Artist Q & A: Nicole Katsuras

In anticipation of Nicole Katsuras' exciting new series Metamorphosis, we present our latest Q & A with the artist in which she delves into the evolution of her signature extruded paint application, and shares an artist's perspective on the nature of time, change, and constantly looking forward. Metamorphosis opens at Bau-Xi Vancouver on June 3 and runs through June 15, 2023.

Nicole Katsuras, 1984. Oil on canvas, 48 x 96 inches

1. You cite the inspiration behind your new work as being the symbolic definition of metamorphosis – can you share any particular examples of such moments that you have either experienced or witnessed, that could be reflected in these paintings?

Yes, I think my work is ever-evolving, and hopefully I am as a person too. I think time is the greatest indicator - part of the natural process of becoming more conscious. As time moves along, I find that it prompts bigger and more significant moments of reflection and change... or maybe I just become more aware that time is fleeting, and that everything is not the same as it was.

My painting 1984 is named after Joan Mitchell’s series of works of that same year. Looking at a retrospective of Mitchell’s work, I noticed after the year 1984, her energized brush work had a change or shift, as did her use of negative space. I chose the title 1984 for this painting because within it I noticed a shift in my paint applications, negative space, and perspective – it’s different from some of my other works. I am curious to see where the metamorphosis in 1984 will lead me.

As an artist, your work is never done; I am always painting the next chapter, even before I am conscious of it. It’s a never-ending story - documenting, reinventing, and interpreting the past, present and future psyche with a lens to the outside world.

2. Your paintings make brilliant use of negative space to emphasize forms and lines – what inspired this characteristic of your work?

The negative space in my work is very important – it is rooted in the conventions of abstraction, and the genre of Ukiyo-e, a Japanese art form from the 17th- 19th century. Ukiyo-e means “pictures of the floating world”, and it is such a wonderful, fantastical word and visual for me. It’s so open, playful and honest.

I reinterpret the traditional figure-ground relationship with my use of colour, texture, and line work to construct intuitive compositions that conjure places, observations and points in time.

Nicole Katsuras, Pilgrims Wish. Oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches


3. There are very often suggestions of landscape in your work, be they of mountains, valleys, canyons or islands. Is this a conscious choice, and can you identify what lies behind it?

I think that over time I have become more aware of myself as an artist and my process. In the past, I probably would have rejected the idea that any “organic” imagery had evolved in my work, but now I’m more in tune and maybe more comfortable with my process, embracing my intuition as part of the exercise. 

Living and growing up in North America, I am surrounded by so many natural wonders that are engrained in my psyche. Landscapes with water, trees and large land formations are in my DNA. I think there is something about transcribing natural phenomena like light, water, plants and land formations into something that is atmospherically charged while simultaneously being abstract: it is both sensually beguiling and intellectually stimulating for the viewer. And I think there is something about landscape that people can relate to, feel at home with, and be settled and comforted by.


4. You have curated an incredible palette for these new works, with deep aubergine and midnight blue featuring strongly. Can you describe your pull towards these colours in articulating and expressing symbolic metamorphosis?

Ah, great question! The use of rich, dark colours in this new series of works was very much intended. The inner and outer worlds influence my work. I am fascinated with the natural world and all  its dualities: night and day, light and dark, positive and negative, yin and yang, life and death. As important as these are in the outside world, they are just as important to our inner world, or psyche. We experience them every day, and they are essential for appreciating life. These elements cannot exist, or be experienced, without their counterparts. In these new paintings, I created symbolic images that are light and airy, with counterparts that are bold and deep in colour to illustrate the balance existing between two opposite forces. There is a synergy and equilibrium of wholeness that is understood and appreciated through dualities.

Nicole Katsuras, The Moon Game. Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

5. Your work is very distinctive in its three-dimensional, extruded paint approach to colour, and you have said in the past that you began using this technique after your return to Canada from England where you completed your Masters studies. Can you tell us about the tools you use for extrusion and their evolution? 

These new works are filled with moments from  all my past works, layered with all my experiments and paint evolutions over the years. After I completed my studies in the UK, I was trying to figure out what to do next with my oil paintings. I knew I wanted to make them more visceral and textured, but I wasn’t sure how to get to the next chapter. 

I started to build up the figure-ground in my paintings more and more, with pure oil paint (there are no thinners or additives in my paintings). Initially, I started squeezing paint onto the canvas right from the tube to create a thick, drawn line to my works. This led to experimenting with drilling smaller holes in the oil paint caps to make even thinner lines. Eventually, I started creating and modifying unconventional tools like cake-piping tips and mortar tools to extrude paint through.

As the tools evolved, so too did the texture and use of line work in my paintings. New areas with large swaths of paint and tiny moments, or highly detailed and textural drawn extrusion lines, started to excite me in new ways. One of the early examples of this is in my 2008 oil on canvas In Years Highland Grove (part of the Donovan Collection in the John M. Kelly Library, University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto). It’s a large, ultramarine blue painting with a floating, island-like form, filled with organic compositions that allude to waterfalls, cliffs, mountains and fauna. If you look closely, you will see some of the line work created is straight from the tube - small moments of extruded paint, intermingled with knife and brush work.  

The artist in her studio.

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