Nicola Woodcock is well known to those who follow our Michael Reid Northern Beaches Gallery in Newport, NSW. We are delighted to be presenting her first solo exhibition here in the Southern Highlands Gallery after her sold out showing here in Berrima as part of our exhibition in partnership with Country Style magazine, ‘Coast to Coast’.
Originally from the UK, Nicola is now a Sydney based artist. She has been a finalist in the York Botanic Art Prize (2020), a repeat finalist in the National Emerging Art Prize (2021 and 2022) and most recently the Northern Beaches Environmental Art & Design Award (2023). A self-taught artist, Nicola works from her studio in Terrey Hills on the edge of the Ku Ring Gai National Park.
“I’m interested in developing a language to describe the Australian landscape and in particular the flora of the Sydney Sandstone Ridgetop Woodland which surrounds my home on the Northern Beaches.
At the same time I’m exploring the possibilities of my chosen medium, the humble oil pastel. I work with a small palette without extending this range by blending or mixing the pigments, preferring instead to work with solid saturated blocks of colour straight from the crayon. The joy comes from finding colour combinations that excite me when placed side by side. I allow the medium to dictate the strength of lines and marks which means relinquishing a degree of control over the marks produced. The thick, chunky pastel crayons leave no room for fussiness, detail is pared back and I’m forced to search for the essence of the image. There is also a large degree of spontaneity in my work since I don’t re-work or layer any parts of the surface, once a mark is placed it remains.
Native plants are a constant source of fascination and I’m lucky to be surrounded by a rich backdrop of bushland, living and working on the edge of Ku Ring Gai National Park. I have encountered all of the flora in this collection in my day to day life. From pathways to car parks to deep explorations into the forest, the wilderness always feels close. Flannel flowers are spotted on the side of busy roads, defiantly growing there despite the development and traffic pollution. Secret groves of Waratahs are discovered in the national park where their stems have to be painted by rangers so they can’t be taken and sold. Huge Banksia flowers grab my attention, glowing orange and yellow like candles as do carpets of tiny Boronia and Wattle sprinkled like confetti on the forest floor.
I take photos of anything that catches my eye and bring it back to the studio as a starting point for an artwork. Once I’ve studied and sketched out the forms of that particular species, the number of petals, the type of leaves, I put the image away and allow memory and intuition to take over. I enjoy the process of simplifying the complex density of the bush to develop motifs which describe the rocks, the leaf litter, and the flora.
I met someone recently who remembers the area 60 or 70 years ago when the Waratahs grew abundantly. Most of us don’t know what has been lost. These are my notes on the bush in 2023.”
Nicola Woodcock – June 2023