Best known in Richmond for his murals, Nils Westergard will bring Fight Or Flight, a solo exhibition of his stencil paintings, to Black Iris for tonight’s First Friday opening. It reveals the painstaking craft that goes into his work.
A rare opportunity to view a curated collection of paintings and stencils from award-winning muralist Nils Westergard is coming to Richmond this week.
“Fight or Flight,” Westergard’s first solo exhibition in Richmond, will open on August 6 at Black Iris Gallery in Richmond’s Art District. Originally scheduled for April 2020 and then delayed due to the pandemic, the show provides a comprehensive look into Westergard’s work over the last five years — from the intricate, hand-cut stencils that form the basis of his paintings to the layered portraits and pieces in their final forms.
While Westergard is most famously known for his massive street murals that grace buildings in cities from Richmond to Berlin, the wall displays are actually a newer development in the context of his career. The majority of Westergard’s time is spent not spray-painting walls, but designing, hand-cutting, and layering stencils to create pieces that are smaller in size.
“I have always been making stencils since I was like 12, and only started doing walls in 2014 or 2013,” Westergard says. “People like the walls because they’re big and visible, but I can do a wall in like two days. It’s almost more of a sport.” His stenciled paintings, however, can take upwards of 100 hours to complete — a number that doesn’t come as a surprise, considering the sheer intricacy and dimensional depth of his work.
For Westergard, a VCU Arts graduate who now splits his time between Richmond and Amsterdam, having a solo show in the city is an accomplishment that he describes as satisfying, but overdue.
“I exhibit overseas a decent amount, but It’s taken me 11 years to do a solo show here… and I had to force it,” he says. “I like the galleries that we have but there’s not many, and they’re not showing a ton of Richmond artists most of the time.”
Westergard’s work will be displayed at Black Iris Gallery at 321 W Broad St. for two weeks beginning on August 6, the final First Friday of the summer.
Photos by Ben White