Artist Nick Morte

When Nick Morte ponders darkness, he does not envision a terrifying, crushing void. Rather, he senses an enveloping peace. This reverence for darkness is apparent in all of his artistic work.

An accomplished painter and tattoo artist living in Oslo, Norway, Nick’s work consistently joins photorealistic imagery with dark fantasy. Nick’s masterful use of light and texture reveals a rich and seductive shadow realm.

His paintings depict characters who sink into exquisite, hellish landscapes and revel in their shadowy existence. They serve as harbringers of the need to embrace pain and hardship as beautiful and valid facets of the human condition.

While music has long been a form of Nick’s creative expression, he has recently been working on an album for public consumption. On July 7, Nick unveiled his first single, Until You Destroy Me. The deeply personal project juxtaposes harsh, masculine influences from Norweigian black metal with graceful, sweeping piano melodies. His poetic request for his lover to, “Destroy me until you erase me. Just gather my ashes before you replace me,” is especially poignant.

From the landscape to the folklore to the theme of isolation, Nick’s chosen homeland Norway is such a dominant presence in his work. Which is why he spent years fighting in the courts and dealing with government officials for the right to return after he was deported from Norway to Russia in 2016. Though Norway had been his home for six years by that time, the state ruled that his gainful employment as a tattoo artist was not considered a skilled job.

Through great personal and emotional cost Nick prevailed.  He was granted permission to return to Norway as a full-time artist and established a precedent where tattooing was recognized as a viable profession.

With so many people disillusioned by bad leadership and ineffective bureaucracy during the pandemic, I reached out to Nick to find out how he stays positive and maintains pride in his country despite his ordeals.

You are a tattoo artist, a painter and a musician living in Oslo, Norway.  How has your daily life changed since the spread of Covid-19?

My daily life in Oslo didn’t change as much, really. I have been slowing down with tattooing for a while, and spending more and more time at home, working in my tiny little painting room. So that part of my life didn’t change as much.

I live outside the city as well, so staying home was actually nice. I was happy to use that time to improve my painting skills and try new mediums and different painting techniques.

Of course, in the beginning of the lockdown it was scary and frustrating, but “if you can’t change it, you just have to adjust to it”, right?

I have been planning a little tour this spring: a couple of tattoo conventions and seminars, some live painting performances – it all got cancelled. My new music project release got postponed too. But eventually I was able to relax and reorganize my life in order to fit the new reality.

Ad Missam by Nick Morte

While Norway is still calling for social distancing, working from home when possible and limiting gatherings to fewer than 20 people, schools have reopened and it seems that the policies are gradually relaxing.  What is life like in Oslo right now?  Are people respecting social distancing?  Are there shortages?  Do you feel safe?

Yes, it’s true, Norway seems to be reopening now and people are relaxed. Some of them seem too relaxed to be honest, but Scandinavians are generally introverts by nature, so social distancing has never been a problem. Oslo looks “almost normal” now. It’s still quiet and a little bit empty.

Most people are advised to work from home, but most shops are open, working with restrictions. Large gatherings are banned, and people seem to respect that. I feel quite safe now, but I’m trying to avoid public transport and crowded places.

With a population of over five million people, Norway has reported just over 200 deaths from Covid-19. What is your perception of how Norway handled the pandemic?

It may sound strange, but I do believe that Norway did so well because of infamous Scandinavian social awkwardness! It looked like most of them were happy to stay home and keep the distance from other humans!

In 2016 you and your wife were deported from Norway where you had lived for over five and a half years when Norway’s Immigration Commision (UNE) denied your temporary residence permit renewal on the basis that tattooing was not considered skilled labor.  You fought this decision in the courts and were allowed to return to Norway in 2018 after the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that you have the competence of a skilled specialist.  What did this victory mean to you?

It was, indeed, the biggest victory in my life. I fought the honorable fight and I won the “impossible” case: One man against the System! But I would not be able to do it without my friends and public support, so no matter how proud I may be of my accomplishments, nothing compares to amount of gratitude that I have towards good people around me. 

This victory has also made a gateway to help people of artistic professions get recognized as skilled specialists. It’s still very hard, and you’ll have to fight for your rights – Norwegian bureaucracy won’t let anyone off the hook easily!  But I have paved a path for those who may end up in the same situation as I was. Our only weapon is our knowledge, and it’s the best weapon to fight the injustice. 

You made the decision to return to Norway even though you’d been badly burned by its bureaucracy.  Right now people in many parts of the world are feeling let down or ashamed of the government actions in the places they call home.  How did you reconcile your issues with the government with your desire to live in Norway?  Did you learn anything about fighting the system for change that could help others feel that there is hope?

