When she decided on what to do for her final degree project little did she know that the next four months would see her sleeping for a total of 35 minutes, more or less, and swimming in paper dots. Over half a million of them.
After following the life and works of Georges-Pierre Seurat, Nikki decided that it would be interesting to recreate one of the artist’s best-known pointillist works, “Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte”. She visited France a number of times and after eventually finding the exact spot that Seurat set up his easel, started to study the scene as it appears today.
“I went over there a few times and I decided to try and find the island where Seurat painted his picture. When I eventually found it, I sat there and recorded it like he did, watching the people coming and going.
When I got back, I thought ‘I’d love to make a version of it how it is now, but I don’t want to paint it, I want it to be quirky’. I started playing with sequins and buttons, trying to use something circular to represent the dot.”
Knowing the artist as I do, trust me, quirky is the norm.
Seurat was a pointillist – he created his paintings using small paint dots on canvas, rather than brushing. In such a way he was able to build up light and shadow, color and tone and the overall finshed piece, slowly and carefully. Nikki knew that as well as the subject, the method of her piece had to take the pointillist technique into account.
Eventually she hit upon an interesting idea that seemed to click: using the dots that collect in your average office hole-punch.
“I just thought ‘I’m going to try a hole-punch dot’. I did a sample piece of a portrait of my friends first to see if it would work. When it did, I thought ‘this is going to take so long, but it looks so cool’. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time but I just went for it.”
The sample portrait, in fact, looked so good that she knew straight away that this was the method she wanted to use. Added to that, the fact that the humble hole-punch was invented the same year that Seurat painted the original was manna from heaven.
Armed with nothing more than a canvas 10.5 feet by 7 feet – the same size as Seurat’s – a hole punch called Victor, a mountain of colored card and paint color strips gently borrowed from a number of DIY stores, many rolls of double-sided tape and an indefatigable pair of tweezers, she set about her task.
The method itself is simple, and things started slowly as the first steps were working out exactly what the image would be, and mapping where all the tones and colors would be needed. Then Nikki spent a long time making her “paint” and mixing the colors that she needed into tiny fossil pots, all clearly marked.
What she hadn’t realised is exactly how much work would be involved. The planning and preparation was arduous enough – but then the creation began. For 15-18 hours a day, day in day out for four months Nikki spent al her waking hours sticking dots to paper, sticking paper to canvas. When asked how things were going, she would only ever reply “stick dot, stick dot”. She estimates that a basic and not-too-complicated area 10cm by 10cm would take eight to ten hours.
“I had one night off. I went to bed one morning at 11 o’clock, as I’d stayed up all night finishing off one section, and I woke up later and thought ‘no, I can’t do it any more today!’
That was my only time off. I missed my friend’s baby’s christening, I missed friends’ birthdays – I just sat there hole-punching and tweezering and sorting out colours one by one.”
Mindful of the time limit – she had four months till the end-of-degree show – nothing would pull her away, not even her beloved Halo multiplayer frag-fests. But, four months, a couple of stone and much pulled out hair later the work was over – and it was more than worth the effort. The piece has dominated the end-of-year exhibition at Manchester Metropolitan University, and has already garnered much interest – and significant offers – from many leading galleries and art dealers worldwide. She has also had many commissions from individuals and corporate buyers.
So now, graduated and able to rest – for a little while – Nikki is kicking back and enjoying a brief moment of respite with her friends, Halo and the Grand Prix before the next piece begins:
“I’m playing with newspaper articles at the moment, trying to do a piece in black and white, which is far harder because there are less tones and colours to play with to get the distinction.”
The dotty picture – titled, rather fittingly, “InSeine” – is on view at the Manchester Metropolitan Univerity. Trust me, you you’d be hard-pressed to miss it.
If you have any enquiries for the artist about her work, please use my contact page here
Interview excerpts and some images courtesy of BBC Manchester