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Nicole Gordon on Her Creative Process and the Role of Artist in Society

Nicole Gordon is an artist and mom of three based in Chicago. She paints stunning surreal landscapes, which provide the viewer with a visual feast, and also creates sculpture and installation work. Nicole received her BFA from University of Michigan and also studied at the Lorenzo de’ Medici University in Florence, Italy. Throughout her career, Nicole has had over 20 solo exhibitions and has explored fascinating and deeply thought-provoking themes. Her early works, dived into the subject of mankind forsaking the environment driven by the Seven Deadly Sins. Her more recent themes, have been about surrendering to the loss of personal space, as well as exploring the tension which exists between the artificial and the real. Nicole has produced a truly astounding body of work which showcases phenomenal craftsmanship and unforgettable style. She’s currently preparing for her next solo show which will take place at the Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles next year.

Could you share with us what your childhood was like? Were you a very creative kid and do you now try to recapture that creativity and the limitless mindset of a child?

I was a very creative child and while very social, I also loved spending a significant amount of time alone to draw. Whenever my family went to dinner, my mother always had a pen handy so that I could draw on a napkin or scrap of paper wherever we went. I was a constant doodler during school as well. I always felt the need to have my hand and brain engaged simultaneously. As an artist now, I try to tap into a place like my childhood creative mindset where traditional logic fades away. I allow myself to remember thought processes that I had as a child when everything was more mysterious, unlimited, and open-ended.

How early on did you realize you want to pursue a creative path in life?

In high school I had an incredibly influential art teacher, as well as very supportive parents who all nurtured my growing desire to focus on art in college. I chose to get a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Michigan so that I could balance a fine arts degree within a more liberal arts framework. After graduating, I spent the summer at an artist's residency where I was able to make art pretty much all day long without an assignment or deadline. It was the first time that I had total creative freedom. I think this could have gone one of two ways - I would either flounder without having a teacher guiding me, or the freedom would feed my creative energy. I found the latter to be true and after two months at the residency realized that art-making was essential to my daily routine.

Could you talk about your process? How do you choose a theme for your work? Does it take a lot of thinking and pondering or just it just come to you effortlessly?

Every time I start a new body of work I spend a lot of time thinking and mentally processing before I start painting. I get a lot of my best ideas in a more passive state of thinking, where my thoughts are very unstructured and free-flowing. For me, the down time away from the studio where my mind can wander freely to form new ideas is just as important as the hours toiling away in the studio.

What happens when you pick up the brush and start painting?

My process of image making has evolved quite a bit over the years. A lot of it has to do with the circumstances of my life evolving, which absolutely has affected my studio practice. I have three school-aged children and my studio time is much more condensed than it used to be. Because of this I spend a lot of time working out the compositions of my paintings before I even get into the studio. By the time I get into the studio, a lot of the decisions regarding composition and color have already been made and this makes for more streamlined painting sessions. My studio time is precious to me. The moments with paintbrush in hand, while not always terribly exciting, are enriching and fulfilling.

From concept to completion, what part of your creative process do you enjoy the most?

I would say that the most enjoyable time during my creative process is after the initial conceptualizing is complete and I'm mid-painting, grooving in the studio. Finishing a painting is often the most difficult part of the process when I need to focus on fine-tuning all the details. Deciding when, in fact, the painting is complete can be the most daunting and difficult part of the process.

You primarily create paintings but have also ventured into making sculptures and installations. Which medium would you say allows you to express your creativity the most?

Without a doubt I feel that I'm most expressive as a painter. It's certainly where I feel most confident as an artist. That being said, a big part of the reason I started incorporating sculpture and installation into my studio practice is because it was way outside my comfort zone. It is important for me to experiment with new concepts and materials as it exercises my brain and helps form new ways of problem solving.

In another interview you mentioned that you are inspired by artists who explore the subconscious mind through their work. Do you think the creative process helps you uncover things about yourself and therefore has a therapeutic and healing element to it?

I think that the creative process not only helps reveal things about oneself, but it also helps with an understanding of how we are connected to one another and the world at-large. For me, this process is highly therapeutic.

In your previous themes, you explored the loss of personal space in the physical world? Does the concept also stretch to the virtual world and the fact that we now have to give up privacy in return for being connected?

I consider myself to be a relatively private person and I have always been guarded in terms of social media and virtual transparency. When I do use social media to connect with friends and other artists, I know what I'm getting into and I personally find it easy to switch off after a short while. Many people do make that trade though and are now living in virtual glass houses.

What role do you think an artist plays in society?

In general, I believe that the greatest benefit that artists on the whole contribute to society is that they provide something that can be contemplated with no strings attached. You don't have to buy art to enjoy it and the vast majority of gallery and museum visitors do not. People, and especially non-artists, derive great enjoyment from thinking about art and especially discussing it with others. I think that part of the allure is that it is something with no rules, no correct answers, and no bottom line. That abstraction is a great counterweight to the realities of having to do something functional in a society.

Are you also an art collector and if yes, what emerging or established artists do you love and are inspired by?

I have a small collection of works, mostly by female artists, who I love to support. I am a huge fan of artist, Valerie Hegarty and have one of her small paintings in my collection. She weaves in elements of art history in her incredibly thought-provoking paintings, sculptures and installations. She's constantly shifting between sculpture and painting, which is very inspiring to me. I also have prints of artists Lori Nelson, Hikari Shimoda, and Annie Owens. These narrative artists are all extraordinary painters and create moody yet playful work.

Boonji stands for ‘positive energy derived from creativity’. How important do you think creativity is for humanity and do you see yourself as a kind of ambassador for creativity

Creativity is an unstoppable force. The amazing thing about it is that when anyone tries to repress it in a society, it explodes. I've never viewed myself as an ambassador, but I think that every thoughtful artistic expression does add to the atmosphere of open mindedness.

What would you like to say to your 16 old self?

I would tell myself to have patience and be OK with making mistakes. I would remind myself that success is never a steady, upward trajectory and that a non-linear path in life is far more inspiring and interesting. Things that initially seem like failures and setbacks often open new paths of discovery.

What is your idea of happiness?

A healthy balance of family, friends and art.

What are you currently working on?

I just finished a large painting for a group show at Bernarducci Gallery in New York that opens June 14th. I'm starting work on a new series of paintings for my second solo show at Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles. The show is scheduled for November 2019.

Check out Nicole's website and follow her on Instagram.

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