What’s your background?
Pisses me off when artists say. “I drew prolifically as a child”, As my generation did, before the advent of a virtual electronic world. I copied the masters with cheap water colours and doodled, perhaps an early indication I was seeking my own unique syntax, calligraphy was an obsession, fluid ink, joining letters … if you’re writing you’re drawing. Didn’t have parental support to purse an art education “I may as well pay for flower arranging” my father snarled. He was a writer who worried for a secure, finically lfalde career for his youngers. Expelled from boarding school (which was essentially a cult), travelled, earned a living at Saatchi and Saatchi then fashion where I was miserable, unfulfilled. More travel beckoned, I met Ski, a Vietnam Vet, who encouraged me to find my own ass through art collage and uni.
Attended Reigate art college foundation course. Encouraged towards graphics and illustration. However, the smell of the painting studio sucked me in. Brighton uni seemed to be my tribe. I wasn’t wrong under the tutorage of the professor of poetics, Michael Tucker, a fortunate romantic, where painting was encouraged at a time it was considered “dead”. I was grateful for every second, grateful for the space to paint. Stayed in residence during the terms holidays which afforded me the luxury of space, time, peace + quiet to experiment widely. I never stopped waiting for the shoulder tap and the instruction to leave, pure imposter syndrome, but I’d never been so content. I hazard a guess I earned a first due to the sheer graft I put in.
I taught “Abstraction from the landscape” for Brighton’s summer school. Turned down offers from the Slade and the RA, Purely because I couldn’t remotely afford to live in London. I was quite the sight teaching landscape painting in a rainy Sussex with plastic bags as socks to account for the hole in boots. So I began my masters at Brighton under Laurie Preece. A hard-nosed modernist. Who encouraged anything that wasn’t painting. Stick a baby’s bathtub in a gallery setting and he was in raptures. It served me well though, convinced me to dig my heels in with traditional methods, and Laurie was right, from the get-go, my love affair was with the materials.
Shortly after I had my son, swiftly followed by an agonising decade with a broken back, what followed was a veritable thirteen-year hiatus from painting. A good day was managing pain enough to fling paint around. Following surgery, recovery and back in the studio. In retrospect it afforded me a completely fresh start. Fairly quickly I was offered a solo show “Dialogue” and a dive into assimilating the masters of abstraction, an attempt to understand their styles and manners. A real luxury I will always be grateful for.
How has your practice evolved over the years? Have you always worked in a particular medium?
As a student abstraction seemed elusive, impossible, mysterious, enticing. I’ve remained committed. I began by cheating, taking close up photos so they became unrecognisable subjects, instant Abstraction. I progressed to drawing from the landscape and abstracting elements. Effectively abstract. Impressionism, which wasn’t my goal. Then I dabbled a little with symbols until they seemed like a cliché, even a circle had too many connotations. Following the broken back years came a blatant assimilation of the masters. Too often I couldn’t help reverting to landscape clues, as UK abstractionists are prone. Finally, I found all the answers in art history, and then it becomes about what we cant do and our self – inflicted rules.
I don’t like work that tells me what to think, and a stunning abstract expressionist painting could be ruined for me by their poxy titles. I’ve never considered I have any right to be Zietgiest, I’m no revolutionary, I love traditional methods too much. Reinhart said “I don’t believe in originality, I believe in art history” and today, its art history that is my subject. Funnily enough I think we revert to our childhood scribblings, I guess I’m trying to make my doodles come alive.
How does research & writing influence your practice?
I have to start the day with some writing, watching ink flow, the fluidity of that ink usually suggests a good or bad day in the studio. Writing, calligraphy is drawing. Research, studying is as vital to my practice, as vital as the actual act of painting. I reside with dead masters. All the clues are there in art history. Some examples of that are the light bulb moment of studying Gorky. His wife was writing a letter to his sister, and asked Gorky casually; “Can women paint?” Gorky replied; “Yes, when they stop copying men”. (Or words to that effect). I’d been slowly assimilating the masters up to that point. His words gave me the freedom to find my truth. At the same time I was studying Ivon Hitchen’s, went to his show just as I had returned from a flight over Ibiza, where I noticed in both, islands of colour. And while on this new adventure I read Malevich; “It became clear to me that new frameworks of pure colour must be created, based on what colour demanded & also that colour, in its turn, must pass out of the pictorial mix into an independent unity, a structure in which it would be at once individual in a collective environment & individually independent”.
So yes, as if at an AA meeting, I feel I need to stand up and say; “Hello, my name’s Nikki, and I’m a modernist”. Jerry Saltz would turn on his pen, what does the Pulitzer Prize winning wizard of words know anyway? I’m trying to grab as much from art history as appeals, the list grows continually, and attempt to make history contemporary. I’m, by default European, and I believe in such a time of enormous global concerns, we’re ready and needy for some European loveliness.
What do you dislike about the art world?
