- Don in 1998
Growing up in California's San Joaquin Valley in the 1930s and '40s, Don Nice came of age enmeshed in a world of football, farming, and horses. "When he wasn't in school, Nice himself grew up on the range," writes Antonia D. Bryan in a biographical essay on Nice's website. "A sunburned teenager in chaps, herding cattle, dodging rattlesnakes, and setting out barbed wire."
Despite this rugged upbringing, from a young age Nice, who passed away on March 4, had a love of drawing, which was nurtured by his grandfather and aunt, both novice painters. It was Nice's football prowess that earned him a four-year scholarship to USC. After graduation, he worked for several years as a high school teacher before joining the army. In 1958, he spent a brief but formative period studying under the watercolor master Oskar Kokoschka. Later, in Paris, he encountered the work of Abstract Expressionist titans Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.
- Don in his studio at 463 Broome Street in NYC in 1964 with his painting Strawberry.
His initial fascination with Abstract Expression eventually gave way to exasperation, as Nice turned his attention to Pop Art and eventually to landscape painting. In 1968, his work was included in the student-curated exhibit "Realism Now," at Vassar College and, a year later, he left the city to settle in Garrison, lured by the same Hudson River vistas that moved the likes of Frederick Church.
Nice entered a chapter of landscape painting inspired by reverence for nature, yet characterized by the same distinctive brushwork he brought to his earlier studies of objects and labels. His landscapes evade categorization, blending the natural and the manmade, abstraction and realism, painting and sculpture and movement.
- Tootsie Pops, a 2014 watercolor by Don Nice.
Nice's work is featured in many prominent institutions, including MoMA and the Whitney. Nice is remembered for eschewing what he called "the Renaissance window," the rectangular confines of a typical canvas, experimenting in later years with sculptural, multipart paintings.