Artists in lockdown: Kirk Nicholls | Sarjeant Gallery Whanganui
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Artists in lockdown: Kirk Nicholls

Artists in lockdown: Kirk Nicholls

Kirk Nicholls in his studio with a work in progress.

Curator & Public Programmes Manager, Greg Donson talks to Whanganui artist Kirk Nicholls about his lockdown experiences. Kirk’s work ‘Aqua Pura’ can be seen in the 2020 pattillo Whanganui Arts Review that is on view until Sunday 14 June.  

This has a strange time for us all, how was lockdown been for you? Who did you share your bubble with?

I really needed a break around the time that lockdown occurred, so to be able to sleep in and do what I wanted around the studio was great. I live right by the river and loved cycling along the track for breaks, occasionally seeing families walking together along the river bank with no traffic noise in the background, felt like we were living in some kind of utopia where people unplugged and went back to enjoying the simple things in life. I didn’t use the car at all for 3 weeks.

I shared a bubble with my girlfriend Jaki and her daughter Marianne and it has been great. Jaki was working from home but had time to try new recipes, read books and enjoy the sunny garden. Marianne works the pizza stall at the markets with me and as a very social 16 year old she seemed to have no trouble adapting to the isolation. Maybe it’s easier when you’re an only child. It was amazing to witness huge progress in her guitar playing and song-writing.

 As well as being an artist you are the owner operator of both Boss Kai food trailer and the Flaming Dragon Pizza which runs out of the River Traders markets every Saturday.  I can imagine it’s been a terrible time work wise for you not being able to be at the markets or at Boss Kai, which had only been up and running since December. Has the lockdown period allowed you to focus on making more of your own work? Or have you been busy making something else…. Bread, a garden?

I have some exciting new plans with the Flaming Dragon pizza business and hope to be opening in the evenings soon, as well as doing the markets every Saturday. I have decided to sell the Boss Kai food trailer to focus on that and my art.

Jaki and I spent a day purposefully digging up her garden with big plans for winter planting but the weeks have gone by and it has again become a big carpet of green weeds….looks pretty though.

Over the years I have accumulated a large pile of sculpture detritus – objects that I have made in all shapes and sizes but have cast aside for future reference or use. It’s a glorious mess to my eyes but

Kirk Nicholls studio

something needed to be done, so I spent a week cleaning, categorising and organising everything into useful piles that will eventually be pieced together like a jigsaw into new artworks.

Besides having not long started up Boss Kai were you working on anything major when we went into lockdown? Did you have any big projects on the boil that have had to be cancelled or put on hold?

I was to be in a group show in a Wellington gallery called Potaki Paterson but that was postponed due to lockdown. Having been very busy with the food trailer I wasn’t sure when I’d find time to make art again so I didn’t book any shows and decided that I would only have time to make the odd piece for competitions, group shows and commissions. So the prospect of being able to get back into the work I had been making – the figurative sculptures out of recycled plastic, was exciting until I discovered the face mask I wear when making them was out of filters. Instead I decided to work on past wood and plaster sculptures that I had started but not finished. It was interesting seeing them with fresh eyes, and now I had the time to really sink my teeth in.

My access to materials was limited due to lockdown so I dismantled old plywood boxes used for transporting art and used them as backgrounds. A favourite piece turned out to be one I worked on for two weeks but unsatisfied I put it aside and started from scratch. This time I went with the simplest (for me anyway) and boldest approach which ended up being more dynamic and faster to make and it ended up as a bit of a revelation for me.

 What’s surprised you about being stuck at home 24/7?

Before lockdown (and the food trailer) I was used to spending five days a week alone in the studio pretty much uninterrupted, the only disruption would be weekends taken up with pizza work. I like being alone and need space to think, at the same time after three or four days in the studio I find I have to unwind and need interaction with people. Although in this unusual situation, socialising exclusively within my bubble has been enough. I’m surprised that I have called and talked on the phone a lot less than before lockdown.

What’s the one item or items you wished you’d acquired / purchased to keep you occupied during lockdown?

As I mentioned above I wish I had bought new filters for my mask and I could have done with some spray paint too but really it has been a good challenge recycling what I had around me.

The well-fed black cat in Kirk Nicholl’s studio

Have you been more disciplined in your making or a bit distracted?

I was easily distracted the first couple of weeks and struggled to stay focused, basically because my studio was such a mess so I spent a week completely reorganising the place and created a lot of breathing space. I got rid of things that were distracting or tripping me over, then things fell into place

What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened since you’ve been in lockdown?

I suppose like a lot of people I have had very strange, colourful and vivid dreams, that’s been interesting because I didn’t dream a lot before. Another weird thing has been that every day without fail since the lockdown began, two fantails fly into my studio, swoop around me for a few minutes then fly out again.

We’re now in Level 2 but did the lockdown force you into a new routine that helped you stay focused on either making art or just staying sane?

I’m a current affairs junkie so I read the Guardian online most mornings and then for local content somewhere in the day I’d read the New Zealand Herald or stuff followed by international news on various networks on youtube.

Except for exercise at some time of the day there hasn’t been a lot of routine, I liked to keep my days pretty diverse, my cat didn’t even have a feeding routine (rest assured he did get fed well). As long as I could squeeze into the day at least four hours to eight hours of art productivity I’ve been happy.

Read any good books, listened to any good podcasts?

After I’ve been completely depressed by all the news, I’ve been watching the ‘corridor crew’ on youtube to cheer me up. They are special effects artists who review and explain special effects from movies past and present, it fascinates the geek in me as some of the processes in special effects inform and inspire ideas for my art.

What would your lockdown theme song be? 

I have been playing a lot of Alice in Chains, the Bad Brains album called ‘I against I‘ and the Janes Addiction song ‘Ocean Size’.