Community: In conversation with Wellington-based artist Nichola Henderson

Illustration: Ashleigh Tuapaki

Emelia Masari had the privilege of speaking with one of the best artists in Wellington – Nichola Henderson, about being in a Fine Arts Community.

What does being an artist mean to you? 

I have loved art ever since I could hold a pencil and scribble away. Personally, one of my favourite things is to create funny stories and characters that go on adventures together. I really love a mixture of beautiful, ugly and cute art. I want to be able to make a living from my art, and to spread my little ideas and pictures around for others to enjoy. If perhaps one day I can inspire someone else to draw too, then that would be great.

What are some of the barriers you faced when you decided to pursue art as a career? 

I’ve only ever lived in Aotearoa as an adult, and so I haven’t yet experienced being an artist outside of this country, just so you know I can’t make comparisons or have a fuller viewpoint. I would say the wider population aren’t greatly involved or interested in ‘Art’ (this is the broadest sense including many mediums) or that knowledgeable. I think it could definitely be more respected and encouraged, as art has multiple functions and anyone can participate. Personally, art was something I was always interested in and considered to be skilled, so I was encouraged to continue to pursue it. However once I reached young adulthood, I found many adults in my life were no longer supportive of my passions and wanted me to find a ‘real’ job. Of course this was very confusing, one minute being told ‘wow Nichola that’s so good! You’re such a good drawer’ and the next ‘Artists have no job security and aren’t respected so you should become an accountant’ (of course no offense to accountants, I would be a terrible one). I would say Wellington has a really great artistic community, once you know about it and join in. However most of the respect and knowledge comes from inwards, from teachers and active community members that encourage art making in generations after them. I feel like lots of people in the wider public have a very outsider view, they think ‘oh artists are such strange creatures they sit and brood and paint and write poetry’. Which I mean yeah some of us do, but it’s romanticising the amount of work that an artist puts into a piece, and also their entire body of work, and their purpose.

What is the best part of being in a fine arts community?

I really love the mutual understanding and supportive atmosphere! I found my short time in Fine Arts has already been so full of caring, inspiring and funny people. It is a true sense of community, which is something I need; everyone is in the same boat, so we all work together. I like that art is so subjective, and (of course) you’re going to receive criticism and feedback for work. But art is also about what everyone else is doing and experiencing. You can’t point a finger at someone and say ‘what you are doing is pointless’ because you will have another finger pointed back at you. In Short, I just love that everything is not set in stone. I also love that I have the opportunity to talk with so many different people, see so much, and learn more and expand my artistic practice. 

Have you ever found yourself in situations in the arts community where you felt prejudice?

My time working within the arts community hasn’t been that long, but so far it has been pretty pleasant (at least to my face), as there are obviously a lot of queer, feminist and people of colour working within the arts. I have had some issues more in academic settings where people are uneducated on a topic and haven’t yet deeply researched, and don’t understand the complex relationship between aspects of a person’s identity, and will then try and correct me or others on their experiences. Just for an example, some pakeha students did not understand that people of colour all experience othering and prejudice on some level, because they have not first hand experienced that themselves in terms of racism. I would also add in creative settings of discussion and exploration of sensitive topics it can be uncomfortable at times for me (and probably others). Usually this again stems from a person or group talking about a topic they have not experienced and have not deeply researched, and so their dialogue comes off as very summarised and stereotypical. An example would be in a creative workshop for game design, where a group of people thought it would be really cool to make a game about being in the Aokigahara Forest. This of course brings up issues of using mental illness as a horror tool and exploiting suicide, as well as taking an ‘exotic’ aspect of another country or culture and using it for personal gain and shock factor, rather than examining why this issue has occurred and if as a creator you can do anything to help the problem.

Who do you often draw inspiration from?

I have many inspirations and mentors for my art, and many of us take on little things from others in our community,  in hopes of improving our own work. I struggle to name one specific person right now, but there are certainly many queer artists in there, many women of colour, many gender nonconforming people, many disabled people, and many who are a combination of many things that have empowered me. I usually am drawn towards artists that are lovely people, funny, have similar political and social views to me, and have aesthetics that I like. This is only due to me not wanting to see media that makes me uncomfortable, that upsets or hurts me, but instead, inspire my art. This is probably the same for friends and peers that I associate with, I don’t have time, energy or patience to be friends with people who I consider rude and hateful.

What is some advice you would give to first-year fine arts students who are struggling to find their feet and their art style?

I would say that an art style will come when it comes, it’s best to try multiple things, lots of stuff, see what ticks for you, see what makes you happy. This means trying new mediums, colour palettes, different techniques and of course making mistakes and making really bad art. You can’t expect every art piece to be amazing and beautiful and make a thousand babies weep. You just gotta make something that you’re happy with and other people might just be happy with it too. Have fun, see what others are doing, bond, work together, discuss ideas and eat some good food. One of the biggest issues for an artists image is to be tortured, alone, and brooding, but that is all a lie. That will make you miserable and make your art suffer in my opinion. Make friends, eat some food, drink some water, get some sleep, smell a flower, look at a snail, try to make something as often as possible, once a day, once a week. Practice. Practice. Practice. Art is a skill, a skill you must learn and keep working towards, otherwise you will not get better. It is not magic, it just pretends to be.

If you’re interested in viewing some of Nichola’s amazing work, find her on:

Twitter/tumblr/instagram: @jadekingfisherart

Deviantart/Red Bubble: Jadekingfisher