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Nomadic Inspirations: Interview with London's Nell Nicholas


Nell Nicholas artist
Courtesy of Nell Nicholas

Introducing Nell Nicholas (b. 1995, UK), a London-based artist and musician whose creative exploration revolves around drawing, collage, and painting, delving deep into the interplay between people and their surroundings. Nell's art practice invites us to explore the multifaceted narratives woven into our surroundings, underscoring the hidden tales within everyday objects. Her art is a symphony of visuals and emotions, a testament to the profound connection between art, culture, and the human experience.


Her canvases, often grand in scale, are immersive interior scenes meticulously layered with detail. Each object depicted carries its own untold story—be it artworks, furniture, ancient vases, or tapestries—all hinting at the presence of individuals who remain unseen.


With a Bachelor of Arts (Honors) in Fine Art from City & Guilds of London Art School, Nell's talent has been recognized with several prestigious awards, such as the award for Outstanding Work in Final Degree Show, Clyde & Co LLP Art Award, Idun Ravndal Travel Award, and City & Guilds of London Art School Honorary Medal, to name a few. Her work has graced exhibitions in various countries, including England, Italy, and Germany. Nell's recent artistic journey took her to Mexico, where she embarked on transformative artist residencies in Mexico City at JO-HS and Guadalajara at Ceramica Suro. These experiences enriched her creative repertoire with diverse cultural influences, shaping her into an artist who transcends boundaries.


In anticipation of the re-opening of the "Art Collector's Home" exhibition on the evening of Wednesday, October 11, 2023, at our Little Venice Salon—a dazzling kickoff to Frieze Week in London, showcasing work by Nell along with a collective of exceptional female artists—we invite you to explore the depths of Nell's artistic vision. Join us as we unravel the mind behind these captivating works in an exclusive interview with the artist herself.


Nell Nicholas artist
Courtesy of Nell Nicholas

Please tell us about your background and what inspired you to become an artist.


I don't really think I "became" an artist. I think I just always was one. I remember very clearly when learning basic color theory in nursery (red+yellow=orange, etc.) wanting to know what would happen if I mixed all the colors together. I imagined it would result in a great explosion or maybe make sparkles... or perhaps the picture would even start moving or something. I remember sitting in the car on the way home from school that day, wishing the traffic would hurry up so I could go home and find out. I remember the deep disappointment I felt as I sat on the floor, surrounded by all my colors, staring at the puddle of grey hue they'd created.


I remember one Christmas, some family friends gave me a green canvas satchel containing a Winsor & Newton field-painting set. It definitely wasn't for children. Unbeknownst to me, the six little tubes contained oil paint. I remember unscrewing the Raw Sienna lid and being shocked at the greasy brown stuff that slugged out of the tube. I remember my puzzlement at the gloop's mysterious properties, my confusion as it smeared its way up my hands and arms, and my panic in the bathroom when I realized that water wouldn't wash it away.


I never decided to become an artist, and I think I'm just still that child, still trying to understand the magical properties of paint, still trying to wash it off my hands, and still trying to find a recipe that'll make the paint explode and a picture come to life.


Nell Nicholas artist
Courtesy of Nell Nicholas

As a Visual Artist and Musician, how does your music influence your visual art and vice versa, and what unique insights or connections do you discover between these two creative expressions?


I feel unbelievably lucky to call myself an Artist and Musician. When I'm in London, I usually paint all day and then go and play music at night - with my bands or with whoever needs a violinist that week. Painting is super solitary and self-directed. Music is how I create with other people. Despite their obvious differences, they inform each other in a myriad of ways. Playing a moving performance on a violin is remarkably similar to making a provocative line with a pencil or a brush. I like to stay continuously aware of this. I like to imagine I'm composing a symphony when I'm creating a painting. At the end of the day, they both boil down to applying pressure to express emotion. They're both like dancing.


Nell Nicholas artist
Courtesy of Nell Nicholas

Your artwork beautifully captures the intricate stories of inanimate objects. Can you share how you navigate the delicate balance between giving voice to these objects and allowing them to tell their own stories, all while exploring the relationship between people and their surroundings?


The objects in my paintings usually act on behalf of people. I don't like putting people in my paintings. Within the context of my work, it makes me feel weird and like a visitor at a zoo - I'm a Brit, and it's rude to stare. Objects can tell us so much about a place and about the people who

exist within that place. I can go to a market, stare at the objects, and steal them to use as building blocks when constructing my collage-like compositions.


