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John Nicolini (1923-2014) was a Bay Area artist. He studied at CCAC, earning a BA in Fine Art in the late 1950s. He worked as a commercial and graphic designer, owning a graphic arts firm for 40 years. He exhibited widely throughout Northern California, including at the de Young Museum in SF.
Nicolini is known for his Bay Area scenes, particularly the freeways, interstates, and bridges of the East Bay. He painted quickly and intently, showing movement and keeping a keen eye on negative space, and was inspired by Richard Diebenkorn, Wolfgang Lederer, Wayne Thiebaud, and Edward Hopper. These artists, in addition to his personal inspirations of music, light, patterns, and sports, greatly informed his style and subject matter. Nicolini’s truest inspiration seemed to be the act of painting itself, and the emotion it could emit. As he wrote, “What is primarily important to me in painting, is conveying my inner feelings to the viewer through the use of textures, of the stroke, textures showing movement and action. The subject matter is purely incidental.”
John Joseph Nicolini was born in 1923 in San Francisco. He attended Fremont High School in Oakland where he discovered his love of sports and art, both of which proved to hold a lifelong fascination. He was captain of both the baseball and basketball teams and loved weight lifting and gymnastics. After graduating in 1942, Nicolini joined the Navy. He served in WWII as a radioman aboard the USS Boreas until 1945.
Nicolini returned to the Bay Area and enrolled in a radio communication course at Central Trade (later to become Laney College). He received his Coast Guard License and joined the Merchant Marines, where he served until the early 1950s. After a brief stint working for Shell Oil, Nicolini decided to finally pursue an art education. With the help of the G.I. bill and a job as a playground director for Oakland’s Parks and Recreation Department, he was able to enroll full time at California College of Arts and Crafts (now CCA) in 1956. He graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Art in 1959.
Following his graduation, Nicolini worked a variety of jobs within the world of commercial art and design. He designed labels at Lehman Brothers Publishing in San Francisco, did sketching and lettering at Cooper’s Department Store in Fresno, was a graphic designer at Long’s Advertising Agency, illustrated postage-stamp sized paintings for tourists in Fisherman’s Wharf, and designed electrical pylon signs.
In 1963, Nicolini met his wife Edy, with whom he would have two children, Judith Lorraine (Lorri) and John Joseph Jr., and remain married to for 50 years. He was an active and involved father, remembered for his kind and easy sense of humor and his childlike sense of wonder. He strove to perfect the balance between dedication to his family and his art practice, and considered his family to be his life’s greatest achievement.
Nicolini was very active sportsman. In addition to being an accomplished baseball and basketball player, he enjoyed weightlifting and gymnastics, and was a nationally ranked tennis player. In addition to art and sports, Nicolini was a passionate jazz lover. He played drums, piano, vibraphone, and guitar, and later in life took courses on harmony and music arranging. He was briefly a member of a Dixieland jazz band that performed in the Bay Area.
From 1968 until his death in 2014, he operated a freelance design business, Nicolini Associates, out of his home. Nicolini Associates specialized in graphic design, architectural renderings, and advertising art. He designed two typefaces, Nicolini Broadpen and Nicolini Angus Black. Over the years he was able to move away from the commercial art world and focus on fine art, participating in dozens of juried exhibitions and one-man shows across Northern California, including the de Young Museum and Le Salon des Nations in Paris.
Nicolini’s art practice included a myriad classes and workshops taken throughout his life, as he was continually dedicated to learning and honing his skills as a watercolor and oil painter.
Lost Art Salon would like to thank Edy and Lorri Nicolini for their assistance in bringing John’s work and story to us.