Is it important what I paint?

I bought an aloe vera plant last week and put it next to the window in my bedroom. Every morning since, I have woken up and gazed at its thick, juicy spikes. It is now part of my life, which is why I am painting it. 

I have painted trees, faces, mountains, strangers in the distance and even the odd still life, like the aloe vera plant I’m painting now. I’m not finished yet, but I can already see it’s a ‘Nicola Wiltshire’ painting. I have painted the aloe vera like I would paint a face, or even a forrest scene.

The aloe vera is painted on a woven pattern from The Fabric Mill in Dundee. It kind of reminds me of something you’d find in an old Scottish castle, which is slightly odd when forced into harmony with a tropical plant and lashings of bright blue. It is roughly 100 x 60 cm and painted in oils. More updates on my instagram page @dundee_painter

Why is colour a feature of my work?

Colour is perhaps one of the main reasons I love living in Dundee. 

The sky here throws out so many magical colours, all swirling together in a kaleidoscope of dramatic hues of orange, turquoise and purple as the sun slowly dissolves into the night. It’s almost like theatre, especially compared to the sky I had grown used to in London, which is murky orange at best as a result of the light pollution that comes with living in a densely populated, 24/7 city.

I began experimenting with colour way back in primary school. When asked to draw pictures of myself, I learned quite quickly that Crayola’s ‘skin colour’ was nowhere near my own skin tone. It was probably the first time I noticed I was a different colour to everyone else. Being mixed race, the brown in a standard pack of pencils was too dark. It was then that I started layering multiple colours, as an attempt to create something that looked more like me. 

Eventually, I became frustrated with this. And by the time I sat my Art GCSE, I was painting people with blue, green and orange faces. I was almost creating my own race of colourful people, where shades of brown weren’t as important as what you could say with icy blues, or fiery reds. 

My undergraduate exhibition (2009) featured looming portraits of people using a palette of muted blues, greens and purples. There were no ‘skin colours’ in sight and for these huge paintings, I abandoned cotton canvas. Instead painting my figures on dark and rich shades of velvet.

Slowly, over the years, my established palette of Prussian Blue/Sap Green/Crimson/Black/White became punctured with experimental purchases of new colours by Michael Harding and Old Holland. It was only when I was stood in the middle of my Master’s exhibition (2015) that I realised colour had perhaps taken over.

The Graduate, 2009

Studio photo, University of Westminster, 2008

Graduate Show at P3, Baker Street, London, 2009

Masters Show at University of Dundee, 2015

Masters Show at University of Dundee, 2015 (Photo by Kathryn Rattray)


Mamma Roma, 2012 by Marlene Dumas: Fondazione Stelline, Milan (2012)

This tiny painting lured me forward from the back of a long, white sun-filled gallery in May 2012. I had flown to Milan with my sister especially for ‘Sorte’, a solo show by Marlene Dumas at Fondazione Stelline. In a room full of large paintings, the small yet powerful Mamma Roma stood out immediately. 

From a distance, there is a face with eyes clamped shut and mouth wide open mid-scream. Moving closer, you notice the watery precision of Marlene Dumas’ gestures, which continually fills me with wonder. Closer still, colour begins to emerge from the black and grey; smears of blue are set off by a dot of peachy orange on the nose. And then, when right up against the painting, it’s the texture of the canvas that comes through, making you realise how thin and turpsy are the layers of Dumas’ paint.

The exhibition featured twenty works, fifteen of which were created specifically in response to the Fondazione Stelline, which was a former orphanage. Mamma Roma, however, is based on a photo of Italian actress Anna Magnani, who starred in a 1962 film of the same title.

I have traveled to many countries in Europe to see Marlene Dumas’ work because I can always learn so much from it. I was even lucky enough to have met her in Paris in 2009, where she signed one of her books for me with ‘to lots of good love and paintings’. After the recent touring of her major retrospective, ‘The Image As A Burden’, I’m not certain when next Mamma Roma will be shown. However, it is absolutely worth looking out for. 

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