Nicola Farquhar

Nicola Farquhar image

It’s quite easy to get lost in Nicola Farquhar’s paintings

It’s quite easy to get lost in Nicola Farquhar’s paintings, they beckon with colours that are rich and deep or bright and fresh. An emerging face, intriguing patterning or familiar forms of a head and shoulders are conjured from spangled, swirling or dappled brushstrokes. There are dreamy and unexpected configurations of faces and environments often with what seem to be luscious materials and intricate vegetation. This Auckland-based painter excels at evoking a perpetual sense of wonderment due to the imagination and verve with which she crafts her vertiginous paintings.

Nicola was interviewed one wintery afternoon in her Newton studio, just off Karangahape Road.

VWJ: So my first question is, when you’re starting a new body of work, what you usually use as a point of departure? Or what gets you going?


NF: I have a sketchbook, so I have these tiny pencil sketches that I work on kind of continually, so I build up a bunch of different ideas, drawing faces, or heads or different forms, foliage, different types of leaves and things like that. So I have a bunch of little drawings of different ideas. And so then… when I start the paintings I have quite a bit to work from. I have quite a lot of little components in a sketchbook and then I start translating them into the paintings with colour, because the sketchbook doesn’t have any colour.


For these paintings I’ve been thinking a bit about study of evolution stuff, which I’m really interested in. And some of the things I’ve looked at recently are ideas about how animal/people embryos develop and how the components that are built into this little sort of blob in the beginning are all the same for all these different life forms, and then they articulate themselves, as the thing grows. And so there are these different shapes that are there, they are like little lines or little dots, and these little embryos of different types of animals. And they sort of all start out the same… and so I was really interested to read that both fish and people have… we sort of start out with gills basically, and if you become a fish then your gills turn into gills and if you become a person then your gills go into something else. I guess that’s to do with breathing as well, maybe that’s why I was interested in that. These utility aspects of how a body is made. Designed for utility, but how that utility could take different forms. I think about that quite a bit actually, in terms of developing forms, because you’ve got to develop some forms because otherwise there’s nothing to paint!

Interview: Victoria Wynne Jones

Nicola Farquhar image
Mart, 2015. Oil on linen, 700 x 600mm

VWJ: And what is it about oil painting that keeps your attention?


NF: I like how it has a history. How colours and paint came about in terms of how it was first made, these metals and chemicals, compounds suspended in stuff, how it has a relationship with that. Maybe it just has a funny archaeological relationship. And also I just like that component of oil and colour I guess… and I like how it has to dry… even though it’s sort of a pain, it makes everything difficult to work with, but how it has these sort of rules for drying and not-drying so you can work with it in different ways…


VWJ: That ties into my next question, you’re such a wonderful colourist, and I was wondering about what colour means for you or how you gather these surprising and unexpected combinations of colour.


NF: I just think a really exciting thing to do, is to work with colour and paint. One of the really nice things about paint is that it comes in different colours! [Laughs] So it seems like part of its quality as its material is that it has colour. I quite like the challenge really of putting together colours that don’t sort of go necessarily, and make that work. I just find that interesting, to see how far you can push it.


VWJ: And women’s faces appear again and again in your work, what is it about this subject matter that means you keep returning to it?


NF: I’m just interested in this idea of human biology really and how that can be experimented with and ideas about future developments. The ways a person might evolve. I guess I think about that in more of a female-centred way and think that’s partly because that’s what I am, so that’s my perspective. Because most of culture really is based around a male centre-point and most things really spring from that. So it’s maybe a way of experimenting with some potentials. And I’m sort of intrigued by these ideas of the future, often women talk about the future being only women and how that might change the way we interact with each other in terms of the fight and reconciliation that seems to have driven human development, and whether that would still be there. Maybe it’s a utopian thing, there are lots of people who have experimented with that idea… “if the world was only women would there be any wars?” It’s kind of a really tempting thought! I guess for me the figures are about the integration with the environment, and there’s something about that that’s more about growing and some kind of connectedness, rather than that sense of antagonism of some kind… a leap and then a break and then a leap and then a break and then a leap that you get otherwise.

Nicola Farquhar image
Elk, 2015
. Oil on linen, 600 x 550mm

Nicola Farquhar image

Filt, 2015. Oil on linen, 500 x 500mm

"I’m just interested in this idea of human biology really and how that can be experimented with and ideas about future developments."

VWJ: Sometimes you use women’s names as the titles of your works, are they ever based on real people?


NF: Not exactly. Not really anymore. In the very beginning, the very first paintings that I did, I used names that I was familiar with. But not really with any existing person.


VWJ: I see lots of patterns and details and textures that I associate with soft furnishings and interiors… is that something you consciously work with?


NF: Not really, I do really like all that stuff, but I don’t look at it as research material. Mostly I think about vegetation. But I like how other people translate vegetation in their art, how they might make patterns from trees as well.


VWJ: And I often get a sense of flow in your paintings, also varying rhythms, different speeds in the brush-strokes, is this coming from your painting process?


NF: It probably is actually, I think all in all I probably work reasonably quickly on each one at a time and then put it away and then come back and do a bit more. I’m interested in the way that paint collects up all those movements, you can see them there, that’s what painting does, it has that physical feel to it. That’s one of the things I like about painting is its physical memory, rather than just a flat image. I like that in other people’s paintings as well.


VWJ: And finally, which of the next generation of artists have caught your eye?


NF: I’m a fan of Oscar Enberg’s work, he has a gift for putting really complex different materials and objects together and make it look like it was all meant to be. I enjoyed Katrina Bekhuis’ show last year at Gloria Knight and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work. I am also intrigued by Emma Fitts’ fabric works and I recently saw the curatorial intern Henry Davidson’s show at Artspace and thought he did a great job.

Nicola Farquhar image

Jurl, 2015
. Oil on linen, 500 x 450mm

New paintings by Nicola Farquhar are exhibited at Hopkinson Mossman, Level 1 / 19 Putiki Street, Arch Hill, Auckland.