Calming watercolour paintings made in quarantine by Nicolas Party celebrate forests and treetops

Known for his familiar yet unsettling landscapes, portraits, and still lifes rendered in soft pastels, Nicolas Party is a New York-based Swiss artist whose latest body of work, Canopy, looks to treetops for inspiration.

Trees, 2020. Watercolour on paper 30.5 x 40.6 cm / 12 x 16 in. All images: © Nicolas Party Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

The watercolour paintings follow his previous collection, Sottobosco, which instead looked at the atmosphere of a dense, richly alive forest floor. With these new artworks, he looks up to pay homage to the tops of trees where “light and air expand”.

On show in Hauser & Wirth’s latest online exhibition, opening Thursday 7 May, his series of 11 atmospheric landscapes were created while quarantined in upstate New York. Each embraces watercolour’s intimacy, fluidity, and animate qualities, and inspiration is drawn from Charles Burchfield, George Grosz, Georgia O’Keeffe, and William Turner.

“Throughout history, trees have been present in so many stories, legends, and religions,” says Party. “They are one of the most important elements in human culture. Today, they are also one of the primary reminders of our fears and anxieties for the future. How many trees are being painted today? And how many trees are burning?”

Party’s distinctive vision of the natural world derives equally from his relationship to the art historical canon and his childhood explorations in Switzerland, which instilled within him a deep love of nature’s endless arrays of colour, pattern, and form. Recalling his early experiences in the outdoors, he says: “One of the first things that you draw as a child are trees. The unsteady lines on the paper find a structure in the form of a tree. A line topped with circle structures, the page creates a space, shows us where the sky is and where the ground… Trees are nature’s alphabets. The infinite flexibility of the visual language of the tree makes its execution endlessly playful.”

Party will follow Canopy with a commission from RxArt to create a giant mural for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and a major survey exhibition at MASI Lugano.

Trees, 2020. Watercolour on paper 40.6 x 30.5 cm / 16 x 12 in. All images: © Nicolas Party Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Trees, 2020. Watercolour on paper 30.5 x 22.9 cm / 12 x 9 in. All images: © Nicolas Party Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Trees, 2020. Watercolour on paper 30.5 x 30.5 cm / 12 x 12 in. All images: © Nicolas Party Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Trees, 2020. Watercolour on paper 25.4 x 17.8 cm / 10 x 7 in. All images: © Nicolas Party Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Trees, 2020. Watercolour on paper 30.5 x 22.9 cm / 12 x 9 in. All images: © Nicolas Party Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

By Katy Cowan for Creative Boom