 As soon as the court decision went into power, the government has erased all the negative record, and took me off EU “Black List”. I was allowed to return to Norway if I would express the desire to return (a written form). So I did. 

You see, I have never felt as home in any other country, as I feel in Norway. I just seem to fit in. I have never really felt “at home” in Russia, where I was born and lived for a long time, so Norway is where my heart resides.

I do get that question often: why did I return after being treated like criminal by authorities? The answer is very simple. What kind of victory would it be, if I would have to keep living in exile after smashing the enemy?! 

Besides, I’m here for “my people’, for beautiful nature, and for inspirational culture. Not for authorities, who’s faces I have never even seen in real life!

My life plan has Norway as my home base. I have tried other options, such as going back to Russia, moving to China or working in New Zealand, it was fun, but I have always felt a little bit incomplete. 

So, I have expressed my desire to return to Norway, and was allowed to come back. I had a nice formal correspondence with “government lady”, who was very helpful and wished me luck when she closed my case. You see, they all are normal, regular people, who happen to work in a dysfunctional monster-machine. We have no access to controllers they have, and connections that they use… But if you can talk one of them into senses, he may wake another one up, and they will make a change in a system, together. 

I’m happy to see that more and more people around the globe are waking up, realizing that “country” and “government” are two different things, and people of political power are not really our friends, they are just very greedy businessmen. 

Of course, it’s heartbreaking to watch all these horrors happening in USA, as well as disasters in Hong Kong and Chile, but it shows that people are fed up with lies and injustice, and they are willing to stand for their rights. Of course, it has happened before, many times. But this time, it’s much harder to brainwash people. We can check facts online, we can communicate with friends who live overseas, we can see bigger picture now. All you have to do is use your brain a little bit… Well, not many people do that, but it’s still much easier to filter information for those who choose to do so.

So, answering your question, yes, there is always hope! 

Golden Serpent by Nick Morte

Do you think going through traumatic times has made you more resilient and given you perspective on this crisis?  How do you deal with negative emotions and channel them through your art?

You know, my whole “artistic journey” was not exactly a joyride, and sometimes I feel that all I’ve been doing for last 20 years was “swimming against the current”, fighting the system, getting burnt and cut as I kept moving forward.

Of course, it gave me a different perspective, made me tougher, but it also made me less sensitive. I don’t get so easily disturbed, upset, or touched. It’s a good thing when it comes to dealing with problems or surviving through traumatic experiences, but it makes you colder. So, when I look at my old painting and drawings, I see a lot of anger projected through them. But I avoid doing it now, because it literally hurts.

I did a short political comic about a bureaucrat not long ago, and I was shocked how hard it was emotionally – getting all that negativity out and placing it on paper!  I was feeling sick when I have finished drawing it, just because I had to look at that shit for a few days in a row.

I don’t want to give any kind of home to that negativity, not on paper or canvas – I’d rather let the steam off at the gym, or at the concert, but not in my painting room. 

I understand that some people see a lot of darkness in my artworks, but it’s just the way I see beauty. It’s my escape from reality, in a way. I create my own universe when paint, and I don’t want to populate it with negative emotions. To me, Darkness is pretty much equal to Peace.

What role (if any) does art and the artist have at a time of crisis? 

It’s a huge role! Artists job is to motivate and inspire, and it’s absolutely vital in these turbulent times. And I don’t mean direct “propaganda” kind of motivation. That industry has always been disgracefully abused.

Sometimes, people need to see one beautiful thing in the world around them, just to make it through rough day! Just to get lost in it for a second and forget about troubles. And if that one beautiful thing will happen to be the image of my painting, that one moment in some stranger’s life will pretty much validate my existence as an artist. It’s an honorable role, which is, unfortunately, still very underestimated.

What kind of creative work did you do while quarantine was in effect in Oslo?  Did you reflect on the pandemic in your art or do you think you might in the future?

I have produced quite a lot of work during the quarantine, but directly inspired by it were only two paintings. One of them was a commissioned work with the image of 3 rooks sitting on branches, I started working on in in the beginning of the lockdown, so that apocalyptic atmosphere has definitely helped me to portray these birds in their glory! And another one was a small painting of the troll looking at blossoming flower in the snow, in the anticipation of the spring, or, hope for a change. I don’t think it would be possible to avoid reflecting the pandemic in art anyway. It’s there already. We all are affected by it, after all.  

What has been your biggest takeaway from your time in quarantine?

