these traditions and to have the opportunity to contribute to making the city a more exciting place by covering its walls in art."
The last two years, Nick has been populating Toronto’s walls with murals dedicated to pollinators to raise awareness about the threats facing ecosystems worldwide due to toxic pesticide use. This collaboration with Waves is an extension of that campaign and features a native Ontario pollinator, the green sweat bee, to inspire conversation around wild pollinators – the species that pollinate the wild plants every living thing depends on, highly susceptible to even small amounts of the chemicals present in some pesticides.
"I always try with my work to be playful and expressive, from the smallest drawing up to the biggest wall. But having the platform to inspire and influence people in their daily life as they walk down the street, I feel like there’s an opportunity to make them think about what is going on in the world. I try to paint what inspires me and fills me with awe - plants, animals, natural processes - and hopefully inspire that respect in others. I hope to continue to push this art form, keep on collaborating and exploring whenever possible, and encourage environmental consciousness in Toronto and beyond.”
Queen Street East and Saulter, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Nick Sweetman and Waves Apparel Collaboration
This collaboration with Waves is an extension of that campaign and features a native Ontario pollinator, the green sweat bee, to inspire conversation around wild pollinators – the species that pollinate the wild plants every living thing depends on, highly susceptible to even small amounts of the chemicals present in some pesticides.
Nick’s work celebrates all forms of life with which humans share the planet, and encourages all who see it to consider their place within the environment and their role in protecting it.
If you're interested in learning more about how you can help with the bee crisis or are looking for more information, take a look at Dr. Laurence Packer from York University's extensive list of resources and data at http://www.yorku.ca/bugsru
There are over 20,000 species of bee other than the honey bee. One of Dr. Packer's goals is to increase the taxonomic breadth of the bee collection at York University, which currently has specimens from over 100 different countries and over 80% of the world's bee genera are represented. Many of which are included in the image bank here.
Follow Nick’s story here:
Instagram – @nick_sweetman
Web – www.nicksweetman.ca
- March 01, 2017
- James Blackmore