Credit to: Nicholas Contrera

I for one am always super impressed by anyone who comes from a small town like I am and makes it big in a city like Manhattan, where millions of people are trying to leave some type of impressionable footprint before they leave this earth.  To accomplish a lot of that footprint in your early 20’s just shows the type of drive and talent one must have to succeed.  This can be said about one of the hottest rising stars in the art world, Nicholas Contrera.

Credit to: Nicholas Contrera
Credit to: Nicholas Contrera

I had the opportunity to interview Nick nearly two years ago, when he was just getting his feet wet here in the big apple.  His unique interpretation of how art is put out in front of the masses has landed him some pretty great exposure, with everything from The Huffington Post to an incredible showing all the way around the world in Sydney, Australia.  I recently caught up with Nicholas to talk about that trip, major developments since we last spoke, and thoughts on his hopeful future.

What has been going on with your career since we last spoke?

It has been almost two years since we last spoke, my career and my art has really taken off. In short; I have been very busy. Since then I have worked on a few different series that have been published in New York. The Huffington Post featured a story about my Gender-Queer work, a photo series where I have my camera focused on individuals entrenched in New York City’s vibrant club scene, and he has investigated the fluidity of sexual and gender expression within these uninhibited and decadent spaces.

This year I also worked with New York Pride to create a photo series called Trans Life, which was the main spread in the past years Pride Guide Magazine. We selected 10 transgender New Yorkers whose accomplishments have been instrumental in moving the trans community forward in society. This series looks into the everyday lives of these men and women, who come from all backgrounds and walks of life. Some profiles included the first transwoman firefighter, a nightlife icon, and a retired US Sergeant.  Before her passing, I had the chance to work with my ideal Mary Ellen Mark, which was such a surreal feeling. I exhibited my work in a few shows and now am getting ready to go to Sydney, Australia to exhibit my Trans Life series.

Gia, Jane Hotel, 2015. Credit: Nicholas Contrera
Gia, Jane Hotel, 2015. Credit: Nicholas Contrera

You have had so many amazing things happen to you in a short span of time.  What has been your biggest moment?

When Phillip Miner, a writer from the Huffington Post’s “Gay Voices” contacted me asking to feature my gender-queer series “Tribal Queer” is a groundbreaking moment for me. When you create a body of work and you have people respond positively in some way to it, it is one of the greatest feelings an artist can have. It was then where I looked at myself not as a student, but an emerging artist.  It’s pretty crazy how much has happened to me. I’ve been told a few times now “Nicholas, you have accomplished more in the 2 years of living in New York, than people who have lived here for 6-7 years.”  That to me was one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received. New York is its own entity, a place that will chew you up, spit you out and ask you to come right back, let alone how hard and competitive the art world is here. To me the last two years have been magical.

You are also someone who comes from a small town in Michigan and came to NYC with a goal and made it happen. What do you attribute that success to?

I was told multiple times “You don’t have to be the photographer, you can be the art director”.  Almost telling me you don’t have to be the football player but instead the water boy, partly because I am an Aries. I’m stubborn when told NO or I shouldn’t. I thrive when I create and work. There isn’t anything I want more than to produce art and have my voice heard. Some can say I am hungry for my own success.  Also I get my work ethic from my father. a man who built a successful hard laboring company from the ground up when I was a child. I never thought of taking over the family business, but he has always supported my dreams. Just whatever I ended up doing with my life, he wanted me to be the best version of myself I could be. Since then I have put all my energy and countless hours into my work.

Dina, Harlem, 2015. Credit to: Nicholas Contrera
Dina, Harlem, 2015. Credit to: Nicholas Contrera

What advice would you give up and coming artists who have the same mentality as you?

What most young artist do wrong is they get to the point where they think they are the best. That they have no need to grow anymore and learn. For myself, I understand the level I am at, but I am always wanting to grow. There is so much more to learn about your art and I want to learn all of it.  I am a knowledge seeker. A big believer that fine art is a form of knowledge that is handed down from other artist. Anyone can learn how to work a camera, techniques, or even studio lighting. But it was my mentors who helped open and shaped my mind. Conversations with other artist brought my conceptual thinking to a whole different level.  It was the belief in myself that has taken me farther than I could imagine.

Is there anyone you would love to work with on a piece or any gallery you are dying to have your work in?

One of my biggest goals is to be in the Whitney Biennial. In the last Biennial I just remember seeing some of the work that was curated into the show and saying to myself. “Oh, if this can get into the Whitney, I surely can.”  Also, to either work under photographers Bruce Webber or Larry Sultan would be remarkable. Just to be able to sit and have coffee with them and pick their brains for a bit would be amazing.

Tell us about your trip to Australia.

I am about to exhibit my series “Trans Life” in Sydney. The work will be shown in a gallery called aMBUSH, a beautiful gallery in a new and upcoming area called Central Park. DAMO, a director of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras contacted me asking to bring the series overseas. The gallery show is an official event, part of the 2016 Sydney Mardi Gras. To start showing internationally like this is another groundbreaking moment for me as an artist.

Rick- Beacon, NYC, 2015.  Credit to: Nicholas Contrera
Rick- Beacon, NYC, 2015. Credit to: Nicholas Contrera

What does the future hold for you?

I could not predict at all what the last two years has given me, nor will I try to figure out the next. That’s the beauty of the beast. At the moment all that is set in stone for me is finishing my Bachelors in Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts this coming spring.  I’m also planning a few new series that I have been pretty excited to start producing. I never stop working, if I can’t make work I start to feel like I am failing. I hope a few more galleries will pick up my work, and possibly land a job working for a magazine. I just want to thrive as a artist.

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