UNDER THE LEAF with artist Nikki Pynn

Nikki Pynn recently shared several pieces she has completed via email and as each came through it became clear she had created, somewhat unintentionally, a series. This was exciting and we decided it was a perfect opportunity to introduce Nikki as a new gallery member artist and launch her new “Considering Placement” series.

 Selena: Nikki, it is nice to finally talk to you! Can you tell me a little about your background?

 Nikki: I graduated from VCU in 1980 with a Fine Arts degree, a new skill in stained glass construction, and was confused about what the next step would be. I had to work a full time job to make a living and art became my side job. It was necessary to pick what I would focus on and stained glass won. 

 Selena: Yes, paying the bills is a must. But, why stained glass?

 Nikki: I fell in love with the interaction of color in sheets of glass and the brightness and depth that happens with glass when it's illuminated. Glass changes through the day with natural light changes. I love that it will throw color onto walls, floors and other objects with bright sunlight. 


 Selena: So you’ve been focusing on stained glass for 42 years, since 1980. Why the sudden switch to colored pencils?

 Nikki: Working in stained glass remains a love and challenge with ever forming new ideas to make a go of. However, the year of 2022 had me revisiting former ideas of two-dimensional explorations and a new opportunity to show them. Being older and having learned more, I decided to test these old thoughts of perspective and application, this time using color pencil. I had taught children ways to use color pencils that went beyond “coloring”. It was time to use the skills I had taught. Having been gifted a new pad of Strathmore 400, 184 lb. paper, I was inspired by making good use of it. I started these drawings while working on a mural this summer. In the evenings I was body tired but brain active.

 Selena: Body tired but brain active! I get that!!

 Nikki: Yes! Color pencils allowed me to sit in my favorite chair and do something that didn’t rely on water and could be applied with poor lighting then fixed by the light of day. The paper was perfect for idea changes. You can abuse this paper and it still remains a pleasing surface to work on. 

 Selena: The main focus in many of these are chairs. Why chairs?

 Nikki: Chairs, without humans, are representations of human placement, either having been there or will be there. The other objects are considered as human placement in the literal sense. Objects are placed by human choice in the world and in the picture plane by me. The springboard idea was to go back to filling the drawing space with few objects, up close so their shape is simplified and the object's surface is open to interpretation. Chairs and books are the prominent subject matter but other pieces of furniture and simplified objects have entered the test of possibilities. During college, abstractions and minimalist paintings were introduced, adding curiosity along with confusion. What was I to do with my desire to stick with concrete objects because I enjoyed drawing them and felt more security with their metaphorical weight? The question had me experimenting with abstracting them by bringing the objects close to the surface and cropping closely. 

 Selena: Was the question THEN? NOW?…or both?

 Nikki: Then and again, now. So I guess that means both.

 Selena: What about the boarder around each?

 Nikki: The line drawn as a boundary, is just that. Creating my own boundary to work within. In September of this year I learned about paintings from the Mithila region of India. The symbolic and storied paintings often have borders of repetition and detail. In a symposium held to accompany an exhibit of Mithila paintings at the Floyd Center of the Arts and Radford University, I learned of the reason for these borders. “No border is like a kite without a string” is the expression used. It resonated with me not as a form of tying me down but allowing me to release without getting lost, a manner I’m always struggling with. Thinking well beyond the borders and knowing I can go there isn’t a problem. Staying in place is. (We could spend so much more time talking about restrictions and the difference in cultures of my life and the lives of artists in the Mithila and other regions of India. I mean no disrespect in this acceptance of a line for description of myself.)

 Selena: Oh, Nikki! I love that…”not a form of tying me down but allowing me to release without getting lost.” Yeah…”staying in place.” I really like that and relate to that need. What can you tell us about the application process of colored pencil to paper?

 Nikki: In the application I am creating textures that may or may not borrow from reality. Using line application of different colors, crossing, undulating, repeating to create a surface of color. I’m not trying to imitate nature or realistic settings. I’m borrowing texture, pattern, and shading and applying it to a space broken up by close cropped objects. I add color in places not expected and close off shapes with bold lines and multiple colors similar to stained glass and pop art.

 Selena: Okay. Now I’ll need to go back and study these a little more closely. You’re helping me to look at them in a way I didn’t initially. Will you continue to focus on chairs and books?

 Nikki: No. Actually, alternating with the drawings for still objects, I’ve tested out the use of body language by drawing people in particular stances. Close cropping of human figures, particularly cutting out facial expressions so that the body is all that can be read, is a form of questioning human intention. There is one self portrait, with facial expression, that I count in this series as my response to the frustration I have felt with proper behavior and judgment of misinterpreted actions. 

 Selena: Oh…well. That’s another discussion altogether isn’t it? We’ll certainly revisit that one and hopefully, you’ll allow us to share the “body language series” as well. Thanks so much Nikki!

If you enjoyed this conversation and feel you know someone else who would find this of interest, please share this with them. Click on the series title, "Considering Placement"to see all the current pieces included. Also, check out our previous UNDER THE LEAF  interviews with artist Karen Sewell and Jennifer Carpenter!


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