Brian Nolan has not been to Greece in years, but he often paints scenes of Meteora and Crete.
Today Nolan works as a systems engineering consultant based in Virginia, but he started off as a classicist--getting an undergraduate degree from Holy Cross and a PhD from Ohio State. He attended the American School of Classical Studies at Athens for the summer session in 1976, and returned for the regular member year as an ITT International Fellow (an educational student exchange program in the 70s and 80s) in the 1979-1980 school year.
Brian Nolan at Meteora in 1979
Over his summer session Nolan often toted around his brother’s Olympus camera, taking pictures of the sites. When he returned in 1979 Nolan upgraded to his own Olympus Om1, photographing his hiking trips and travels around the country-side. “I use my pictures from the 1976 summer session and the 1979-1980 year as the inspiration for the paintings that I do,” explained Nolan. “I live in central Virginia right now, and there’s some scenic areas but there’s nothing like there is in Greece or Venice or all that. So I do a fair amount of stuff based on the pictures that I took 40 years ago.”
Temple of Apollo, Corinth, 1976
After receiving his PhD in 1981, Nolan had difficulty finding a classics position, and instead worked at the Red Cross for several years. He and his wife then adopted three children, and he took a HR job at the health insurance company Cigna. “When I was at the Red Cross they brought a Personal Computer into the office, and this was 1985, and everyone kind of went ‘oooh.’” said Nolan, “But a volunteer said ‘You can’t break it unless you take a hammer to it, and if you back it up you can do anything you like.’ So I started messing around with it.” At Cigna Nolan was able to leverage this knowledge and eventually make the transition into computer programming.
Nolan still works with computers and programming, but has always maintained his interest in the classics—often blogging about classical allusions in his work or tweeting about news in archaeology.
Venetian Ship Sheds, Chania, 1979
Nolan did some drawing and art in the early 80s but didn’t start painting until fairly recently: “A little more than 10 years ago my wife, Han Nolan, got me an oil painting kit based on Winston Churchill’s set up, with a book of his paintings.” he said. “I got inspired to do watercolor by seeing a picture by JMW Turner of Venice. So I started looking at his Venice paintings and trying to do some of them.”
Nolan started working copying other paintings and stock photos, but soon turned to his own old photographs: “I have what I thought were really good photos and so I thought, ok I’ll try to translate them into paintings. I have one of Hosios Loukas which I really like, that’s my favorite photo I took in Greece. There’s a storm coming up and the monastery is lit by the sun. I’ve painted that 3 or 4 times. I also painted the Temple of Apollo at Bassae. I started doing that and it’s just such rich material, that I own!”
Hosios Loukas, 1976
Nolan shares his paintings on twitter and facebook, and while he has gotten lots of positive feedback, he says painting will remain a hobby: “I like to paint what I like to paint, I like to paint portraits and I like to paint landscapes. Doing it as a hobby means I get to do whatever I want.”
Someday Nolan hopes to return to the sites he first visited on his summer session and paint them in-person: “The only problem is that I’m not there actually doing it. But I haven’t retired yet, and if I have a chance to go to Greece again I will definitely bring my watercolors.”
See more of Nolan's paintings here.