Don Nice was born in Vasalia, California, in 1932. He attended the University of Southern California on a football scholarship, and received his BFA in 1954. In the ensuing decade, Nice volunteered for the draft, and spent two years serving the Army at Fort Ord, in Monterey, California, simultaneously working as an illustrator and teaching at Monterey Peninsula College. After his discharge from the army, he studied painting in Rome under the GI Bill, later settling in Minneapolis, where he taught at the city’s eponymous School of Art. After receiving his MFA from Yale University in 1964, Nice taught at the School of Visual Arts for many years, and since 1982, was an artist-in-residence at Dartmouth. In 1963, Nice won the Ford Foundation Purchase Award. Noteworthy commissions include the wall murals at National Fine Arts Commission, Lake Placid, and the Art in Architecture Project, Veterans Administration, White River Junction, New York. The subject of countless solo exhibitions, his work is also featured in many prominent institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Walker Art Center, as well as the collection of Chase Manhattan Bank. The artist died in Garrison, New York in 2019.
Working in a style similar to the meticulous precision of nineteenth century encyclopedic illustrations by the likes of Audubon or Ernst Haeckel, Don Nice refreshes a classical approach with representations of contemporary Americana (and some more traditional animals and objects). In his early works of the 1960s and ‘70s, Nice focused on single representations while his more recent works have been enlarged to several subjects. Considered with other realists of the day – Richard Estes or Malcolm Morley – Nice establishes a vocabulary neither expressionistic nor abstract. Coming out of the 1960s, his work is part of a classic Pop iconography that toys with the homogeneity and sterility of mass-produced culture. Warhol’s influence, especially from his early soup can paintings, can also be seen. Both artists are using wit to explore the similarities of art and advertising and embracing the pervasiveness and uniformity of Postwar American culture.