"Every time I have had a problem, I have confronted it with the ax of art."
Nichol Brown is a self-taught artist whose recognition didn’t begin till well into her 60’s.
Marie Nichol Helene Brown (Poitras) born 25 December 1950 is an American artist known for her contemporary whimsy, and striking use of color to paintings of everyday subject matter.
Born in Grand Falls, New Brunswick, Canada, to Normand and Eva Poitras, Nichol is considered an artist in the contemporary outsider movement. Influenced by depression era American masters, such as Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and John McCrady's "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" from a young age, she became increasingly attracted to African American artists and the unvarnished statements their work made on life. Nichol has been naturally reclusive most of her life – entering public only when life demands. The fourth child of five, she was born into an uneducated, artistic household that struggled with poverty before moving to the United States one month before turning five.
Upon getting married, Nichol lived in Europe throughout the cold war before returning to the United States in 1992. Nichol moved with rapid succession for several years ultimately settling down in rural Virginia in 2016. Each move added a distinguishable influence on not only her work but the communities she joined to produce and exhibit each piece. One such notable move was to Cleveland, Ohio where Nichol lived life within a short distance to the Cleveland Museum of Art. There she was introduced to the posthumous works of print maker Mabel Hewitt that inspired Nichol’s largest solo exhibition to date, “Soul of the Ordinary.”
Nichol’s artistic repertoire includes painting, illustration, time-lapse and stop-motion film, furniture and sculpture.. She also writes children’s stories for her own amusement. Major themes in her work include the sky, pastoral and often whimsical dream like landscapes, God, every day objects and human activity in its simplest forms. In her later years, Nichol's work took on religiously based political conversations with her “Please Don’t Deport Me” and “Black Lives Matter” series. It would not be the last time she touched on modern questions of God's will on national life.
Q&A WITH NICHOL
When and where were you born?
Grand Falls, New Brunswick, Canada. December 25, 1950
Where have you lived?
Canada for the first 4 years & 11 months. We moved to the St Louis area during Thanksgiving time. As an adult I have lived in Europe multiple times and places. I have also enjoyed living all across the US.
What is your profession?
It has taken me a lifetime to recognize this. I’m an Artist, in my 50th year of production.
What did you study in school?
In High School, at that time, art was not considred an important aspect of one's education and therefore allowed only one year. I was allowed to take it for 2 years. I suppose because girls were expected to master home economics in preparation for a "career" of homemaking and motherhood. Allowing me a second year of art wasn't a great loss to my future.
I completed 1 ½ years of college as an Art major before dropping out. Most women at that time, were not encouraged to expolore higher education in any form and they certainly were not given financial or mentorship opportunities to attend university. It was only a few years later we began to see the women's right's movements that advocated to change cultural norms we still strruggle with today. But those movements were so far away from daily life and intellectual existence, I might as well have been living on another planet.
When were you first introduced to art and who taught you?
From my earliest memories, about 2 or 3 years of age, I had art in my life. I knew that’s what I wanted but didn't have reference for seeking an occupation or even language to ask for what I was experiencing when looking at paintings and drawings. I was too young to know what I had been exposed too, but I fell in love with it then.
I watched my Dad draw, paint and wood carve. As I got a bit older, he taught me these things. He gave me his oil painting set and bought me more supplies. With his guidance and trial and error, I learned how to paint.
What major obstacles have you encountered in life?
I didn’t believe in myself for most of my life. I didn’t know how to dream and I didn’t believe dreams happened to me. Only to others. (There is a lot of stuff to unpack in this. A lifetime of insecurities.) I was raised to adhere to traditional gender roles. Accepting those roles without question led me to believe that dreams are something men went after while women were there to support those dreams in what ever form was needed. If you were lucky, those dreams would become your own but that was rare.