A Tour-de-force of the art world. Nicola Wiltshire take the time to talk about art direction, studio space and the joy of making your own oil paint. ==============================
Morning Nicola! What have you been up to the last week?
Hello! Thanks for taking the time to speak to me. This last week has been super varied. I’ve prepared and sent out some paintings, chatted to a collector about a commission, completed a big order of frames, plus I have been working on my latest collection of paintings. These are still lifes featuring air-purifying plants, plus flowers picked from my garden up here in Dundee, Scotland. Lots of variation!
Can you tell us about yourself and your practice
I’m a painter from Bedfordshire. I went to art school in London and stayed there for 8 years, before moving to Scotland, via Portugal. My work moves freely between portrait, landscape and still life, depending what I’m drawn to. Everything is unified through simplified shapes, strong charcoal lines and saturated colour. My oil paints are either handmade by me using loose pigments, or I use brands who use these same processes like Michael Harding. I also always paint on coloured or patterned fabric.
Could you identify an experience that influenced your direction artistically?
There are lots of moments, but these are sort of small things that roll from one thing to another. Like tiny stepping stones. Perhaps the most recognisable feature of my work is that I paint on fabric. This started in my second year of art school. I was at home - I think it was the weekend - and I really wanted to start a new painting. I had a wooden frame, but not enough canvas to fit it. In the corner of my bedroom was this flowery curtain I had found on the street. I had kept it for no particular reason, but it happened to be the perfect size. I stretched it and that’s where my journey began. My degree show featured a series of massive, dark and looming portraits painted on velvet. They had a real presence and that’s where I realised there was more to explore.
Where do you do most of your work - do you have a lovely studio?
I actually have a studio at home. Dundee is a small city, so there aren’t a lot of options for studios. I joined every waiting list available and made a temporary space at home whilst I waited. That was probably four or five years ago now. I love being able to contemplate my work at different times of the day and often find myself picking up the brushes even if I’ve decided not to paint. It’s just so easy. No barriers like cold weather, late nights, or feeling hungry. I think it’s made my work more domestic too, which I like.
It's fascinating that your work utilises traditional methods, though the pieces are stylistically contemporary. As this exhibition features your paintings in Oil predominantly, could you tell us more about your process of producing oil paint?
Making oil paint is so much fun. It’s quite like making pesto really. You start with a little pile of pigment, then add a dash of solvent, beeswax and linseed oil. I use a palette knife first to create a mixture, then my muller to really grind everything together. It’s a slow process, but so valuable. You get to know the characteristics of each colour - some really swell up with the oil, some are quite dry and others stay gritty. You can create the best quality of oil paint money can buy, plus you are able to make it as thin or thick as you desire. Cornelissen and Son (near the British Museum in London) and A. P Fitzpatrick (Bethnal Green) are the best places for advice and everything you need to start.
Colour is clearly important to your practice - Do you have a method of selecting your colours
I absolutely love The Impressionists, so have always been aware of the importance of colour theory. Everything comes back to the colour wheel for me. I’m always thinking about it - even if it’s just by adding a tiny bit of orange to a green to bring out some blue. Sometimes it feels counterintuitive, for example I’ve recently started adding a small amount of blue to a certain shade of orange to subdue it, but it really works! I also love taking in the colours that I encounter each day: people’s outfits, gardens, industrial machinery, the sky. There is colour everywhere. It goes in and comes out. Sometimes with a lot of effort and consideration, other times on a totally intuitive or subconscious level.
In your subject matter, the focus flits from the outer landscape to interior modern still life. In your previous series, you often featured people. Could you talk about what prompted you to focus on these scenes in nature and also the presence of plants?
‘Flickering Lights, Trickling Dream’ came from a yearning for new adventures. Lockdown felt so long. Especially up here, as Scotland is a lot more strict, plus the winters are really harsh. I found myself being less inspired by the plants and flowers that were right in front of me. Instead I went back through old photos of wild or natural landscapes: big trees, mountains, hills and the sea. All features that were missing from my daily life. When I lived in London I used to imagine the stories behind all those anonymous faces you see on the tube, which is why I was drawn so much to portraiture. I just paint what I’m attracted to, which shifts constantly. I used to think that was the wrong way to be a painter, but that’s how all my favourite painters work (Gauguin, Hockney, Matisse, Cezanne).
Could you talk more about how the process of painting on African Fabric affects your painting style? It is beautiful how you describe that the fabric lays a 'dynamic and tactile foundation'
I work with lots of different designs, but always come back to African fabric and Liberty prints. They are colourful and exciting, plus both have a huge design history to draw upon. I also feel they perfectly reflect my heritage, which is English, Scottish and Nigerian. Textiles are so important to cultures around the world and have been for thousands of years. They are our clothes, our bedding, we use them to decorate our homes. I love starting a painting with all these potential stories. They inspire me during the painting process, plus add another dimension to the finished work.
Nicola's series, 'Trickling Light, Flickering Dream' is being exhibited in the Jam Factory Gallery Summer 2021
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