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Best Local Artist Craig Paul Nowak doing well abroad

A coffee painting by Craig Paul Nowak of an orangutan for his project Orangutans for Indonesia.
A coffee painting by Craig Paul Nowak of an orangutan for his project Orangutans for Indonesia.
Craig Paul Nowak

In the 18th Century, kings would send the most talented young artists among their subjects on grand tours of Europe. Modern kings hardly do that anymore, but some young artists still find a way to travel the world. One such artist is Detroit's own Craig Paul Nowak, who has been named Best Local Artist by Real Detroit Weekly readers. But when the announcement hit newsstands in that paper's week of February 19, 2014 issue, Nowak was not in Detroit, but six time zones away, in Italy.

Craig Nowak and Alexandra in Italy.

"I wasn't fluent at all" in Italian, he admits. Just a few days after last month's opening of the highly anticipated homage to Prof. Gilda Snowden at Whitdel Arts, which he co-curated, he was on a transatlantic flight. He hit the ground running, learning basic Italian. Later on he will be going on to England, and perhaps other European countries.

But he's not limiting himself to Europe. "I'm considering [going to] Indonesia as a means to further research an Indiegogo fundraiser I launched today," he said. The campaign, Orangutans For Indonesia, aims "to acquire a minimum of 3 hectares of primary and secondary jungle that is accessible to" the Sumatran orangutan and other endangered animals in an imperiled tropical habitat in Indonesia.

In Italy, he has established somewhat of a daily routine. "I work on art and art business from the time I wake up till the time I go to sleep. On the weekends I go out with my friends Alexandra or Carlo." A lot of Nowak's paintings in Italy are coffee paintings. "I figured since coffee was such a major part of the daily routine here in Italy, that I should try to use it for painting," he explained. "I'll continue that project over the next month and a half that I will be in Milan. Then maybe I'll switch to tea when I land in London."

He also has plans for Chicago and Detroit in the fall, with exhibits slated for Morpho Gallery in September and Detroit Repertory Theatre in November; he will be back in the United States to install those shows.

Although Nowak had already achieved some measure of international renown at the beginning of the decade, it was his being selected in 2012 for the Red Bull House of Art Round 3 which really brought him to the attention of art lovers in Detroit. His 2011 portrait of Snowden created great impetus for the current show at Whitdel Arts (which closes on February 22 of this year). Other portraits from that period included his grandmother and himself. In 2013, he was a finalist in ArtPrize with Christina's World, an homage to the great 1948 American painting of the same title by Andrew Wyeth.

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