Young A. K. was forbidden to touch the family camera. His first camera was so cheap it didn’t work.
Born in Lafayette, Louisiana, A. K. Nicholas lived with his parents and two older sisters along the southern portion of the Bayou Vermillion River. His father was a petroleum engineer and the family left the United States for the Aramco communities of Dhahran and Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia when he was three years old.
His mother, a painter, ensured A. K. was exposed to the visual arts, devoting hours to museums (which he hated at the time) and cultural sites during family vacations. In particular, Karnak in Egypt and Petra in Jordan left him awed by their scale. His mother took copious reference photographs for her art, depicting the beaches of the Persian Gulf, oil refineries, and geometric architecture.
In Saudi Arabia, female beauty was censored on television, movies, and in magazines, and women were cloaked from head to toe in abayas. Family vacations in Europe, however, revealed permissive attitudes, as embodied by a woman walking in a tube top and thong in Stockholm, Sweden or kink magazines displayed at eye level on a German newsstand. American culture laid between the extremes of Arabia and Europe: Playboy magazines were visible but out of reach.
With a childhood reputation for destructive “creative expressions” like disassembling things or lighting them on fire, young A. K. was prohibited from touching the family camera. For a middle school class assignment, he constructed a pinhole camera from an oatmeal box. He also used the school’s 35mm film camera, printing and developing black and white in the darkroom.
A. K.’s earliest artistic expressions regarding women’s bodies were secret collages clipped from swimwear and underwear catalogs. An awareness that such imagery could be socially acceptable came in the form of pin-up-style pop art. In New York’s Museum of Modern Art, he was struck by Tom Wesselmann's Smoker and Mouth series and Roy Lichtenstein’s playful nudes. He was also inspired by Pin-Up by Hajime Sorayama, his first art book.
For grades 10 through 12, A. K. lived on campus at a boarding school in Denton, Texas, returning to Arabia for summers and breaks. A Surrealism art history class secured his interest in visual art. He was captivated by the genre’s playful eroticism and interest in the subconscious. Ironically, that art history teacher discouraged A. K. from straying from academics.
A desire to pursue art while also having a fallback plan led him to double major in art and computer science at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Defying his father’s wishes, he switched to major only in art, a dispute that caused family tension which took years to reconcile. This was an early experience of choosing art over more practical considerations, a dilemma that would resurface throughout his career.
He socialized only occasionally in college, painting and practicing photography seven days a week. He painted over previous work to save on materials, a practice an instructor brough to an end by purchasing his paintings so he could afford blank canvases. When his set of oil paints was stolen, he made his own from ground pigment, binder, and drying oils. When he lost his roommate his senior year, he decided to scrape by financially. He used the extra space as a studio, photographing four or five people a month.
He exhibited in the college gallery, local competitions, and national collegiate publications. To buy framing, he held a bake sale. In his sophomore year, a local gallerist approached him to exhibit his photography. She insisted, however, on only showcasing his photographs of females, an indication of where his talent laid. Upon graduation, his work won awards in the senior art exhibit and the college purchased two of his works for its permanent collection.
After college, A. K. applied for a job at an advertising agency. The art director suggested he become an artist instead, but A. K. was not confident art would support him. He worked as a photographer for clients such as Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods. Fearing camera fatigue, he shifted to the multimedia training industry. He eventually earned an M.B.A., then worked a series of corporate jobs, including management and consulting positions, and was briefly a stock broker. His true passion was relegated to evening photoshoots and weekend exhibits in solo and juried shows at galleries and art centers in various locations like New York City, Charlotte NC, and Fort Worth TX.
As he continued exhibiting, gallerists and art collectors were most interested in his more provocative images. He realized he didn’t need universal acceptance and began experimenting more with nude photography of female subjects.
Unprepared to give up steady work, he devoted his evenings and weekends to his artwork and writing a series of how-to nude photography books.
At one career turning point, A. K. recognized it was more important to create art full-time. To finance this transition, he traded his two cars for an economical one. The risk paid off. A. K.'s collectors appreciate his daring aesthetic. He now displays his work exclusively online to a niche market, with an occasional exception of local events, such as the Piccolo Spoleto exhibit. Collectors from over a dozen countries come from varied walks of life, such as regional bank CEO, attorney, pediatrician, state trooper, Hollywood film director, and data entry clerk.