Contemporary Charcoals:
Nina Mae Fowler

Masterful British artist Nina Mae Fowler has captivated international audiences with her striking graphite and charcoal compositions (as well as sculptural works) that channel the golden age brilliance of the silver screen. At Nitram Charcoal, we are ecstatic that Fowler was willing to participate in our "Contemporary Charcoals" Interview Series, so we are kicking off the 2017 series with her reflections. From her love for the "forgiving" nature of charcoal to her personal definition of creativity, Fowler's answers convey her true passion for art and on-going contemplation of the role of celebrity. For more on Fowler's work, please visit her website.

It's Just My Funny Way of Dancing: Part VIII Black chalk on paper + eyelets - 216 x 185 cm Nina Fowler, 2011


Nitram Charcoal (NC): What is the last art show that you saw? What did you take from it?

Nina Mae Fowler (NF): I saw ‘Picasso Portraits’ at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It reminded me not only how incredibly prolific Picasso was but how he touched upon almost every creative style imaginable, from caricatures, to ceramics, to collage to realism. I often wonder if this was the mark of a ‘true’ artist or a creative genius unlike any other. I also learned that his father was an Art teacher, which made me wonder about my relationship with my son. I taught Art for many years and his father is also an artist, I look forward to seeing how/whether these creative genes take hold of him! 

Nina Mae Fowler

Joan (Knockers I) Black chalk on paper, wood + brass - 136 x 94 cm Nina Fowler, 2013


NC: What is your favourite collection to visit? What collection/museum is on your visit wish list?

NF: That is a tough question as there are so many I love to visit! I have to ask myself which do I most look forward to taking my son to see and the answer is the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. It is home to so many of my favourite paintings – from there I can take him to the Musée Rodin, another firm favourite. The collection I would most like to see is the Philadelphia Museum of Art as it is home to Duchamp’s ‘Étant donnés’ - a piece I would love to experience. 

Nina Mae Fowler

Not Even In My Dreams ( Lucia II) Black chalk on paper - 35.5 x 44 cm Nina Fowler, 2014


NC: In your opinion, what sets charcoal apart from other artistic media?

NF: It is the most forgiving of mediums. There is room for error and happy accidents. You can also use a rubber in equal measure to the charcoal itself which allows even more flexibility in the drawing process. I also love that it absorbs light like no other medium. You can achieve absolute blackness next to perfect whites; therefore depicting practically any sort of contrast in light is achievable.

Nina Mae Fowler

Wild Ride II Black chalk on paper - 150 x 190 cm Nina Fowler, 2014


NC: What is the greatest challenge to working with charcoal?

NF: The mess! There is a lot of dust created which makes it challenging to keep areas of the drawing completely clean. It is also fairly transient – meaning sometimes a mark made can disappear if accidentally brushed or rubbed.

Nina Mae Fowler

Wild Ride Black chalk on paper - 150 x 190 cm Nina Fowler, 2014

NC: What is the strangest response you've ever received for a work?

NF: I’m not sure it is exactly ‘ strange’, but I will always remember one collector who was so overwhelmed when he first saw a particular drawing of mine in person, that he hugged my parents (who were in attendance at the exhibition opening also) and thanked them for giving birth to me and therefore the artwork!

NC: Do you collect art? Whose works hang on your walls?

NF: I think anyone who loves art naturally collects it – on whatever level that may be. I am fortunate enough to own an Antony Gormley drawing and my friend, the artist and film director, John Maybury gave me one of his Brian Jones screen-prints which I treasure. I also have artworks from friends who I studied with and of course we live with my husband, Craig Wylie’s artworks hanging on the walls.

NC: If you could buy any one work of art, what would it be, and why?

NF: I would buy Manet’s ‘Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe’ because when I studied Art History at school, this painting opened my eyes to how people can react to an artwork, the controversy it caused and therefore the impact an artist can have with very simple means. This was the beginning of my endeavors to make meaningful work. 

Nina Mae Fowler

They Took Away My Veil: Part III Black chalk + eyelets on paper - 128 x 168 cm Nina Fowler, 2012


NC: Tell us a bit about your background. What do you consider your greatest artistic accomplishment?

NF: I graduated from Brighton University in 2003 with a degree in Sculpture. In 2008, I was nominated for the BP Portrait Prize with a painting of the Royal Ballet dancer, Carlos Acosta. Shorty afterwards I began working with Galerie Dukan Hourdequin who gave me my first solo exhibition at an art fair in Lyon. The installation was bought in its entirety by a public foundation in Richmond, Virginia, USA. From that point I decided not to look back and forged ahead making work day in and day out. I have been lucky enough to exhibit internationally and my work is included in private and public collections throughout Europe, the USA and Asia. In 2015 The Cob Gallery, London, published a monograph of my work to date titled ‘Nina Mae Fowler: Measuring Elvis’. The book includes the most wonderful texts about my works by incredible contributors and it is now stocked in the Tate Modern – I would say this is my one of my proudest moments. However, artistically I would have to say, being invited to take part in my first museum show by Neuer Kunstverein Aschaffenburg, in Germany, felt like my biggest achievement. The group show brought together 3 female artists and was called “Starke Frauen” (Strong Women). For the exhibition I created my ‘Knockers’ series which technically and conceptually I felt brought together much of my learning and thought processes so far.

NC: What do you define as "being creative"? How to seek that creativity in your work?

NF: I think ‘being creative’ is giving oneself outlets, which are beyond the usual realms of convention. For example, choosing to make a heart shape when you squeeze the honey onto your porridge. Save Save

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