Artist Q & A: Nicole Katsuras

In anticipation of her new solo exhibition The Gentle Ground, Toronto-based artist Nicole Katsuras recalls the genesis of her pull towards a topographical aesthetic and delves into the significance of land and imagined spaces. The Gentle Ground opens at Bau-Xi Vancouver on July 13 and runs through July 27, 2024.

Nicole Katsuras, Rally Slide. Oil on canvas, 54 x 54 inches.

1.Your visual language is recognized in part for your allusions to landscapes – regarding this new body of work The Gentle Ground, you specifically note and pay special attention to “recurring motifs of maps, floating islands and land forms”. Can you elaborate on the significance you discern in ground/earth/terrestrial connection, whether literal or metaphorical?

In my work and throughout art history, landscape has functioned as a key locus of visual symbolism: a gateway to the artist’s atmospheric abstractions, imagined and reimagined locations through the endless possibilities of oil paint. 

As a young child, I remember looking forward to the “yellow magazine” (National Geographic) in the mail. I would quickly flip through it immediately upon its arrival, hoping to find a map insert or triple-folded spread filled with detailed drawings, maps and legends of a country, continent or animal. This yellow magazine filled me with so many creative thoughts and dreams. And I think to this day, many of my simple sketches are informed by all the different maps and topography in that yellow magazine.

There is a word that encapsulates this for me: paracosm. A paracosm is defined as "a detailed imaginary world thought generally to originate in childhood. The creator of a paracosm has a complex and deeply felt relationship with this subjective universe, which may incorporate real-world or imaginary characters and conventions." The title for my new exhibition distinctly references this and directs the viewer to the natural world, giving them a context through which to lean into viewing the work with their own personal ideas and memories of the land.

Nicole Katsuras, Old Fashioned Magic. Oil on canvas, 40 x 84 inches. 

2. The effect of these works is one of particular lightness and softness, either in overall colouration or in the details. Can you share a little about the curation and direction of your palette for this collection?

This series of paintings is a bit softer with lots of pale blues and creamy whites. I think I naturally gravitate to my favourite colour, blue. I find it calming, and it is symbolic of so many landscape elements - that is intuitive to everyone no matter what part of the world they are in. In this series there is also a bold, golden, yarrow-yellow-coloured painting titled Papaya Juice - it is a nod to my favourite “yellow magazine”.


Nicole Katsuras, Papaya Juice. Oil on canvas, 24 x 72 inches.

3.This new series includes a selection of intriguing, small gouache works on paper and board. What led you to creating these works, and what does painting in this medium and format offer you versus painting with extruded oils?

These new smaller works are very much inspired by the work of Paul Klee, and the title of the show is also inspired by his gouache, Temple Garden. I have always done small, single line sketches to help formulate new compositions even though I usually work intuitively on the canvas. It’s sort of a way to warm up and think of things differently. This year I started working on small Masonite boards and paper. I did some oils but really wanted to push it outside my comfort zone, so I decided to use gouache for all its qualities that oil does not have - I really enjoyed the matte, saturated colours of the medium and the way it had an inky yet caulk paint quality. The imagery, line, form and colours of these small works are much more simplified and graphic. There is also something about the intimate size that has allowed me to do colour combinations that are outside my comfort zone and make combinations that will inform my larger paintings in the future.

Nicole Katsuras, Horse Power. Gouache on paper, 5.75 x 8.5 inches. 

4.In addition to referencing land forms, these works also impart a sense of atmosphere. Is your overarching objective to create a world, of sorts?

Yes, it is! I love the idea of building upon imagined and reimagined places from my own personal memories, and creating ideal places that you are longing to travel to and visit - places which provide a visual haven, places of calm or wonder. I take inspiration from Ivan Eyre, whose simplified landscapes have a distinctly Canadian look but are entirely imagined. Imagined worlds, in some ways, can be better than reality!

5. How do you see your practice further evolving in the future?

I will be doing more works on Masonite, simplifying my forms and making them more geometric, modernist and Klee-like. With my oils on canvas I will be laying the backgrounds with very thin and flat textures to lend even more contrast and emphasis to the extruded work. I will also be expanding into sculpture, bringing in even more of a three dimensional element to my practice – this will make the suggested land forms more tangible, bringing my imagined floating worlds further into the realm of reality.

The artist in her studio.
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