Barbara Nicholls’ monumental watercolours emerge from a process of manipulating coloured pigment in water. For two years, the artist had been visiting Leigh, exploring its natural environment and its industrial heritage. Her investigations here fuelled a deep interest in ancient geology, post-industrial landscapes and the engineering of mines and waterways.
Nicholls’ extensive palette of colour is reflective of the region; from vivid, incendiary reds evocative of the heat of underground passages to the deep, sedimentary hues of the man-made waters at nearby Pennington Flash. These coloured pigments behave in a variety of ways, some gather in dark, opaque pools, others are translucent, lapping at the edges to form gentle tide marks or soft billows of smoky residue.
Nicholls has a deep understanding of the behaviour of these pigments and the inherent properties of colour. The element of chance, however, plays alongside the artist’s expertise as she waits and watches the evaporation process, allowing the forms to emerge. Large tears and slices made by the artist across the heavy paper disrupt the natural formations of the pools, evoking the subterranean fault lines and coal seams of the local landscape.
These immersive paintings may evoke the sweeping contours of Earth viewed from space, the minutiae of organic life seen through the lens of a microscope, incendiary subterranean coal seams, slices of ancient minerals or aspects of the human body. They also reflect a journey of the imagination; offering a space to contemplate the passing of time and the layering of experience.
Barbara Nicholls lives and works in London and Cheshire. She has exhibited widely, both in the UK and internationally, including the USA, Brazil, Australia and Germany.
This residency and exhibition was supported using public funding by Arts Council England.