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Nick Drain


Nick Drain is a fine artist born in Chicago, IL, who lives and works in Milwaukee, WI. His work investigates the complex relationship between blackness visibility at the site of the camera. He has exhibited locally and nationally, most notably showing work at the International Center for Photography in New York City, NY, the Colorado Photographic Art Center in Denver, CO, and was named in the inaugural 2021 Silver List from the Silver Eye Center for Photography. Nick attended the Yale Norfolk School of Art in 2019 and received a BFA from the New Studio Practice program at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in 2020.

Artist Statement

Through my practice, I work to understand the relationship between Blackness and visibility at the site of the camera to contend with the ways that the photographic medium works to perform violence on Black people through complicity, desensitization, and (in)visibility. My work is an effort to imagine new ways for the Black subject to perform dark sousveillance; coined by Simone Browne as “the tactics employed to render one’s self out of sight”. I locate my work at the intersection of the history of Black photographic representation, and the future of Black peoples amidst widening utilizations of the image within contemporary surveillance practices. At that point, the camera is representative of not only itself, but the greater societal and governmental systems within which images function; rendering sculpture, writing, and the image as apt vehicles to describe this point of intersection and push beyond it.

In my current thinking, the triangle is a means to map the relationship between the viewer, subject, and maker; the convergence of surveillance practices, the camera, and Blackness at the site of the image; and the interaction between histories of Black photographic representation, and future images as participants in contemporary artificial intelligence technology. The goal of my practice is to rotate the viewer—subject—maker relationship present in figural representations, placing the Black subject at the top and reconfiguring the surveilling power dynamic between those who are privileged to observe through the white gaze, and those who are rendered hypervisible by their Blackness.

Release Date: April 8, 2022

Black, American Flag #3 ,2019

The Black, American Flag series of works was produced at a time where I needed to distance my body from the representations of my experience in my work. Existing as a black person within a predominantly white institution had become especially exhausting, and I sought a surrogate form — something that could stand in as a representation of not only myself, but those who shared in the same experiences and feelings. I arrived at the conceptual framework of the flag, and the practice of making my own became an effort to document my feelings and reclaim space in environments — as small as my institution, and as large as the United States as a whole — that felt inhospitable. When I first presented this image of one of the sculptures to a mentor, he suggested that the image could exist as a work in its own right, and I came to realize that he was right.

Release Date: September 30, 2022

Untitled (Trophy Case), 2021

The vitrine pictured was found in the office of Valerie Daniels-Carter, a black woman who founded V&J Holdings Company, one of the largest restaurant franchise organizations in the country, and the largest to be owned by a woman. I encountered the case while on assignment for a story and found myself stunned by the personal and cultural significance of the shoes and their presentation. They were a gift from a local artist back when Ms. Daniels-Carter opened her first franchise, a Burger King, in 1983.

Standing in the office of the woman who’d built a restaurant empire from a single franchise location, I couldn’t help but think of Dylann Roof — the white man who’d murdered 9 black people in a church in 2015, and then was reportedly taken to Burger King by the police who’d apprehended him. I couldn’t resolve the deep adoration and grief I felt in that moment, but I knew I’d felt it before. That such a ghost could find its way into this space and this object which felt holy was a reminder that I will always be at risk of experiencing this mixture of feelings.

Even though the image wasn’t needed for the piece, I’m forever grateful that Ms. Daniels-Carter was gracious enough to allow me to make this image.

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