The Little Van Gogh 2022 Residency winner Nicola Wiltshire

  • Structure and shape can be the building blocks of any great work of art, however the composition does not always have to be representational. :

The Little Van Gogh residency is an opportunity offered to an artist in the Little Van Gogh network. Inviting an artist to take a week out of their usual practice, they are awarded accommodation and studio space in the New Forest national park.

This year the Little Van Gogh residency was awarded to Dundee based artist Nicola Wiltshire.

Our Head or Art Luke Baker recently sat down with Nicola to reflect on her time spent being a part of the residency and how it will have a lasting impact on her practise moving forward.

What inspires you and drives you to create?

Lots of things! I suppose we all feel the need to communicate our experiences. Painting is just the way I feel most comfortable sharing mine. And of course, I really enjoy it. There is nothing more fun than mixing buttery, high-pigment oil colours and applying them with a brush. It’s such a playful process! I also love looking back on my past paintings, as they are so intertwined with my memories. This drives me to keep painting, so I can represent each year with a body of work.

Is there a clear narrative or message within your art that you hope to convey?

There are too many layers to describe, but I hope to create work that is everything from a series of appealing shapes and colours on a flat surface, to a portal into the viewer’s imagination. The best paintings I’ve experienced start with the marks and smudges, but at some point trigger a thought or memory and then you’re just totally lost in another world.

What drew you to apply for the Little Van Gogh residency?

I really appreciate what you do at Little Van Gogh, so I was already open to the opportunity. I’ve never been to the New Forest, but doesn’t it sound like a magical place! I did some research and was totally enchanted by the place. I like to follow my intuition when it comes to the subjects I paint and I had a feeling that spending time working in this beautiful part of the world would be fruitful, especially so close to winter.

What did a typical day being a part of the residency looked like – Did you have a specific routine that you stuck to?

I set myself a challenge to fill the studio wall with drawings by the end of the week. They can be good, bad, safe or experimental, as long as I keep drawing. I had to do up to seven drawings a day to achieve this, so my only aim each day was to find subjects to draw. I went on walks, bike rides and train journeys to explore new places that I can draw. During that time I experienced woodland, forests, heathland, the coast, rivers, towns and a marina. I tended to be out all day experiencing these new places, before returning to the studio to draw. It was refreshing to structure my life around such short term goals.

Were there any particular themes or elements within the residency environment that have inspired you?

I mentioned my goal to fill the studio wall with drawings, but it’s just an excuse to develop my drawing skills. I draw every day, but only as part of the painting process. The residency week was all about discovering out what my authentic drawing looks like. The New Forest is a hugely diverse place and there is inspiration almost everywhere. What stood out for me, is the way the forests feel so accidental and haphazard. There are many different species of trees growing side by side, separated by winding walkways that humans have trodden out over hundreds of years. It really makes you feel small. Especially as there are all these ancient trees looming over you – watching everything.

Did working away from your usual environment challenge you in anyway or did you find it to be beneficial?

Working consistently in one place for a limited amount of time really forced me to hone in on what attracts me to the subjects I paint. On the first day, I was sat under an apple tree in this beautiful purplish heathland with my sketchbook. I was twisting myself in every direction searching for something I wanted to draw, but whatever I tried just wouldn’t work. It took some reflection, but later that evening I realised that the heathland was too detailed for me and that I was more attracted to simpler forms. From there onwards I sought out big trees, hills and interesting buildings. I thought I could find inspiration everywhere, but it’s just not true. This alone is such a valuable realisation that I will continue to develop throughout my life.

What does the being a part of the residency mean to you and do you think this experience could have an influence on your practise moving forward?

Having my application selected is such a huge compliment. There is no one path to being an artist, so it’s reassuring that other people could see value in what I was proposing. Having a week to be more playful, whilst still moving forwards has given me a lot of confidence. I’m very thankful for the opportunity.

What are you hopes and dreams do you have for the future? Do you have a specific goal in mind that you would like to achieve?

My next exhibition is with the fashion designer Paul Smith. I’ve been working on the paintings the past few months and they form a visual diary of the last couple of years. The paintings feature different plants and places, all in oil on patterned fabric. I’m really hoping to include a few landscapes inspired by my time in the New Forest, maybe even a few drawings if I can make them work! The exhibition opens towards the end of November at the Paul Smith store in Borough Yard, London. Other than that, I will keep making paintings for the galleries I work with and perhaps open up commissions again sometime next year.