Honestly, the biggest takeaway has nothing to do with art or work, but it’s the knowledge that came from observing human behavior. We have experienced amazing opportunity to see true faces of our friends, coworkers and, also, politicians. I bet most of them regret posting all these jewels-of-idiocy that were polluting our feed in the beginning of the lockdown, but it’s a little too late for that, isn’t it?  Now we can clearly see who they are, it’s amazing. 

Tattoo by Nick Morte

Did you miss tattooing?  

I did not miss it at all, I’m sorry! I have very complicate love/hate relationship with this medium. Mostly, it’s because I had to push on tattooing so hard for such a long time, just in order to “stay afloat”, I felt burnt out. The lockdown actually came handy – I needed a break and I got it. I feel way better now, and I enjoy tattooing again, but it took more than two months to get proper recharge. I’ll have to be more careful with that from now on. 

You’ve previously travelled extensively to tattoo conventions to tattoo and teach seminars.  What would it take for you to feel safe attending those types of conventions in the future?

I don’t think it would be safe to do these huge events until the virus spread is officially stopped and all restrictions are gone. I feel that people might be a little too optimistic now, hoping that everything will be back to normal by the end of the year. It’s not only that virus won’t be gone so quickly, but it’s also the fact that economy has suffered tremendously, and tattoo industry has taken a few heavy punches. Whatever happens next, it will be a different chapter. 

Ravens feature prominently in your work in paintings such as In the Twilight, Cold Light of Morning and Black Birth.  The title of this website is taken from the opening line of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven so it should come as no surprise that ravens are an important totem to me.  What do they symbolize in your art?

This must be my subconscious fascination with ravens, and corvids in general, really, because I don’t specifically plant any symbolic ideas in there. I have always been attracted to them, to their somber appearance, their intelligence, the scent of mystery.

Sometimes I see them as messengers from the other side, or spirits, but I also love the idea of the crow or raven as a friend and wise advisor, someone who could easily fly away and never come back, but he sticks around because he trusts you. 

A detail of Snowdrop by Nick Morte

In addition to being a visual artist you are also a musician working on a solo metal album.  Have you been able to work on your music in quarantine?  

It’s a very different form of expression, for me it’s more personal than painting, and way more emotional. I’m doing a solo project now, where I present myself as a composer, guitar player and vocalist, in collaboration with keyboard player Geir Bratland (Dimmu Borgir, Apoptygma Berzerk) who also produces the record. I wouldn’t exactly call it “metal” though, you’ll see what I mean when you hear it.  We’ve been planning to do the first release in May, but because of the quarantine it has been postponed to 7th of July. I’m so excited about it!  

What do you get from expressing yourself through music that you do not get through visual art?

I’d say the difference is in “kickback”. With art it’s a long process, with spontaneous splashes of adrenaline, and opportunity to change or adjust the product if you are not happy with it. With music, especially live performances, it’s pure, sometimes uncontrolled, release of energy that reflects your emotional state on a very different level.

To me, it’s the beauty of the moment, that mesmerizes me in music. On composing level, it’s the art of catching a thought as it flies out of your head, and giving it life, in a form of a sound. And on performance level, it’s the art of creating the energy and conducting the exchange of that energy with the audience. Both levels look absolutely magic to me, and I’m grateful for every moment spent in the studio or on stage.

Were you financially affected by the spread of Covid-19 and the stay-at-home restrictions?  How did you adapt?

Oh, my business was screwed beyond the recognition, and it still is! Most of my clients have lost their jobs or are living in a state of extreme financial worries at the moment. But I have managed to get a couple of commissions and pay my bills.

I know it could have been worse, so I can’t complain. As long as I can afford a bottle of cheap red wine on Sunday, I’m fine!

I will keep working on new projects in the meantime, even if they are not bringing any money at the moment. I know where I’m going and I will keep on moving.

EDEN by Nick Morte

What can we do to support your work at this time?

Just don’t hesitate asking about availability of artworks if you like what I post. I feel that sometimes people are too shy to ask, or afraid to get some kind of negative response. They have to understand that this is not a fashion show, and this is the only income that I have. Of course I will be happy to help you find something that you like among my old works, or make a new one for you, I’m always open for communication. 

So much gratitude to Nick Morte for agreeing to do this interview.

To see more of Nick’s work, visit his website and follow him on Instagram.  Nick posts paintings available for purchase in his webstore.

Check out the video for Nick’s new single, Until You Destroy Me, on his website and YouTube.

To learn more about Nick’s fight for tattooing to be a recognized skilled profession in Norway, read his account to MediaZink.

Dahlia Jane

Dahlia Jane is a wicked writer living in Los Angeles.  She writes about the dark arts scene, goth life and fascinations with the macabre.  Dahlia spends her free time obsessing about skulls, devouring true crime and occult books, sewing and making messes.

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