The story of skin: Brian DiNicola’s tattoo paintings in Kingston

Brian DiNicola’s Sultress Aria

Take a look at the tattoo paintings by Brian DiNicola that are showing alongside the work of local eminence Scott Michael Ackerman and pop portraits by noted illustrator Jason O’Malley of Stone Ridge in a show at Tech Smiths’ Anvil Gallery in Uptown Kingston called “About Face.” They’re not paintings in a tattoo form, but classic painterly works of those who define themselves and tell personal narratives via their body’s embellishments.

“I’m in love, just now, with painting people in tattoos,” DiNicola said by phone this week. “I’ve been painting since I was 7, and got a BFA from U-Mass Dartmouth in Illustration, but then went on for an MFA in Painting and have just been out since May. I’m working construction by day and painting at night, lining shows up and building my résumé. In fact, some of the works will have to leave this show in a couple of weeks for another exhibit in Chicago. And I just heard I’ll also be showing in Hudson at Limner.”

DiNicola, who lives in the Berkshires of nearby Massachusetts, says that he hadn’t been to the Hudson Valley until he got asked to show his portraits at Guts ‘n’ Glory Tattooists in Rosendale last fall. He’s liking Kingston, in particular, a lot, but says that his current plans call for him to pursue a teaching gig, after building his exhibition résumé and completing more of his own work.

“I keep myself on a strict regimen; I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to painting,” he says, noting how he has returned to live with his parents, setting up a studio in their basement, until he reaches his next step as an artist – and hopefully a teacher. “I started charting the progress of a work every two hours or so, making what feels like an animation of my process. But when I showed these as part of my thesis presentation, it seemed many spent more time connecting with the ‘video’ than the work itself.” That is a true shame, given the textural element inherent in DiNicola’s work, which incorporates bits of cardboard and various tricks to achieve a myriad of “painterly” effects in his portraits.

“Some of what I work with feels like great globs of Play-Doh,” he adds. “I look at my work now and it feels like it’s by a different person from the painter working with still-lives and form a few years ago. But then I recall my methodology building boxes, using my fingers on the surface.”

DiNicola says that much of his work fits in with a new portraiture movement based in California of late, and rising rapidly in Chicago. It’s about the simple narratives inherent in a person’s look. “I had been painting myself for a while under colored lights, and then realized I wanted to paint someone with colored skin,” he recalls, telling of how he found a model with “full-sleeve” tattooing. “It’s raised so many ideas and questions, within and outside the painting itself; there’s always a narrative at play…and recently I’ve been adding in other adornments people wear, from certain shirts to plaid hats. If you just look carefully at a person, there’s always a narrative there.” Coming up, the painter adds, is a series of portraits of people in masks, from his own adornment of the “models” with paint to the masks that they bring in.

“The dermis is just weird and interesting in general,” he says of his fascination with painting skin in two dimensions. “At one point, working with the ways tattoos turn grey on one’s skin, I was trying to see how many greys I could work with in a row… It’s like I’m relearning the color wheel!”

“I had been wondering why these people out in California were picking people as their subjects,” DiNicola adds. “Then it hit me: You can always relate to another person; there’s no second-guessing. And the details are fun, from one’s look to the way clothes wrinkle. Endlessly fascinating.” Just as it’s great to have artists such as DiNicola launching themselves from our midst.

“About Face” with Brian DiNicola, Scott Michael Ackerman & Jason O’Malley, through March, Anvil Gallery, Tech Smiths, 45 North Front Street, Uptown Kingston; (845) 443-4866,,



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