The atomic dreams of artist Nick Ringelstetter | Arts and Theater

One of Nick Ringelstetter’s most dedicated patrons has collected at least six of the artist’s original paintings. Not one or two, but six.

Artist Nick Ringelstetter walks past a black-lit artwork he created in his Atomic7 Studio in Spring Green. Ringelstetter is among the nearly 500 artists who will be exhibiting July 9-10 in the 2022 Art Fair on the Square.


“One day I finally said, ‘Dude, what do you do for a living?'” Ringelstetter asked the art buyer.

“He said, ‘I’m a neurosurgeon. I just love the way your brain works.’”

It’s a phenomenon that Ringelstetter has earned a coveted spot in the annual Art Fair on the Square seven times. On July 9-10, he’ll be among nearly 500 artists exhibiting at this year’s show, expected to bring thousands upon thousands of art lovers to Capitol Square. The neighboring Art Fair Off the Square, also Downtown the same weekend, will feature the work of some 140 Wisconsin artists and artisans.

Smoothing resin on artwork at Atomic7 Studio

Artists Jared Breyfogle, at rear, and Nick Ringelstetter smooth resin onto the surface of an artwork by Ringelstetter at Atomic7 Studio in Spring Green.


About a quarter of the artists in this year’s Art Fair on the Square are from Wisconsin. And 6% are from Madison. Ringelstetter, who calls his own genre of multimedia paintings “pop psychedelic,” is one of the event’s many original, edgy stylists.

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“It’s really kind of its own thing,” he said of his work, which combines dreamlike images with pop-culture references and layers and layers of color. Created with spray paints, watercolors, acrylic paints and even black oil-based Sharpie, each of his originals is a visually rolling adventure.

While the 2022 Art Fair on the Square will also feature everything from realistic landscape paintings to functional ceramics and wearable art and jewelry, “A small part of what you’ll see at the Art Fair on the Square are works from younger artists building on the Neo-expressionist works of artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat,” said Annik Dupaty, events director for the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which hosts the fair.

Interior of Atomic7 Studio

Artist Jared Breyfogle, a longtime friend of Nick Ringelstetter, walks through the former garage that Ringelstetter has converted to his Atomic7 Studio.


In these works, Dupaty explained in an email, viewers will find “the hard-to-miss influence of digital technology, popular urban culture, and other contemporary visual stimuli like anime, graphic design and murals.

“You didn’t see Jordans featured in artwork, for example, before the 1980s, because they didn’t exist,” Dupaty said. “And the younger generations are less caught up with hierarchies of art, and less restrictive about what can be included in compositions that hang on their walls.”

As for Ringelstetter, “A lot of people who buy my stuff are in the medical industry, and the reason they find my stuff is because it makes them think,” the artist said. “They can see how my brain” operates.

“I have a very active brain, I guess. It never shuts off. It’s always pushing past the line. It’s always saying, ‘Why stop there? Keep going, keep going.’”

From a dream

Even the name of Ringelstetter’s Spring Green-based art practice, Atomic7 Studio, came to him in a dream.

“I’m a very, very active dreamer,” he said. As a boy, he would dream about making art and traveling. One night, he dreamed of someone walking by in a T-shirt that said “Atomic” and “had a bunch of gold sevens going down the side,” he said. “I knew if I ever started a business, that’s what it would be called.”

Ringelstetter, 36, now makes his living selling his work at art shows year-round and on his website, where originals go for about $8,000.

Just off a rural highway, the self-taught artist works out of a converted garage whose interior is a work of art in its own right, with found objects perched on shelves and artificial fabric vines draped over ceiling beams that have been wrapped in jute. A room he built inside the studio is devoted to materials that glow in the dark.

Nick Ringelstetter buffing resin-coated artwork

Nick Ringelstetter buffs a resin-coated artwork at his Atomic7 Studio in Spring Green.


