Artist Receives Royal Academy Induction

By Lindsay Campbell

Before the age of NFTs,  was bringing computer-made art into the world.

Many artists have their sources of inspiration, but Nisenholt often doesn’t know what will drive his creativity until he’s turned on his computer. “To me, the computer feels like an open faucet. Images are in constant flow, hitting you right in the face” he says. “When I see a photograph or a picture that’s interesting to me, I try to pick up on that. ”

Nisenholt describes his art-making process as improvised reactions to the world around him. It all began with a computer and a dot matrix printer in the 1980s. These days, if there’s a digital tool that exists—computers, cameras, graphic software—Nisenholt will use it, and often meld it with more traditional materials. In his mind, technology exists to advance or cultivate a creative impulse.

Artist Mark Nisenholt

That forward-thinking approach granted him an induction into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts this past fall. The Lakehead University professor emeritus, deemed a pioneer in digital art, received the honour in November 2022 for his work in computer illustration,

One of Canada’s longest artist-run cultural institutions, the RCA was established in 1880 by the Governor General under the direction of Queen Victoria to coincide with the opening of the National Gallery in Ottawa. Its goal is to recognize accomplished fine artists and architects. With his induction into the academy, Nisenholt joins other known Northwestern Ontario artists such as Norval Morrisseau, Rebecca Belmore, Sarah Link, and Ann Clarke.

Those who frequent Thunder Bay’s public spaces have likely seen Nisenholt’s art on display. In 2010, his images were selected by a national jury for Prince Arthur’s Landing Public Art. Three pieces—Paleo Girl, The Swimmers, and Ulysses—are rendered in the glass of the three lanterns on the Picnic Dock. They were the first installation completed on the waterfront and were unveiled in 2011.

La Castiglione 1

Although he no doubt considers this an accomplishment, when asked about what work he’s most proud of, it’s the more recent pieces he’s been working on that are his pride and joy. “They’re like my new kids, my new ones that I’m so passionately thinking about all of the time,” he says. Right now, his attention falls on two series of works. The first is a number of watercolour-like images of kids and their toys he’s digitally manufactured, mostly in Photoshop. The second includes vibrant and geometric computer art improvisations of photographs of the famous Italian aristocrat, La Castiglione.

Beyond his own works, Nisenholt considers his teaching career as something he has contributed to the art world. He was a Lakehead University professor from 1979 until 2015, and was the first full-time faculty member in the visual arts department. “When I think about my legacy, it is my hope that people will remember me as a good artist, a decent teacher, and a contributor to the local culture,” he says. “Working with art has always been something that I’ve enjoyed. It enhances my being, my existence, and I’ve always known that if I have nothing else, I’ll always have that.”

To showcase his pieces as a way to celebrate his recent induction, Nisenholt says he’s currently in the process of finalizing details for an art show. More information will be announced in the coming weeks.

For more information, find Nisenholt on Facebook or Instagram.