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This Is Northern New South Wales


Eureka artist Nikky Morgan-Smith is a prolific painter with a penchant for bathrooms and their “displaced inhabitants”. Common Ground intern Jahlia Solomon spoke to Nikky about her work ethic, the local art scene, and what it’s like to have your work destroyed by a gallery owner.

Where did you grow up Nikky?

I was born in Vanuatu and moved to the Byron Shire when I was two years old. I relocated to Melbourne when I was 20 and spent nearly a decade there. I’ve lived in this area, on and off, for most of my life.

When was the first time you realised you wanted to be an artist?

I kind of fell into it. I never wanted to be an artist when I was younger. In fact, I hated the idea because I grew up with artist parents being dragged around to openings but at some point I just picked up a paintbrush and never put it down. It wasn’t really a decision I made more just something that completely stole my attention and I was happy to get lost in it. The more I do it the more I love it. I had a few shows after finishing my degree at RMIT University in Melbourne but it wasn’t until I moved back to this area that my art practice became active. I love this area and its diversity but mostly love the space that being here provides.Ironically my parents still hassle me occasionally to get a “real job”.

How would you describe your signature style in five words?

Messy. Playful. Layered. Intimate. Oxymoron.

Is there a recurring theme in your artwork?

Definitely. For me it is the bathroom and its displaced inhabitants. This is something that I have been working on for years and yet it still feels like I have more to explore. That said, my most recent works are moving away from the ‘bath tub’ though the general domestic/displacement theme is still present. I am working with similar ideas, just looking at different ways of representing them.

Do you create art to portray a certain message to others or is it more for personal fulfillment? 

Both. I see my art practice as a way of externalising. Even if that is a subconscious process it still happens whenever I put pencil to paper. The exciting part is allowing this to happen and understanding that all parts of the process are important, even the unplanned ones. There is also a narrative happening in my paintings, a sustained theme that runs through the work and holds it together. I explore ideas of domesticity, isolation, internal landscapes, the woman as a ‘vessel’ and related metaphors. The other unplanned stuff is like an understory that unfolds organically.

What is your favourite tool in the art box?

Oil based charcoal pencil.

Do you have a painting schedule or do you work sporadically? 

I struggle with the work/life balance. Being in the studio for me is a bit like being underwater; it is hard to know how much time has passed and suddenly you have been in there for five hours and not come up for air. Because I am a single parent, I am constantly being pulled out of my ‘zone’ and have to find ways of being able to work intensely for short periods of time with regular interruptions. In a way this has shaped my style and art practice.

Can you describe your workspace?

Extremely messy, verging on a health hazard. Recently a few snakes have taken up residence in there. Despite this it is my favourite place to be in the world.


How do you deal with painter’s block?

I think a lot of the time when people say they are having a ‘creative block’ they are just experiencing an incubation period. If you understand and except this as part of the creative process, it may not be so distressing. It can be difficult if I have a deadline. I’m fairly relentless at working through periods of incubation… there have been times when I have had to put work out there that I felt was not my best and then down the line when I looked at it again it made sense. Sometimes it just takes a little perspective to see where it all fits.

Who is your most inspirational artist?

There are so many but at the moment I Love Peter Greenway’s work. I like his use of repetition and mixed media, and the way he draws. I also identify with Brett Whitely; his mark making has a movement and lyricism I understand.

What book are you reading at the moment?

“The Plague” by Albert Camus

What is it like being an artist in Byron? Is there a particular challenge artists face when living and working in a creatively rich community?

I guess by nature it is an introverted pursuit and most of us live in small coastal or country towns. We’re pretty much all agoraphobic! Artists here don’t really all meet up at cafes and write poetry, smoke cigars, drinking Absinthe with our muses and discuss philosophy. Well, if they do I am unaware of it! Perhaps I need to get out more.

Have you found the local art scene to be competitive or nurturing?

I have found artists in this area to be extremely supportive of each other. It feels like we are a little family bound by living in the shire. I have never felt it to be anything other than nurturing.

What is the going rate for gallery commissions these days? Do you see this as fair?

It’s generally around 40%-50%. On some level it seems ridiculous but on the other hand they earn it. My current gallery does more than just sell my work; in a way they mentor my practice and me and help me negotiate myself in the art world.

Have you had any negative experiences with gallery owners? If so, what have you learnt?

I have had one very negative experience with a gallery in the past. It was a mess of late payments, lost or destroyed artworks, aggressive interactions and generally unprofessional behaviour. It was a huge learning curve for me and has quickly matured the way I run my art practice and deal with galleries. I have since learnt that you should always get agreements in writing or better still a contract. I now know and understand my rights as an artist and am no longer afraid to stand up to a gallery owner if I am not comfortable with what is happening. On the upside, this experience has reinforced the feeling of solidarity that artists seem to have for each other in this area.

What advice would you give emerging artists who may be thinking of approaching a local gallery or an agent?

Always create what you love and stay true to that. Never cold call a gallery but email a CV, images and a cover letter introducing yourself, then follow up a week or so later with a phone call. Look for galleries that represent artists you respect and identify with. Go to openings and events and talk to other artists and gallerists. Keep creating work and always document it. Always get agreements you make with galleries or agents in writing or better still a contract to protect yourself and your art work. I also recommend entering art competitions.

What are you currently working on?

I have a show coming up at Anthea Polson Art Gallery in Queensland so some of this involves a continuation from my previous body of work while others are new ideas and techniques. I am really enjoying the inclusion of screenprinting in my painting and have started to use that media a lot more recently.

The other day I was researching images for a painting and came across a site about moth trails. The photos were taken with a slow shutter speed so all you could see were luminous squiggles in the indigo night sky. It was breathtaking. I love how an ordinary or mundane event can become beautiful given the right platform. Right now I am working on a painting based on that stimulus, for me the imagery creates a narrative and the narrative unfolds as I paint and becomes more complex and meaningful as I work with it. Eventually it develops a whole other existence that unfolds in front of me. This is my favourite part of painting; the excitement of watching something take shape that wasn’t there before.


New Works by Nikky Morgan-Smith

April 4-18, 2015

Anthea Polson Art Gallery

Shops 18-20 Mariners Cove Seaworld Drive

Main Beach QLD 4217

Tel 07 5561 1166


Writer: Jahlia Solomon

Photographer: Kirra Pendergast

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