By Mike Jurkovic
When his electrician father came home from a long day with his newly lettered van the bells went off in the young artist’s head. He could do this, learn this, he swore to himself, beginning a lifelong commitment to art and helping people express their own that still brings him joy, nearly thirty years on.
Nub, (yes I thought it was a cool painter’s nickname too like wearing your brushes down to the nub, but the truth is and the truth lies within SNL S7:E2 with Eddie Murphy singing Buh-Wheat and there you have it!) Then imagine having that transcendent lyrical accident -Woo-kin Pa Nub- splashed on the rear window of your ’81 Civic which, in a celebration of over-zealous youthful artistry, you painted process blue and accented with bright pink and lime green geometrics and a cartoon kid picking his nose and thus, from no greater origins, are legends born.
“I was heavily influenced by Mad Magazine so I may have gone overboard,” he says with his perpetual grin, promising pictures of said vehicle.
No longer did he have to steal his brothers crayons, draw on the wall and blame his sibling. Now he worked for and studied under a local New Windsor sign designer, Leif Syvertsen. But as his own ideas and visions began coming in waves, Nub Design was born then quickly morphed into what many know Hudson Valley and nation-wide as NubGrafix. (http://www.nubgrafix.com
He’s finally getting around to refurbishing his grandfather’s cherished ’66 Vespa Scooter. “It’s been with me through all four shops,” he says wistfully, with a reverence for both the man and the machine. “I’m feeling it’s time to do it justice.”
He’s also feeling the pull of his art these days. “Yeah, I’m really more interested in doing my own stuff. The technical work, layout, spraying and powder coating (we won’t get into the weeds here) not so much.” To that end, he’s thinking it’s time to open his own gallery, hopefully in one of the small valley villages looking to welcome artists, artisans, and growth. “But it’s tough. The rents some of these places are looking to charge is very prohibitive. I don’t get it in a lot of ways. It kills me that you ride down many Main Streets and there’s empty buildings and windows boarded up. What are they thinkin’? Do they want to bring people into the towns to celebrate local history and artisans or do they just want to make quick money and move on? Anyway, for the moment, gallery shopping’s on the back burner.”
Many longtime friends, (of which I’m fortunate to have so many) unbeknownst to me, know him. Know of him. His color and fine hand. His generosity and humor. His rescue bulldog George stretching bear-like at our feet, attests to that. “Ninety pounds of idiot,” he says playfully. Vanessa, his director of operations (“I do everything but paint,” she says with an easy laugh) tosses a ball to the end of the studio and George galumphs after it.
Animal rescue is one of the charities dear to his and his wife Mackenzie’s heart. “I create a lot of designs for charity auctions. But auctions, as satisfying as they are, are a gamble. A work you’ve invested so much time in can go for a lot or a very little.”
“Do you sketch these designs out before hand?”
“Nah,” he says, but not as a boast. “I usually start with a straight line down the middle and free hand it from there. Sometimes I’ll give myself a horizontal line just so I know where I’m at.”
His work dazzles but I notice a recurring motif: mummies and skeletons.
“It’s not just you, but what’s the fascination with mummies and skeletons. I’ve never understood it?”
“It’s just the motorcycle industry. Those are my roots. I’ve always had a fascination with skulls. We just did a tally of how many skulls I gotta paint for 2018 and it’s close to three hundred already.”
“And that’s not counting quotes,” Vanessa adds. “Usually every three out of five quotes is for skulls.”
Today, XM’s Ozzy’s Boneyard rattles the paint cans. Tomorrow Hair Nation. He dismays the loss of the Pink Floyd channel. “It helps me create,” he says.
“We get a lot of word of mouth work. I mean I don’t have any sign outside. Social media is huge for us too. But it does get tiring sometimes though, all the skulls. Pretty much doing the exact same thing.”
“Is that for guitars too?” (Nub’s work has appeared on a line of Martin Nub X Guitars, he’s designed for one special Gibson guitar, price tag $30K. He’s also personalized instruments for Poison’s Brett Michaels, Rob Zombie guitarist John 5, and drums for Mark Wengren of Disturbed, Dream Theater’s Mike Mangini, Chickenfoot’s Chad Smith, Korn’s Ray Luzier, besides a host of regional rockers.) “I was friends with the artist relations guy at Pearl. So I’ve worked with Pearl Drums too.”
“No, the guitars and instruments are usually something more personal.’
“How’d you get involved with musical instruments?”
You can see him thinking back. “I don’t know exactly. It was just being a custom paint shop, doing signs. Couple people came by and I guess as word got out . . . Then we got involved with (Discovery Channel’s) American Chopper that’s filmed a few miles from here. From that Martin Guitars and a few other larger companies got in touch with me. That was pretty cool.”
“Now that they’re reviving American Chopper are you going back to the show?”
