Hi Nicholas, can you tell us about yourself
I was originally a writer and kept myself with an academic career. I did have some success with the writing - I won a couple of national prizes and had good reviews. One of my books had an introduction by the critic and poet William Empson, who changed the course of modern literature with Seven Types of Ambiguity, ideas which I was later to transfer into painting. And I travelled - I went as Visiting Professor to Wisconsin University for a year and another year in the same capacity to Thessaloniki in Greece, but that was in Contemporary Literature. Yet deep down I knew that my main calling was to be a visual artist, so in my thirties I threw it all up to go to art college, which at the time felt a rather hairy thing to do, but I seem to have got away with it.
I graduated from St Albans School of Art. I was lucky enough to be approached by galleries before I actually graduated, so I postponed the MA I had intended to take - after such a long wait I was desperate to get stuck in. In fact Milton Keynes Gallery at this time gave me my first municipal show, which immediately led to my first London solo - something for which I’ll always be grateful. I lived in Milton Keynes for some time - as a place it’s always been hugely supportive to artists - but when I returned from New York I decided to move to London, where I’ve lived ever since.
Tell us about your practice
My initial work after graduation combined great involvement with the materiality of the paint, (the St Albans course was very into high modernism), and the human form. I worked in a studio the West Country for a the time, and the shape of the model stood with her arms extended merged in my mind with the nearby prehistoric megaliths to form an elemental T shape. When I was asked by the British Council to mount an exhibition to celebrate their 50 years in Greece, I used this basic shape to organise the picture plane in a series related to the landscape called Balkan Earth, which subsequently created a lot of corporate sales.
However this brought its own problems, as I felt I was in danger of becoming formulaic. I decided to redefine myself and start using narratives from my days as a writer. I also realised I had been out of all critical debate for the previous ten years and decided to do the MA course I’d postponed, this time at Central St. Martins. I was awarded a grant from Arts Council England to complete a manuscript I had left unfinished when I went to St Albans, and this was published in co-ordination with a new series of exhibitions dealing with the same concerns, of change, of ambiguity and of mystery, where interactions between different art forms could then open up.
This, in its turn, led to the combinations of image and text with more figurative work apparent in the Artist’s Book accompanying this exhibition.
How do you want the audience to approach and experience your work in MK Calling?
The work in MK Calling is comprised of six 5 feet by 4 feet canvases that soar upwards together, and relates to the final section of a graphic novel I recently completed, The Disappearance of Makepeace - A Tale of Two Lives. This is a mystery thriller based on events in my own life, tracing the relationship of Eustace and Makepeace, from their first childhood meeting to their final encounter. It is a story of disappearance and lifelong search, and is an adventure on becoming an artist.
The most important thing is for everyone simply to enjoy the visual dynamics of the painting, and with this feel a sense of intrigue and excitement.
This then opens up the possibility of further dimensions that cross art forms. For instance, there are podcasts, and also an animation, that are available on the internet. And there is the Artist’s Book, Eustace and Makepeace - Their Final Encounter, available virtually and through the shop, that combines images of the paintings in MK Calling with prose and poetry, enabling all the elements to interact within a context of narrative, adventure and dream, where issues of ambiguity, dissolution and change can then be explored.
What impact do you want your work to have?
I want to convey that sense of wonder with the world that Makepeace shares with Eustace, a way of seeing that underpins my practice, of transmutation and metamorphic change in some vast cosmic dance, the unending dissolution of different forms, one into another. There is no death, just a rearrangement of atoms.
I create worlds where narrative, fantasy and adventure combine with the structure and physicality of the materials themselves, so that anyone entering and returning to the work can find different dimensions and interpretations, both within their own psyche and within the physical world around them.
What is next for you and your work?
Two things in particular. Firstly, I want to complete the whole adventure of The Disappearance of Makepeace - A Tale of Two Lives, of which Eustace and Makepeace - Their Final Encounter is only the final section, with windows cut into the pages to enable the reader to look in and out of their separate worlds.
And secondly, I’m really looking forward to extending the ideas in the MK Calling exhibition into a new kind of ‘history’ painting, in the broadest sense of the word, where different ways of seeing, in both the past and present, can open and co-exist side by side.
One particular idea I’m exploring at the moment is the Battle of Omdurman, when in 1898 a British force under General Kitchener defeated an army of Dervishes under the Mahdi. The colours of the different cultures, combatants, flags and animals offer huge visual possibilities. Yet the issues are highly contemporary - the speeches of the Mahdi are almost identical to those of Osama Bin Laden, and one wonders to what extent 9/11 was a consequence of the blood of the Dervishes sinking into the sands of the Sudan.
To see more of Nicholas' work follow his Instagram @nickmaloneart or visit his website nickmalone.com
MK Calling 2020 is on at MK Gallery until 1 November 2020.