Nick Carrick Interview by Louise Cameron

I went to visit Nick Carrick at his studio in Hove on Friday 11th April, taking a seat in amongst the customary paraphernalia of brushes, soiled rags, tins and squeezed tubes of oil paint.

Louise  Tell me a little bit about your background.
I was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire in 1979. My father is an accountant and I have one sister. I remember doing my very first picture of a dinosaur(!) and my mother being impressed with me. She continued to be very supportive of my choice of career as an artist. Growing up in such a beautiful medieval town, steeped in history, and surrounded by glorious countryside, I developed a keen sense of visual awareness.

Louise  Your Route through formal art training was slightly circuitous! Can you explain?
After having studied art for A-levels, I went on a gap year to Australia. I became fascinated by Aboriginal art, dream paintings, encompassing the spiritual side of art which I had not yet encountered, and cave paintings. On my return, I began my foundation at the Chelsea School of Art with excitement and anticipation. That soon gave way to disillusion, as the course was very structured and formal, which I didn’t enjoy. I also couldn’t get used to the idea of so called artists, swanning around London art galleries, dressed in suits! It all seemed very pretentious, and I took myself off to Coventry (literally!) and spent the next three years studying painting at Coventry University, where there would be no distractions.

Louise  There must have been a very different atmosphere to London- did you enjoy it?
Coventry itself is quite bleak, but there were five other students in my halls of residence, who were all equally serious about painting, and we hit it off straightaway. There was a comradery born of the fact that painting was no longer fashionable. We felt we were part of our own movement of contemporary abstract painters, and were excited for our future. We were influenced by the American abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Arshile Gorky, as well as the European greats such as Degas, Matisse, Ernst Kirschner, Emile Nolde and Jean Miro.

Louise  What happened next?
I wanted to get back to London and immerse myself in the art world, and to support myself, I took a series of jobs as a gallery assistant and worked at many of the major public galleries, such as Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Hayward gallery, the Barbican and the Royal Academy. I settled at the Royal Academy where I became an art handler, installing exhibitions. I helped with some fantastic shows, for artists like Philip Guston, Kirchner, William Nicholson, Van Gogh, and Edvard Munch. I met with some incredibly inspiring artists, including David Hockney, John Hoyland and the late Craigie Aitchison.

Louise  Presumably you were painting all during this period?
Absolutely. I submitted a painting for the Summer exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2004 and this painting was bought by Amanda Vesey. By coincidence, she was an aunt of the painter and printmaker, Tom Hammick. She introduced me to him and he became a good friend and mentor. He arranged for me to take up an art residency in Newfoundland, where he spends a lot of his time. I went there for a month, and despite suffering minor withdrawal symptoms from the frenetic atmosphere of London, I began to enjoy the bleak beauty, where icebergs would drift slowly by, and Puffins could be seen amusing themselves in the freezing ocean. The melancholia of the landscape still provides inspiration for my paintings.

Louise  Did you return with a series of paintings ready to be exhibited somewhere?
I was given my first solo show at the HQ Gallery in Lewes, where I exhibited (how many?) Paintings depicting (was there a theme?). The was quite a lot of excitement around the exhibition, including, dare I say(!) a glowing review in the art magazine, ‘The Week’, and I sold all my paintings. There were some notable collectors such as Ursula Leach, Harold Mockford, Amanda Vesey again, and the American art collector, Racheal Laxer, all of whom continue to show interest in my work.

Louise  This must of felt like quite a seminal moment in your career?
Yes, it most certainly was. With a young family, and the location of the HQ gallery, it seemed that the obvious thing to do was to move out of London. We settled in Hove, West Sussex and I had a studio among a coterie of artists at Apac for 5 years. I began to yearn for solitude in my working environment, and so I built a studio at the bottom of my garden. Unfortunately, our move south move coincided with the financial crash in 2008, which has had an impact on the number of people with sufficient disposable income to be able to buy art. A tough few years followed, but I just kept my head down, kept experimenting with my painting, pushing myself, and fortunately things have begun to improve, as the economy improves.

Louise  Would you like to explain a little about your working practices in layman’s terms if you can!?
What I love about painting is that it embodies a series of thought and feeling processes. I put something on the canvas, consider it, adjust or remove it, replace it, conceal it, excavate the surface, reveal it, destroy it and repair it! It’s like a game of cat and mouse-it’s as much about adding, as taking away. Whether I am happy, sad, optimistic or fearful, it’s all there on the canvas. I can be inspired to paint by an old photograph, something I’ve seen on a train journey, but the image I arrive at will be far removed from that initial source. What challenges me, is to get the texture, the colour, the composition right- Richard Diebenkorn talked about the ‘rightness’ of a picture, and that about sums it up!

Louise  And your style?
I am interested in exploring the the possibilities of abstraction, taking the ideas espoused by the Great British Modernists of the 20th Century, Graham Sutherland, Roger Hilton, Patrick Heron, and going further. How close can I come to suggesting an entity or a presence, or a figure of some kind, without losing that sense of abstraction. I know when I’ve finished a painting, and I know when I’ve ruined it!

Louise  Why do you paint with oils on canvas and on wood panels?
I use oil paint because the paint is so flexible, I can adjust what I’m doing almost endlessly. Oil paints remains wet Long enough for changes of mind, and the way the pigment is held in the oil, is beautifully luminescent. My preferred colour palette is muted, contemplative somewhat melancholic. I think that is largely because I grew up surrounded by history, which probably explains my interest in antiquities, and I want my paintings to have that feel about them too. I often paint on small panels-­‐ the reason for the small pieces are that they are not preliminary pieces for larger works but paintings in their own right. They are investigations and work well in a theme, but can pack as much of a punch as larger works, and the space around the work is as important as the piece itself.

Louise  How do you see your work involving?
Actually, I quite like not knowing where my work is going- that’s the most exciting thing about painting. However, I do plan to move to bigger studio and progress the work I have and make larger works that feel almost sculptural. I am inspired by the work of Anselm Keifer, so in five years I will have an old aircraft hanger, with paintings the size of airplanes!

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