I don’t know much about the art world, in my hermitage, other than the obvious, that women are under-represented, unless their work is overtly sexual, political, macho, in the main. That auction houses are the God’s, who determine prices, and keep the Masters circulating. Have made the high street gallery, willing to take a punt on the unknown, un-shown virtually obsolete, and the masters, inaccessible. The glory days of Cork Street have all but disappeared. And that is a great shame. Covid decimated the high street gallery further. Freize London is, in so many cases, a lot of the same, significant galleries peddling safe, flat, Greenbergian formulaic, empty gestures, very little freshness, which remains virulent and alive in Freize Masters. But I believe art survives, it always has, it always will. & just maybe when we resurface from this economic depression wrought by viruses, wars etc. we’ll witness a new normal. Instagram/social media at least provides a platform for those of us, beavering away, in virtual solitude accessible remotely. Now i’m not suggesting that I’m in the league of “gallery worthy”, I’ve never been concerned, and have always been too old to consider or seek the zeitgeist. However I do believe there are women beavering away, around school runs and meal-making, grabbing an hour in the spare room with art materials, who are making art worthy of significantly more attention than the God’s of the art world allow.
Have any particular women artists who have influenced your work in some way? Any noteworthy who helped break the barriers in our male dominated art scene?
There are so many women artists who’ve been noteworthy, it’s almost impossible to list them. Some of the historical women artists who’ve only come to prominence relatively recently. Lee Krasner was a rocket, not only as an artist but as the Queen of the Lofts. We wouldn’t have had Pollock or Kline without her input. They called it “Jewish Housewife Syndrome”, she catapulted Pollock before her own work, and was singularly responsible (for good or bad), of elevating the prices of painting in general, as she sagely managed Pollock’s estate following his premature death. Only then did she really focus on her own commercial career. Her recent retrospective at the Barbican (I can’t remember the year Jess) was dynamite, a romp through Abstract Expressionism. Obviously Frankenthaler opened a gateway between Pollock and the future with her, almost accidental, Colour Field painting. Mitchell obviously, with her synesthesia, bridging American abstract expressionism with European loveliness. And today, Martha Jungwirth is cracking the whip on the critics. Critics who are distrustful of women painting excessively, gesturally. The critics still don’t like women to look wild and abandoned, Jungwirth is blatantly bold and unabashedly colorful, & so we can enjoy Cecily Brown’s sensuality, love of materials, which by the way, are entirely more powerful in the flesh.
In these circumstances you have mentioned, Do you think we have been in this slumber of viruses and war for so long now that we have entered a new way of how art is seen / appreciated (Instagram.. other social media ..) and if that is causing or will cause long terms effects to our cultural sensibility towards art / what it is to see and experience art in the flesh?
I think it may well change what we hang on our walls! I’m always surprised to sell a painting, sight unseen, over social media. In the same way I don’t go into shops anymore, I buy clothes etc online, am invariably slightly disappointed when they arrive, but live with them none the less. For the most part I’m delighted when buyers are happier with the actual painting than the virtual image they imagined. And was surprised at Frieze with a few painters I follow, their work made for social media and not as great in the flesh.
One of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers was a case in point for me, as used as I was to seeing it reproduced on so many calendars, chocolate box tins etc, when I saw it in the flesh as a student, I cried at its vibrancy, it lit the room, you could smell paint and sawdust, blood & sweat. So we’re in danger of losing that visceral sensation.
What’s integral to the work of an artist?
I’d love to say I have this show or that, but any day I don’t pick up a paint brush or write the masters is regretful. As wonderful as it is to have a show, you’re missing the studio.
What are your thoughts as an artist of digital art and as a concept? Is it something that would ever appeal to you as a buyer?
Never would it appeal. Painting is rooted in matter, which cannot be transcribed digitally, it renders it common place
Would you say that you identify with a particular art movement?
All of it! Even the shite. Mostly I identify with dead artists. We’re so fortunate to an endless supply of literature on them. The living artists im most drawn to are when they’re at their most abstract, I can get disappointed when they’re trying to prove they can draw a little. Funnily enough, when I listen to music, it’s mostly dead artists I listen to, however, I’m not entirely morbid. Martha Jung is so profoundly sexy she puts me if my stride, she’s delicious, Secundino Herandez achieves proficiently what I’m aiming for. Frederie Andersons nailed his consistency of identical elements singing in silence. Cecily Brown’s handling is so luscious I can overlook her figurative road map. The list is endless.
Every day is an exciting new project. It’s limitless.
How do you define success as an artist?
Finding your honesty. Its unique.
Who & What are your key influences?
The ‘who’ is endless. Gawd it’s in Gainoborough’s design and beauty. Its in Turners quest through assimilation to broken abstraction. It in Veneers absolute fearlessness of silence. Its in Cezanne’s decorative honesty. Its in Halerichs / Hans Ulrich contemplation of forms and colours, in “Art for arts sake”. Its everything post. Modernism isn’t with its abhorrence of coherence. I could write a very bad book on all the who’s and what’s.
My studios positioned at the bottom of my garden. I’m not going to do a Patrick Heron and deny the nature of my surroundings doesn’t creep in. It may just as well be a photograph a friend sends me of some exotic flower with extraordinary colour combinations. I may respond to the news, if it’s Putin I’m prone to because more aggressive. But hopeful its not disown able. If its covid cases rising, I’m prone to focus on isolation, etc.
If any artists in a funk in 2022, there’s Instagram etc with qa plethora of images. How I wish as a student we had smartphones to take an instant photo so we can be one step removed from work in progress. Frankly, when we’re washing the dishes, we’re working (well maybe Hirst isn’t). But everything we are and do can seep into my work.
What’s your advice to other artists?