“When I create my watercolours on paper I recall places I have experienced and others I imagine as the work forms. Some seen and others sensed.”
Walking into the main gallery space and I’m astounded by the sheer size of Nicholls works. They fill the room like water finds its way through any nook and cranny. Which is apt as Nicholls is best known for her monumental watercolours.
The paintings have emerged from her manipulation of pigment as she applies ever-increasing quantities of water. As such they remind me of big rock pools drying in the sun and changing in depth as the tide goes in-and-out. Like water marks left from the sun’s rays to reveal new and wonderful elements of nature’s sequence. And its the colour which leaves me breathless. The layering of colour-over-colour, pool-over-pool is sublime forming its natural compositions.
It’s no wonder she found inspiration from nearby Pennington Flash, a man-made lake created by subsidence from former collieries, and just around the corner from The Turnpike. Nicholls explored the local environment and its industrial heritage over a couple of years. Fuelling her interest in ancient geology, post-industrial landscapes and the engineering of mines and waterways. This you can see in the architectural development of these paintings.
As a landscape artist myself I became intrigued by her process and subsequently watched an online video of Nicholls creating one of her studies whilst on residency. The way Nicholls moves, adds and subtracts with the help of electric fans – there’s real beauty in the entanglement of pigment and layering. Sensing the light and dark emerging as the colour and water elements converge. This highly attuned process has been formed throughout many residencies and in particular a year-long studio residency at Windsor & Newton.
For added measure Nicholls adds another dimension with her paper cuts. Some of her large works are actually two or three pieces, whether horizontally, vertically or diagonally placed, they’re precisely cut or ripped together like a collaged geological formation.
Seeing the install photographs where Nicholls used the large floor space at The Turnpike to add even more colour pigment and layering to her mammoth pieces was enlightening. Here’s an insight into her process…
Large sheets of paper are laid flat on the floor, Nicholls applies pigment, pouring water and allowing it to rest in pools, tilting and manoeuvring the paper. She waits and watches the evaporation process, allowing the forms to emerge. Large tears and slices made by the artist across the heavy paper disrupt the natural formations of the pools, evoking the subterranean fault lines and coal seams of the local landscape.
It’s the huge scale of her paintings filled with these generous pools of colour that give way to the wonder and enchantment of both art and nature together. Its amazing that these works on paper can be filled with so much feeling and presence. It’s certainly prompted reflection on our special affinity with water, after all, water is life. It shapes our lands and from Nicholls paintings it also shapes our creative souls.
Also thanks to Livia Lazar for her pictures of the artist at work in The Turnpike