Brian Sherwin: Nikki, you studied sculpture at the Australian National Institute of the Arts and the Victorian College of the Arts. Can you briefly discuss your academic years and some of the influential instructors you had?
Nikki Willson: I spent the first two years of my Bachelor of Visual Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). I then did another 2 years and then my honours year at the Australian National Institute of the Arts (NITA). It was very interesting and I think a very valuable thing to do, to switch colleges, even though I did it because I was moving interstate. Art schools tend to be very dominated by the personalities of the lecturers there. Each school had very different personalities amongst the staff which had a huge impact upon the way I worked and the way my work was seen.
VCA was much more process oriented the making came first and the idea developed through the process of making. After the first year there you were also pretty much left up to your own devices, which was quite daunting but also liberating. At NITA, the idea came before the making, chronologically not in importance. Work proposals and artist statements were written before the work was made which I found quite constraining. It encouraged good intellectual rigor though and discouraged self indulgence. The lecturers were much more hands on until your final year and there were full workshop crits on a regular basis which could be quite bracing but also encouraged self analysis and rigour in your making.
As far as influential lecturers, David Jensz was the most supportive. He was able to see your idea and facilitate it, rather than direct it, which is rare. Art school was fairly traumatic for me. I found the scrutiny paralyzed me and created enormous self doubt. However it did teach me not to be lazy with my work on an intellectual, technical and aesthetic level.
BS: I understand that you currently reside in London. What can you tell us about the London art scene compared to the art scene you were involved with in Australia?
NW: I have never been much of an art scene person. I would much rather be in my studio making work, than out there doing all that is expected of you ie going to openings, networking, pushing my art. I find it excruciating. However, from my personal experience, I have so far found London to be very supportive of emerging artists with a strong scaffolding developed from the funding sector and the commercial sector.
In Australia, artist run spaces are usually the starting point for any emerging artist, whereas here commercial galleries seem more willing to take risks on new talent and artist run spaces are more scarce. Space for hire seems to fill that void but doesn’t provide any thematic or curatorial consistency.
BS: Concerning your art… I understand that though you are trained as a sculptor you have recently been exploring painting. Are you exploring the same themes as you have done with your sculpting?
NW: Yes I am, though it didn’t start that way. I started off just painting portraits as I was learning about the formal qualities of paint and the challenges of 2D work. However as I became more competent and less focused on the technical side, I began to loosen up in my mark making and in the subject matter I chose. The hands body of work is where I felt a real breakthrough. By focusing on a part of the body and removing the context I could work in a way which explored figuration but also could start looking at the work in an abstract sense as well. When I stood back and looked at this work, the surprise was that it was very much like my last body of sculptural work even though it came from very different starting points. Basically they were all organic forms with a sense of figuration exploring the experience of lived in corporeality.
BS: Tell us more about your sculpting and painting practice-- the themes you explore and the thoughts behind your art in general...
NW: My work explores the tensions and ambiguities inherent within the lived experience. Our bodies mediate our interaction between our internal experience (what we think and feel) and our external experience (that which we encounter within the world). I like to explore the traces of those encounters in the body. I focus in on parts of the body, whether they be hands or heads or whatever, to heighten the ambiguity of the image. I remove the context to remove the narrative from the work and to allow the viewer to bring their own experience and narrative to their experience of the work.
BS: So what are the social implications of your art? For example, is there a specific message you strive to convey to viewers?
NW: My work is very personal. It is concerned with the experience of being human. If there is any message there it is more an attempt to find an emotional resonance though these physical traces which is not illustrative. To allow the viewer to feel those resonances in a space without discourse.
BS: What about other influences? For example, are you influenced by any specific artist or art movement?
NW: I am influenced by many artists, some consciously, many unconsciously. As I studied sculpture not painting, my knowledge of technique, composition and working a canvas all comes either from my own experience or is taught to me by my study of other artists. Marlene Dumas, Jenny Saville, Francis Bacon, Velazqez and Goya are all frequent reference points. For my sculpture, Ernesto Neto, Louise Bourgeois and Annette Messager were all vitally important.
BS: What are you working on at this time? Can you give our readers some insight into your current work?
NW: I am finishing one body of work which involves painting this one man over and over with minimal changes in his posture but trying to capture the transformations within him as he observes changes in the information he is receiving. I am also starting a new body of work which is quite transitional and I am working quite differently with the source material (found photos) and the paint so I will be interested to see how that develops. Transitional work is always quietly terrifying!
BS: Are you involved with any current or upcoming exhibits? Where can our readers view your work in person?
NW: Degree Art has an online gallery which will have my work for sale on it in about 3 weeks approximately. I have just won round 2 of Showdown on the Saatchi Online Gallery. I also am participating in an upcoming group show at the Brick Lane Gallery, London called ‘Art in Mind’ from 21 January to 2 February 2009.
BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the goals that you have?
NW: If I can keep making art, pushing my own boundaries and getting my work out into the world I will be happy. If it affects people or they find some emotional resonance with it then I will be ecstatic.
You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews.
Take care, Stay true,