There are photos of Tony Nozero as a toddler that show him alternately painting and banging away on a drum set. Both passions have since defined his adult life –– but so intensely that only one could fully materialize at a time. Drums came first.
Nozero formed the band Drums & Tuba in Austin, Texas, in 1995, and its eclectic mix of brass band rhythm, free-form jazz, rock and electronica soon propelled him from busking on the streets for change to touring the nation and overseas. The band put out eight full-length albums and traveled incessantly for years. Nozero moved to New Orleans in 2002, and the Drums & Tuba schedule never let up. All the while, his interest in painting simmered, but the hard-driving lifestyle of a rock musician on the way up left little room for it.
“I mainly used [painting] for decompression between tours,” says Nozero. “But I knew in the back of my mind that when this whole road thing was over I’d have this to come back to, and that’s exactly what happened.”
First, however, Hurricane Katrina intervened. Displaced after the storm, Nozero was awarded a three-month residency for emerging artists at the Santa Fe Art Institute in New Mexico. There, he found the antithesis of the rock stage and road tour in months of quiet independent work, which he describes as a period of intense and prolific exploration with paint and canvas.
“It was a life-changing event for me, and it came at exactly the right time, the right situation,” he says.
Back home in New Orleans, the band was finished, the drums were moved into storage and his former rehearsal studio in Mid-City’s Art Egg building became the hub for his full-time painting career. Nozero has not looked back, but yet there’s something from his inventive musical past that seems to permeate his current work. His portfolio defies categorization and is awash with the hand of improvisation. Some paintings seethe with punk street energy; others are beguiling fantastical visions. Single words or phrases set off some paintings, though their meanings are open for interpretation against the abstract blend of color and imagery.
Collectors have taken an interest, and his work has been featured recently in exhibitions at the GSL Art Projects gallery on Julia Street and at X/0 Gallery in the Bywater. Nozero’s work will be featured during an event at the W Hotel this month. For details and to see examples of his work, go to www.tonynozero.com.