Before Nicholas Platzer established the award-winning Inoperable Gallery in Vienna, Austria and before he helped recruit top talent for the Providence International Arts Festival, he was a 14-year-old skateboarding-enthusiast walking home from school with a buddy.
“We passed by a guy’s house, who was cleaning out his garage, and in his trash was a can of spray paint.” Naturally, Nick said, they snagged the can and went tagging that night – an eye-opening experience for Nick.
“It just kind of stuck with me,” he said. Art quickly became Nick’s passion, and he started to take more art classes at Classical.
There were, however, hiccups along Nick’s artistic journey. He was suspended, arrested and nearly expelled from Classical High School for his tagging. These experiences caused him to wonder, “Maybe there’s a more legitimate way to go about this.” It would be a few years, and Nick would need to travel across the Pacific Ocean to discover a more legitimate avenue for making the art he envisioned.
After high school Nick went on to study film at Pratt Institute in New York City, and from there moved to Australia to continue his studies. That is where he found the less legally prohobitive form of graffiti he craved; it was street art. While graffiti and street art might seem synonymous, to Nick, there is a noticeable difference.
“Graffiti is primarily done for an internal community… whereas street art I think from the beginning was much more of an open expression,” he said. “It was much more about design. It was a lot more approachable for your average artist.”
Discouraged by American politics under the Bush Administration, Nick decided to return to Austria (his father worked for the United Nations, and Nick’s early years were spent in Vienna). In 2006, he rented a small, two-story shop-like building that would serve as both Inoperable Gallery and his home.
Nick did not know any artists when he opened his gallery, but he slowly built relationships with local artists. “I was very lucky because no one was doing what I was doing at that point, so a lot of [Austrians] were very curious about what this American guy was doing here,” he said. “I think they all realized early on that I was doing it because I loved it and not just because I wanted to make a quick buck off of it.”
“He really tries to understand them, he knows what they want and he tries to help them,” said Nathalie Halgand who co-owns Inoperable and has worked with Nick since 2008. “They trust him because he really acts in their interest.”
Shida, now a world-class street artist, had one of his first exhibitions with Inoperable, and recalls how influential the experience was.
“It was definitely a formative experience that really crystalized my focus as an artist and made me believe I could and should dedicate my life to my work,” Shida said.
Nathalie teamed up with Nick just as he was moving Inoperable to a larger space, a sign of Inoperable’s early growth. “I saw a lot of potential in this global art movement, which Nicholas was promoting in Vienna,” Nathalie said.
Inoperable continued to grow, moving to another location in 2014. It was recognized as the Best European Gallery in 2011 and 2012. “To me that’s just like a trip that this dumb idea I had when I was 21 years old has international recognition now,” Nick said.
For someone as creative and driven as Nick, a set of walls could never fully contain his ideas, and he has become more involved in orchestrating large mural projects. Because of people like Nick – a man often behind the scenes who provides artists with the freedom and tools needed to create large-scale murals—street art has undeniably grown in recent years. Stars, such as Banksy, have become household names—something once unimaginable for street artists.
“Most people don’t get a chance to influence the city they live in,” Nick said. “And this has a direct impact on the city… It feels very awesome being a part of that.”
Nick still holds a strong affinity for Providence, which he tries to visit once a year. “I really think it was my high school years in Providence that defined the rest of my life,” he said.
This month he’s giving a little back to the Creative Capital by helping Yarrow Thorne, the mind behind Providence’s Avenue Concept, with different types of projects. The Avenue Concept, with Nick’s assistance, will orchestrate and assist world-renowned artists Natalia Rak and Bezt of Etam Cru, as they paint huge murals along Washington Street as part of the Providence International Arts Festival.
“Hopefully this festival will change some stuff, some opinions and some outlooks of city officials,” Nick said, “and that people will get an appreciation for what this is, and also how it can change the city.”
“Public art is a very complicated thing, and this is a very complex thing that needs to be taken on,” Yarrow said. “And there’s no answer. I think even in the rest of the world where people do support these things, every project is different.”
Nick has come a long way since he was getting in trouble for his tagging, yet he’s still doing the same thing – painting his city. In a way, the end goal has always been the same.
“Paint the change you want to see,” Nick said. “If no one else is doing it, do it yourself.”