Thursday, 26 January 2017

Beth Nicholas - A Fountain of Advice

I met Beth Nicholas several years ago when she was the artist in Residence at my school. Since then, her career has blossomed and her unique works of art have gained the recognition that they rightfully deserve. It was really great for us to get a chance to catch up a bit and talk about her work and how her career has been developing since we last saw one another.

Please introduce yourself and your work

I am Beth Nicholas and I am an abstract painter.

When did you start making art, and at what point did you realised you wanted to do it for a living?

My mum is a painter, she painted a lot when she married my father. We were in America, and when we came back, she got into PR but she always wanted to paint. I guess because of that it meant that I was always drawing and painting as a child, and then it was something that I loved and studied throughout my education. I guess it was something natural, it just happened. So I went on to do my Art Foundation and then I studied Textile design. When I finished my course, quite a lot of what I was doing was painting and then digitally printing it on to fabric.

I then went into costume for film and tv, but always creating on the side, and then when I came out of costume for film and tv, I got an amazing opportunity to work in an all girls boarding school called Wycombe Abbey (laughing) You might have heard of it? Wycombe gave me the opportunity to really explore my practice with a big studio and financial support whilst I taught the girls. The residency was only supposed to last for one year, but the school asked me to stay for a second, and I jumped at the chance. At the end of each year I was given an exhibition of my own work as well the work of the girls I had taught. Teaching was a fascinating experience because I based all of the schemes of work around my own practice. I've always been fascinated by taking something that is disgusting and dirty and turning it into something that is beautiful, so I took this into Wycombe. It was quite an interesting experience asking teenage girls to see something rotting as anything that could hold any aesthetic beauty, and that was quite a challenge.

I came out of Wycombe and I knew that I had to continue following my practice. I was really lucky because one of the girl's fathers knew a gallery owner in central London and she loved my work. Without that father, I wouldn't be where I am now, or at least it would have taken a lot longer! The gallery is called Fiumano Fine Art and was exhibited in art fairs all over the world.To have been given that introduction at such and early stage in my career was an incredible opportunity.

How would you describe your working process from idea to final piece?

I have invented a technique, which is such an exciting thing to do, having a technique that nobody else knows how to do and nobody really understands what it is is such a fun and mysterious aspect to my work. The thing that's interesting about it is that each piece inspires the next. The work is a reaction between two mediums, and then I manipulate it in order to develop the piece further. Each piece is unique, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but when it's successful, different areas of the work really resonate with me, and when I find that, I'm inspired to create something else, and so it's like a continuous cycle of painting. I get asked sometimes if the work is marbling. Marbling is wonderful because it's such an immediate form of creating something, but my work takes days, but it's quite a look.

Do you find it frustrating if people thing that you've done it really easily but it's taken you days?

I think if people know what marbling actually looks like, they can see the difference. There's a wonderful story about Picasso who was approached in a cafe by an admirer who asked him if he could quickly sketch a drawing on a napkin. Picasso agreed and I believe he drew a dove. Before passing the drawing back to his admirer, he asked a huge fee for it. The admirer was shocked and asked Picasso to explain how he could ask for so much when it took him so little time. Picasso then told the admirer that it took him 40 years learn how to produce it. Similarly with marbling, it may be very immediate, but to learn how to wield the ink in the water, that takes a long time. It doesn't make me mad if they assume it's marbling, because I remember that story.

What's the most challenging part about being an independant artist?

Learning to make it work for you. I have had periods in my career where I've been a full time artist, and that doesn't work for me. I'm quite an extrovert, and if I'm full time painting, it becomes so lonely and so much time is spent sitting on your own, and I become very introverted and self deprecating, and I doubt my abilities and my work. I think that when you're a painter and you love it, you carry on going and make sure that it's in your life as much as you possibly can, but for me I need to make sure that it's not full time. It has to be a part-time activity, and I'm really lucky because I get a lot of commissions on a regular basis, so I never have a period of time where I'm not painting. I also run my own company where I do something completely different, so that's allowed me to have two very creative jobs that run alongside each other. So the most important thing, I think, is to work out how your work works for you.

What's the weirdest commission you've ever received?

(laughing) This isn't going to sound very weird at all, but I love blue, and different tones of blue resonate within me and within my work and I always work in blue, and people suggest other colours and I've tried it and I just cant. But recently, I was asked to paint in purple and there's something in there about making sure you're being true to yourself, but also making sure that you're still challenging yourself. So I struggled initially and fought the commission for weeks, but then it came to me and I was able to complete the commission.

What advice would you have for someone thinking about making art for a living?

The best bit of advice for working as an artist is working out where your practise fits in the market, so that you're showing your work to people who want to see it. For me, part of being an artist is being a business person as well, if you want it to be able to support yourself with your work, to be able to make a living, you need to work out who your market is and make sure you're aiming your work at the right audience.
I very recently discovered a not for profit company called DACS and DACS supports artists with copyright and licensing, they are amazing! They also help artists figure out what they should quote for jobs that involve high resolution images of their work, so you have a support system for that too. DACS also have a legal department which deal with breach of copyright. Images of my work have been stolen extensively over the last year, all over iPhone cases, laptop skins, etc. and DACS have supported me in getting those people to stop using my work and pay compensation. So my biggest bit of advice for an aspiring artist is get a membership with DACS. It's free, but they take 25% of any money they make for you.

What artists do you find inspiring and why?

I have always loved conceptual art, I really love the way that it shouts and expresses and it's fascinating. I've always loved the Young British Artists, I'm a massive fan of Sarah Lucas, Gary Hume, Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. My work is pretty much the complete opposite and maybe that's why I love it, conceptual artists seem to me to not be afraid of anything! The most inspiring artists throughout time for me have always been the ones who have done things differently, defied convention and ruffled feathers. Dali, Duchamp etc etc. People don't like change, and it's so exciting to see artists that are pushing boundaries all the time.

If you were to start all over from scratch, what would you do differently?

Um...I don't really look at life like that. I don't have any regrets. I've had tough times in my life and in my art practice but if you don't have those times then you don't grow, and you don't learn who you are or what your work is. So there's nothing that I would do differently. Everything has led me to this point, and right now I'm in a really great point in my career, so nothing, I wouldn't do anything differently!

If you were stuck on a desert island with somebody, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

So this one is quite a personal one, but I never met my grandmother, she died when my mum was 21 and she was in her early fifties, and I was born about a decade later. I'd learn so much more about my mum and my mother's sisters, and by the sounds of it, she was a fascinating woman, she put up with so much from my grandfather, but she was very gentle and very kind and I think it would be fascinating to meet her.

If you want to find out more about Beth and her work, you can check out her website and her Facebook page.

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