The Busker Photo courtesy of Terry Nicholls
Terry Nicholls: For Love of the People, the Land and the Mosaic Art Form
Canadian mosaic artist, Terry Nicholls creates mosaic images that reflect the spirit of the people where he lives and the stark beauty of the land that surrounds. We can see the power of the ocean and the way it carves into and gives shape to the land through his work. Nicholls’ mosaicked images of the island of Newfoundland, capture the islander’s way of life, their stoic nature and details of daily life on “The Rock”.
Terry took some time recently to share a bit about himself and his art practice with Hobby Island Mosaics. Like many of our clients and readers, Terry lives in a location far from Canada’s large cities and artistic centres. He manages his career as an artist from what many would consider to be a remote location. As is the case for many of you reading this article, the internet is his only contact with this community. During the course of our interview he describes the challenges he faces in his mosaic art practice, talks about his work, his influences and how he handles the practicalities of conducting his career successfully.
From the work in your portfolio we can see that, like many Canadian artists, you take inspiration from the natural environment that surrounds. First of all can you tell us a bit about where you live in Canada?
I live at the most easterly point of North America in Newfoundland and Labrador. I do take my inspiration from our environment. I trained and then worked as a marine biologist during my first career. This has given me a profound respect for the world around me, especially our oceans. There is a wealth of beauty there, whether it be microscopic or macroscopic.
The Cove Photo courtesy of Terry Nicholls
How did you begin your artistic career? Was mosaic art making where you started? If not, what sparked your interest in this medium?
I have painted for as long as I can remember. The arts however didn't become my chosen profession. More on that later. My first encounters with mosaics were photos of Roman mosaics made with just a few colours of stone. As a child I was fascinated by them, both the depictions of everyday life and the geometric designs. I eventually decided that I wasn't a very good painter so I challenged myself to do a mosaic. I purchased some floor tile, some nippers, a tile cutter and adhesive and then learned by the school of hard knocks what not to do. I needed to do some research on mosaics in order to keep my fingers attached to my hand, and this is what got me totally smitten on the medium.
How has your location influenced your artwork practice? What are some of the challenges you face as an artist’s living in, what some would consider to be an isolated location.
I am lucky to be able to see the ocean every day. That influences me significantly. I live in the wettest, snowiest, windiest and foggiest city in Canada. Many people have told me about the coldness that I portray in much of my work. No wonder.
As far as the business of mosaics is concerned, I am definitely isolated from the community. In a province that is 1.6x the size of the United Kingdom, there is not a single glass shop or mosaic supply company. Aside from my spouse Connie, who occasionally mosaics, there are no mosaicists here. I order most of my supplies online and hope for the best, especially when it comes to stained glass. Smalti is more predictable thank goodness. I have to keep a rather good inventory, since I can't go out to a shop and pick something up. Shipping time to here is problematic, since I live on an island.
Participation in exhibits outside my province and/or country involves high shipping costs, especially to galleries that require a return label to be included. I have to factor that into what I ask for a piece.
I have learned to use and take advantage of local materials so I have developed a fondness for pebbles. We have lots of those and it is very refreshing to take a day and go collect some. I try to pick a rare nice day. Since I live on an island which we affectionately call 'The Rock', using some of this material reflects our environment quite well.
Taking a mosaic workshop or attending a mosaic event involves travelling a very long distance. There is a certain amount of preplanning that has to go into that.
Being the only working mosaic artist for perhaps thousands of miles, invariably my work is the only mosaic work that people see here, (aside from the cheap, assembly line work that comes from elsewhere). I find that first and foremost, I have to educate people about what mosaics are all about, especially more contemporary work. They have never been exposed to this medium and don't know what to make of it. I must admit that I do like doing the education part. I conduct demonstrations in public venues specifically [with] this goal in mind.
The Wind Come Up Photo courtesy of Terry Nicholls
Have you any advice for our readers facing similar challenges?
Take advantage of the resources of the internet. I rely on the internet to meet artists. I am thankful that the mosaic community is such a group of sharing and caring people. I have learned much of what I know from them and most people are more than willing to answer your questions or address your concerns. There is a wealth of information available and when it is not, someone, somewhere is still able to answer your question if you are not shy to ask. If you are isolated, take advantage of this way of communicating. It is also a wonderful way to see mosaic art and to study the materials and techniques that other people employ.
The internet is also mostly how I share my art with others. It is a great tool to help have your work exposed to the world. There are many ways that you can easily set up a website for your work, and there are also websites where mosaicists gather. It is wonderful to have other artists ( and non-artists) see what you do and you can learn from that experience.
Online, I have met other artists who have never met another mosaicist. They work in isolation as well, yet we have that common bond. I treasure them dearly.
The Arches Photo courtesy of Terry Nichols
Are there any artist(s) or life events that you would like to mention as past (or present) influences?
Probably the most influential artist that I have encountered is Canadian painter Lawren Harris. His work speaks to me and it remarkably reflects the country in which I live. His use of simple lines and light is so extremely expressive.
What about the process of mosaic-making captures you and continues to hold your attention?
I think that the most fascinating thing that I find in mosaic making is choosing what materials to use. There are so many. I really like to mix glass and stone. I also like to mix stained glass with smalti. It may be unconventional to do this, but it seems to work for me. I also enjoy the challenge of doing blends of colour. I have conversed with mosaicists who use a 'formula' to achieve this, but that isn't for me. I like to go with the feeling of what seems right. I use the stand back and squint my eyes method very frequently.
Can you tell us a bit about Terramosaic?
Terramosaic is the name of the website that both my partner in life (Connie Hilchie) and I established to expose our work to a wider audience. It is not a mosaic company per se.
The name was chosen perhaps 15 years ago. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Back then I had aspirations of doing other mosaic work such as installations ( architectural, backsplashes, showers, tub surrounds etc.). That desire changed over the years so I could focus on doing art mosaics. That is the niche which finally called to me.
We have kept the Terramosaic site name because it is convenient and provides a link to our appreciation of the earth and environment.
Connie works with a variety of media – knit goods, hooked rugs, quilting, sewing and of course some mosaics.
Stargazer Photo courtesy of Terry Nicholls
What is the focus of your current work?
My current work has definitely been focused on where I live, what I see, and the beauty that surrounds me here. It is not always done in a realist fashion, but more an interpretation. I have been enjoying working with very small pieces of glass and smalti, and incorporating those with stone and pebbles. It is time consuming to work with small pieces, but it is very satisfying. I am trying to give people a glimpse of 'here'.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?
Nothing planned at the moment. I am currently in a couple of exhibits in St. John's NL and in Ashland, OR. I have been involved in perhaps 4 or 5 exhibits annually ( usually local) and would like that trend to continue. My work is shown in several galleries in Newfoundland, and that keeps me pretty busy.
Galleries which are currently featuring my work include:
Devon House Gallery, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. http://www.craftcouncil.nl.ca/
Five Island Gallery, Tor's Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. http://www.fiveisland.ca/
Glass Artisans Studio and Gallery, North Shore, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. http://www.glassartisans.ca/