The White Room Gallery of Bridgehampton is known to have some of the most talented artists recognized both worldwide and locally. The Gallery recently debuted an exhibition entitled Surf’s Up, on display July 15 through August 9.
“Surf’s Up is a surfing term from the 60’s that means the swell has picked up and the waves are going to be powerful. It is imbued with optimism and joy. In curating this exhibit we wanted to translate those feelings into art with aerial photographs of people from around the world soaking up the sun in the pre-covid-19 snapshot of humanity and engaging vintage pop pieces that elicit memories of simpler times in America. And, of course, what would Surf’s Up be without photographs of surfboards and waves. As Van Gogh said, ‘Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.’ He didn’t know it at the time but he was talking about Surf’s Up,” reflected Andrea McCafferty and Kat O’Neill, Co-Owners and Directors of The White Room Gallery.
One artist from Surf’s Up that stood out in particular was Nelson De La Nuez. He is one of the most sought-after contemporary Pop artists practicing today, known for mixed media artwork that borrows motifs and messages from the language of wealth, power, fame, excess, and taste. De La Nuez puts modern society on blast in the best possible way. His internationally sold art and licensed brands are sold under the trademarked brand name King of Pop Art.
De La Nuez was born in Cuba and moved to California at the age of seven. These early childhood moments were where he was initially introduced to many of the iconic images that he uses in his art to this day.
“My artwork is a reflection of who I am today as a result of every event that has taken place in my life, every person I have met and everything I have processed through my senses up until this point in time,” explained De La Nuez.
He has been commissioned to create work for Warner Bros. as an official artist to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the film, The Wizard of Oz. Additionally, De La Nuez has collaborated with several prestigious brands, including Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and Nordstrom. You can find his pieces at the most prestigious galleries around the globe, exhibited regularly at top-tier art shows including Art Basel Miami, Art Central Hong Kong, Context and Art Market Hamptons and his work is part of numerous private collections. He has been commissioned by numerous high-profile brands to create bespoke installations including Hermes and Kim Kardashian’s ShoeDazzle, and has earned a long list of celebrity admirers, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Warren, Howie Mandel, Kaley Cuoco, and Kelly Clarkson.
I spoke with De La Nuez to learn more about his work, creative process, and passion behind his remarkable career.
You were born in Cuba and later moved to California. How has your Cuban roots influenced your work as an artist?
NDLN: Not really to be honest. I am truly American. I remember that I came to the US when I was seven-years-old with my parents to Southern California/Oceanside, where I started to absorb everything American like a sponge – the TV, commercials, advertising, film and music. My art is a reflection of that early childhood so, therefore, most of my artwork is strongly rooted in pop culture and American icons.
The only homage to Cuba I have done is a series called the B.C. series (Before Castro), for which I created art, such as Old Havana, that conveys a time before Castro took over, a time when Cuba was still magical and innocent, full of beauty and hope. It’s possible part of my hard work ethic may have something to do with where I came from and the struggles I saw, the life I lived there and had to create for myself with my family in the US. It always mystifies me when people blame their lack of success in life or being ‘held down’ by the world, because of where they were born or any of those situations. Anyone has the ability to overcome and change their circumstance. Everyone makes choices. I don’t ever take my success for granted. I have worked extremely hard to harness and cultivate my creativity, talent and skills to get to where I am today.
Where have you gained your biggest inspiration for your well-known work? What sorts of experiences have been the most influential to your work?
NDLN: I draw inspiration from almost everything. It’s all around me, even the most mundane things like a cereal box, for example. I can look at that and have an entire idea form in my head. I can gain inspiration from an old ad or seeing a classic film. I am constantly being inspired on a daily basis. I do an immense amount of research for every new piece. I scour my archives of vintage magazines and papers from the 1940’s and 50’s that can spark something and then I execute it on canvas, wood or as a sculpture. That process can take weeks or even months. I always keep my own catalog of notes to refer back to, which list projects I may want to complete in the future or possibly redo. Besides research, life all on its own is inspirational and influential to my art, both the environment I’m in, travels and people I am surrounded by. My wife, for example is a muse to me and lends so much to my inspirations and ideas into how a woman thinks. She is the fabulous female point of view shown in my pieces.
When you think back to all of the pieces you have created, which one stands out to you? Can you speak to your first “pinch me” moment as an artist?
NDLN: I’m only as good as my last piece. I’m always trying to create something better and outdo myself, so I don’t think I can choose one piece. I might really like one and then a few months later, I look back and wish I could redo it, but it sold so I’m just a perfectionist and never totally satisfied, which is good for an artist I suppose…maybe. I make art so others can enjoy my creativity. It’s really not just about one piece…it’s about creating new art that’s outside the box. The more people I touch, the more people I reach; that’s what I’d like to be remembered for. If I had to choose a piece based on long running popularity over many years, although there are many like that…I’d have to mention Material Girl, which is the one that says: “Darling, all I require are fabulous shoes!” I have created this piece in many media forms and different, unique versions. It’s one that people are very drawn to and is owned by countless celebrities, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Kardashian’s Shoedazzle company for the lobby, and Kaley Cuoco, to mention just a few. It also has been used for several of my big licensing partnerships, such as luggage and purses.
A couple pivotal pinch me moments as an artist were:
1) When the realization hit that I was making… not just a living doing what I loved, but a very good living and enjoyed what I did every day.
2) The very first big red carpet charity event I attended and auctioned my art off at to raise money for a great cause and watched the bidding wars and the amount of money that I realized I was capable of raising and helping those in need, literally using just my art alone. It was a humbling, pinch me moment. I am very select in what charities I partner with now and work closely with specific ones only that I personally truly care about.
What message do you hope to communicate to people through your pieces?
NDLN: I honestly feel that it’s whatever the viewer sees. It’s how each person wants to interpret it. I am not forcing a message or have a hidden agenda like some artists might. I put it out there to the universe and each person may see something different for him/herself in it. I love when people react to it immediately, they often say ‘that’s me (them) in the painting!’ It makes them happy or makes them smile or reminds them of something or someone; they want it in their home. That’s what I love, the instant connection. They want to be surrounded by these thoughts and images and people…the scenarios I created from my mind. They are drawn to a specific piece for a reason as with any art because something in it is speaking to them.
Your work is typically represented at Market Art + Design every summer. If COVID-19 prevents the gathering this summer, how can people stay connected with your work? Are you doing any virtual showings or events?
NDLN: I am shown in many prestigious galleries in major high-end cities internationally, but of course, now, I have also found a home in the Hamptons at the White Room Gallery. I have many great collectors in the Hamptons and am looking forward to ongoing shows with my work shown full time at the gallery. The Hamptons is a city like no other and my work has always sold well there. The “audience” gets me and the fun, yet sophisticated, tongue in cheek thought bubbles I have my characters speaking, as well as the luxury images that remind people of good times and positive outlooks. The gallery currently has a show running and is about to start another, both with my art, but look for Pop Starz August 12-September 6, which will show a great, wide variety of my art in various forms of media. I also hear they might be participating in a virtual Hamptons Art Fair so stay tune for that info. As for me- I’m always creating new work. I never stop.
The White Room Gallery is located at 2415 Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton. For more information, visit thewhiteroom.gallery or kingofpopart.com.