Living through art
In 2014, Sheri AnnMarie Nicholls won National Festival Independence of Creative Arts gold as a first time entry and also the coveted Prime Minister’s Scholarship for outstanding work.
Since then, the “shy artist”, as she describes herself, has been emerging from her comfortable cocoon bit by bit and putting her art out there for the world to see.
Sheri hails from the beautiful Bathsheba area in St Joseph, where she lives with mum and dad Margaret and Winston Nicholls, and two older sisters.
The past student of the Seventh Day Adventist Secondary School has an associate degree in visual arts and a bachelor degree in studio arts from the Barbados Community College, the latter she was able to pursue because of the scholarship won at NIFCA.
The 30-year-old said being an artist was a calling.
“My family was always creative with their hands and my love was always art. Where I live fostered that appreciation because I was surrounded by nature and the beach was right there. I wanted to be a ballerina growing up, but art was my first love.”
Surprisingly, Sheri said she didn’t do art while at secondary school but at BCC.
“I was in the working world and I felt stifled. I felt I wasn’t accomplishing my best and I quit my job in 2011 and said let me try my hand at what I love, which was art.”
As a Christian, Sheri looked to God for guidance in everything and pursuing art was one.
“I kept seeing the signs that art was my calling. I kept seeing the word all around me and I realised that what I couldn’t say in words to people face to face I could say with my art as it spoke for me. It translated my emotions . . . . How I felt about my environment.”
All of Sheri’s paintings are about her childhood and where she grew up.
“I have paintings of traditional things like smocking, growing up with your grandparents, your aunty crocheting. I use objects and sceneries as metaphors.
While studying for her degree, Sheri learnt about 3D, art history, photography, printmaking.
“It also involved chemistry and physics. You gotta get colour temperature . . . it was a whole science. Art opened my eyes to a whole field of thinking.”
Sheri’s final-year portfolio for her associate degree was what she learnt in the two years: “Mine was a merger of fantasy with tradition. I had cane-cutters and fairies looking on the hard work of these people. When I got to my bachelor’s I expanded it, but a little bit differently. I tackled the subjects of arts and craft and the importance of both.”
That meant Sheri explored why craft was in a section by itself and art was holding a more classical feel.
She wanted to know what determined their value and if function determines their importance.
Her final portfolio for her three-year bachelor studies was about memory and tangible and intangible times in her childhood and how it impacted on her growing up.
“I always wanted to remember where I came from and what defined me. What I am thankful for. I find that I am very sentimental.”
Sheri’s portfolio had many pieces – 8x10s (over 40 of them in textile); one 3 x four feet; a large hand-stitched quilt; two large crochet pieces.
The 3×4 feet was an oil painting that took over two weeks to make and it was a representation of her mum and her niece with the young child at the feet of her elder while she worked on a crochet piece. This was the award-winning NIFCA entry entitled Water Prayer.
The colours in the piece are sienna, raw amber, van dyke browns, verderian green, some crimson red and colours that she mixes a lot to create what she wants.
“I love to work with oil, acrylics and watercolours. The length of time for a piece depends on my mood. If it’s oil you have to wait until it is dry. I also like to dabble in textiles.”
Sheri is inspired by her environment.
“I have never moved away from home. I have lived in Bathsheba all my life. And it, evokes an emotion in me that I really can’t speak about, so it spills over in my painting. It is the peace. The spirituality. The smell of the air, the sound of the sea. If I travel overseas I get homesick,” she said, laughing.
The youngest of three girls, Sheri said she loves to paint her mother as “she inspires a lot of my work.”
Sheri sources all her material locally, even experimenting with using stains and teas.
“I stretch my canvas and prepare it myself. I paint with my mind first. Sometimes I would spend days looking at a blank canvas. I would see invisible lines and start from there . . . . I see a word in my mind and paint that. My mood gives me artistic licence.”
Her paintings are sold at Andromeda Gardens and has gotten quite a few interested buyers. When EASY magazine met up with her, her latest work was on the walls.
“I came here in 2015. I asked if I could bring my paintings and rent a space to show my work. They gave me the space. I started to get good responses and pieces started to get sold and in the two years I have been here people have been connecting with my work.”
Sheri says her paintings are escapes for people.
“I don’t want it to be just another pretty painting to decorate a home. I want it to be something that you come and sit and escape into. That is my goal.”
Sheri wants to branch out – getting into sculpting and more craftmaking. She also wants to teach the profession.
“When I first entered NIFCA I was so shy, shyer back then then I am now. I didn’t see the potential in myself; I just said I wanted to give it a shot.
“I entered three pieces. On opening night I heard my name being called as a potential for gold. I said, “Me?’. I was in shock; I had never won anything before. And I was at BCC when I got the call that I won the Prime Minister’s Scholarship. I was like ‘No. This isn’t happening to me.”
Sheri called the moment “surreal” and that made her doubt herself less.
“I told myself, ‘OK, this shows I am capable of anything and never doubt yourself again’.”
She tells budding artists while it is hard work, just keep pushing.
“I started to grow and while the negative criticisms hurt, you have to be open for change and advice, but keep pushing yourself.” (NS)