Magma Roll

Barbara Nicholls’ explorations in watercolor


By Kate Mothes

Watercolor has traditionally been viewed as a sketching medium, pliable and easy to work with due to the way it can be transported easily and applied to sheets of absorbant paper with the deft strokes of small brushes. Its portability lends itself to plein air landscape paintings and loose, flowing color fields. Yet, its intrinsic flexibility and looseness presents ample opportunity to scale up. UK-based artist Barbara Nicholls finds inspiration for her large-scale compositions at the source, in pools of water.

Currently on view at the Windermere Jetty Museum in the Lake District, Nicholls’ paintings explore the elemental relationships between earth and water and the reverberating effects of time and motion. Exhibited near Lake Windermere, the largest natural lake in the region, the compositions are redolent of pools, pebbles, and great depths. The Lake District’s mountainous terrain is itself the result of 500 million years of geological transformation: its beds of limestone, sandstone, and slate were created through periods of ocean submersion and desert-like conditions, sculpted through phases of tectonic folding and uplifting, chiseled by glaciers and meltwater. In Nicholls’ paintings, we experience something akin to a collection of cross-sections of geological time.

Nicholls is influenced by regular walks in nature and that experience follows her to the studio. There she lays large sheets of paper onto the floor in another kind of terrain, always in a state of metamorphosis. Watercolors are applied to the paper in an array of hues, and pools of water bleed and evaporate in a lengthy and layered process. Evocative of sedimentary deposits or crystals or minerals beneath a microscope, her paintings express Earth’s perpetual energy and reshaping.

Nicholls’ solo exhibition is on view at Windermere Jetty Museum through September 4, 2022, and you can find more information about her work on her website.

Magma Roll, 2019. Watercolor on paper
Flash, 2018. Watercolor on paper
Subsidence, 2019. Watercolor on paper
The artist in her studio.

Header image: Tornpools, 2018. Watercolor on paper.

All images courtesy of The Turnpike CIC and Lakeland Arts, photography by Livia Lazar.

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