Ringelstetter, smitten by the science of color theory and color depth, loves to work with UV-reflective materials and layering “that creates a natural 3-D effect … and almost tricks your mind,” he said.

Case in point: A nearly 8-foot-wide original on his studio wall based on the images of monsters that friends, family and community children created during a fundraiser workshop he created called “Painting Monsters with Nick.”

“Your brain sees depths through blues and reds. So there’s a lot of blues and reds in this, so when you look at it, you see certain things start to pull off the canvas,” he said.

Black light illumination at Atomic7 Studio

Florescent art materials and artifacts are illuminated with a black light inside Nick Ringelstetter’s Atomic7 Studio in Spring Green.


“I was always a big fan of ‘Where’s Waldo?’ growing up,” he said. “You look for Waldo, but I always loved the fact that the artist spent so much time to make sure that every other character was different than the next one.”

‘weird science’

All of Ringelstetter’s artworks are filled with painstaking detail and originals can take up to four weeks to paint. Some of his most popular sellers are canvas prints of his originals, which he covers in a thick, transparent layer of epoxy resin. After carefully applying the clear resin and smoothing it by hand, he glides a heat gun over each one to obliterate any bubbles.

“People want it more sparkly, with more sheen — because they can’t afford the originals but they want a print that looks like an original. That’s why I started doing this process,” Ringelstetter said.

Jared Breyfogle with his work

Jared Breyfogle displays artwork he created that will be exhibited at the 2022 Art Fair Off the Square.


Ringelstetter’s method “is a weird science project every time,” said the artist’s longtime friend, Jared Breyfogle. A painter of off-beat, music- and ’80s-inspired work, Breyfogle will be exhibiting his own work at the 2022 Art Fair Off the Square.

The two men have known each other since they worked at a farm market outside Spring Green in their school days. As teens, they would often make “goofy movies out in the woods,” Breyfogle said.

Art supplies at Atomic7 Studio

Artist Nick Ringelstetter shows some of the supplies he uses to create his artworks at Atomic7 Studio.


“We always had a video camera on us and always had a sketch book on us,” Ringelstetter recalled. “We did that for about two, three years, then went our separate ways.” But they remained friends, and years later Breyfogle started helping Ringelstetter prepare and travel to art shows.

Ringelstetter spends most of the year exhibiting at Midwest shows, but in the winters he and Breyfogle head to Florida to do the art show circuit there. Last winter, they skipped renting studio space in Florida and spent the season creating art outdoors.

Pouring resin

Nick Ringelstetter pours resin onto the surface of one of his art prints at Atomic7 Studio in Spring Green.


“This past winter we were sitting outside all day every day, just painting from sun up to sun down,” Breyfogle said.

Goal: Sell one piece

In mid-June, both artists exhibited at the Spring Green Art Fair. Ringelstetter feels particularly devoted to that show, because it’s where he got his start.

“In 2007, I just couldn’t find art that I wanted to put on my own walls. All the art I found was boring, and not what I was interested in.

“So I took $200 to buy canvases and some paints, and I made my own. I made five paintings and for fun I applied to the Spring Green Art Fair,” he said.

To Ringelstetter’s surprise, he was accepted “and that forced me to make a whole booth of art in like four months.”

“My goal was to sell one piece, and the first day I sold 13 out of 16. That night I came home and painted until 1 in the morning just to fill the walls of my booth” the next day.

“If it wasn’t for that show, I don’t even know if I’d be doing this,” Ringelstetter said. “I am greatly appreciative for the committee for choosing me. I was doing (art) just to do it. I just liked to do things, and that was one of the random things I did — and it changed my life.”

As for Art Fair on the Square, “on the application it asks, ‘Why are you applying for this show?’ and I answer, ‘It’s a national event, with artists from all over the world. I want to show them that the artists around here have talent as well,’” Ringelstetter said.

“It’s a homecoming in a way. Spring Green is our hometown, but Madison is our home city.”

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