“Hell no! I won’t be part of that train wreck again. It’s too much unneeded drama and I don’t want in my head right now. It’s not where I think the bike industry is going and it’s for sure not where I’m going. It was great to be part of it. It was fun while it lasted. And because I have my own shop I tried to distance myself from all that TV stuff, all that drama. But it just spills over y’know. And when it affects what you’re doing for yourself, bye-bye. I’m done.”
“Were you ever interested in making jewelry?”
He looks at me like I’ve read his mind. “Funny you mention that,” he says, that grin ever-present. “I just hooked up with a jeweler in Illinois who’s using my pinstripe designs and turning them into things. I actually want to try and work with him. But right now I’m sending him designs and he’s making pendants and earrings. As I mentioned about our social media outreach, he contacted me through Facebook.”
“I mean I’ve worked with Polich Foundry in Walden and Tallix in Beacon. But I like one and one because he’s just a guy like me. He’s got his jeweler’s workbench and a certain set of skills. I don’t know how to fashion jewelry myself so it’s a cool collaboration. I’m always looking for ways to spread the wings of this motorcycle -based art into new areas. Turn people on who might not be turned on by hot rods.”
“I spoke to him last week and . . .” he seems to veer quickly onto a new train of thought but it’s all connected. “We’re actually going to start filming here, like a weekly blog kinda thing without all the TV drama, something more positive, people creating, teaching, and bring in other artists to show me what they do and I’ll show them my thing and we’ll trade and see what happens. I love working with other artists.”
“It’s an idea I’ve had for years. It’s sort of like pinstripe jams. You get a bunch of guys hop on a design and it teaches you to do things you wouldn’t normally do because you’re following the guy before you. It’s fun and it recharges your creative battery.”
“It’ll definitely be on YouTube and we might just do it live on Facebook. We have our biggest audience on Facebook right now. Then I’m thinking of bringing a musician in ‘cos I can’t work without the radio. (“We should really do that!” Vanessa asserts) “I can’t work in silence and I don’t want to sit there with headphones on ‘cos I can’t work as a hermit either.”
“What made you so confident using social media?’
“It’s our lifeline to the world,” he says without hesitancy and Vanessa agrees with a boisterous “Yea!” “But you can’t take advantage of people. We’re a business page, not a fan page. We learned not to try and sell them something every day. People get mad at that. So we offer them quality. It took us a while to learn that, to work the room you might say, but it definitely benefits us. So anything I have in here that I never want to paint or design again we’ll never post a picture of. It opens up new wings.”
“We get a lot of technical questions from people who do this so it’s almost like the free custom paint line. When I started this, none of this instant social interaction was around. It was all trial and error. But the kids today, oh man I know I’m sounding like an old dude, but they expect it right away. I don’t know if they just don’t want to spend the time learning something but it’s like: “Hey I got paints and a brush and. . .wooooosh!””
Have you ever thought of mentoring?
“Except for the sign painting, I was on my own. People inspired me, Leif and others. We’ve had numerous interns, but after a day or two they’re like, man I’m bored. I used to do it with high school kids but it never worked out. The way I look at it is that high school isn’t that hard to get through. I didn’t get by on honors, (that makes two of us) but I think if you don’t have the drive to complete school, you may not have the drive to do most things. You just gotta do your time.
I mean I passed English as a senior painting portraits of Shakespeare, but my art teacher wanted to fail me!”
“So yeah, I’m into teaching and look forward to doing it again in the near future, but you have to meet me at least half way. I guess to be honest I want me. That kid who was me thirty years ago. I need to find me!”
I get the full tour of his creatively cluttered, hyperactive workspace while Accept’s crunch metal “Balls to the Wall” cranks on. He begins rifling through a slew of old photographs to show me the fated ’81 Civic. “I know I had a side view and a picture of the kid picking nose,“ he recalls fondly. “It was a background character in Bloom County. Remember the comic strip Bloom County?”
“Absolutely,” I reply. “I still have my Opus the Penguin doll.”
“That’s who I painted on the car! (For the record, neither of us could recall the character and Dr. Google has been no help.)
“You play as well?”
“Yea. When we first opened the shop we set up this little jam room. (He plays guitar and piano, but the room accommodates a baby grand, several guitars, and his computer area. There was a set of drums, a gift from his friend at Pearl from Nickelback’s drummer.)
“Have you ever been contacted by local theater groups to do stage sets? It would appear a natural pairing. Would that be something you’d consider getting into?”
“No one’s approached me but yeah,” (he drags the yeah out cautiously) “if I have the time.”
“I get involved with some strange projects that, because the artist overwhelms the businessman inside me, I’ll be like half way through some bizarre thing, shake my head and think - What the hell was I thinking?! Once I was approached by a guitar company that wanted to do a run of three thousand individual guitars and I was like, how can I do this? Then I remember I’m not built for mass production. Sure I could have used the money and still can. But I can’t do that.”
“So painting that old blue Civic paid off!”
“Yeah! Yeah! But this is a gift. But the hands-on gig is a tough road but however crazy it might be you gotta keep hitting it if you never want to feel like you have job.”