I like to be an explorer. I like to observe and collect treasure. But as my practice becomes increasingly about travel and other cultures, it's important for me to find an appropriate balance between engaging with these different cultures with the utmost sensitivity and respect while also nodding toward Britain's complicated track record in this sphere. Explorer is a tricky term. So is Treasure. Although it isn't my intention, I'm essentially a privileged Brit going abroad and collecting visual material for the Western gaze for the museum. I can't ignore this. Perhaps it's the most important part of the work.


Nell Nicholas artist
Courtesy of Nell Nicholas

Is there a specific environment or material that's integral to your work?


I'm coming to understand that one of the most important constants for me, and inextricably my work, is change. Change commands experimentation, openness, and adaptability, whether it's changing studios, countries, mediums, source material, or any other factor. Change keeps me on my toes. Artists should never allow themselves to go into autopilot because I think it makes us go a bit blind. Aside from that, I need good music, good coffee, and lots of water.


Nell Nicholas artist
Courtesy of Nell Nicholas

You recently spent some time traveling throughout Mexico. Can you share your experience at the residencies you did during your time there?


At the beginning of June, I walked straight out of a twelve-day silent meditation in the woody highlands of San Bartolo Ameyalco and into Mexico City for a four-week residency at JO-HS Gallery. JO-HS is a female-led gallery that opened in 2021. It's housed in the most incredible

building, which challenges the sterile norms of the white box gallery space: herringbone floors, big juicy monsteras, walls of ivy, and an incredible open-sided studio in the garden. It was a true opportunity to meditate for twelve days with no phone, no talking, no eye contact, no reading or writing before embarking on a big creative project. I'd love to make a habit of it. I was bursting with ideas, too, after three months of hardcore traveling through the country. The period of silence provided me with the space and time to make sense of the things I'd seen. I wanted to capture the essence of Mexico but through the eyes of a tourist. I was interested in culture, cultural identity, and tourism and how these things influence each other. Visiting other countries for pleasure is complicated. Places get treated like a product and a playground, and often our eyes are only open to what serves us. I wanted to make wonderful, vibrant pictures of Mexico while remaining self-aware.


Then in July, I moved north to Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city and the home of Ceramica Suro. If you haven't already heard of it, Ceramica Suro is kind of like Ceramics Heaven - Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory but for clay. There are color rooms, casting rooms, glazing rooms, testing rooms, huge turquoise kilns, and big machines that print out tiles. A large part of the factory is dedicated to artists. Ceramica Suro provides an overwhelmingly generous facility for artists and helps them to realize ambitious projects. I was there for two months, during which time I created three big tile murals largely inspired by the markets of Mexico, some tableware, and a ceramic remake of the large Rotoplas water tanks that pepper the nation's skyline. It was incredibly rewarding and a great honor to be welcomed so warmly into Mexico's thriving art scene. I'll be exhibiting in Mexico later this year and again next year too.


Nell Nicholas artist
Courtesy of Nell Nicholas

Are there any specific rituals or habits that you have developed as an artist that contribute to your creative flow and inspiration?


Cycling and walking! It's when I get all my ideas.


Nell Nicholas artist
Courtesy of Nell Nicholas

Lastly, who are the living artists that inspire you?


Honestly, my friends. I'm so proud of my artist friends - the painters, the sculptors, the writers, the musicians, the designers, the actors. The thing on the wall or the stage or the page is the tiniest percent of their artists. The rest is a wild, unpredictable ride. It's staying up late and leaving the party early. It's making sacrifices and working jobs you don't want to do in order to feed the creative beast. It's learning how to deal with the complete non-linearity of a creative career. It's being totally vulnerable and radically open while learning how to deal with our acutely sensitive, deeply emotional selves. I'm in awe of my artist friends and their curiosity, generosity, ingenuity, and perseverance. We support each other and celebrate each others' smallest successes as if they were our own. For me, this collective force elevates art to an entirely new level.


Nell Nicholas Artist
Courtesy of Nell Nicholas

To stay up-to-date with the artist's career, make sure to follow Nell here: Instagram: @nellnicholas Website: www.nellnicholas.com If you want to invest in Nell's career by acquiring her artwork, you can contact me here. I have a painting by her currently exhibiting at the "Art Collector's Home" in Little Venice, London.


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