Algorithms of Nature

Award-winning London-based artist Nikki Stevens specialises in large-scale watercolours which explore man’s changing relationship with the natural world. In her work, birds and animals no longer walk on the wild side – they roam freely amongst the data and symbols of a carefully constructed society. Aesthetica interview the artist to find out about the research behind her processes.

A: What is it about watercolours that gives you the freedom to let your ideas develop into realised pieces?
NS:With this medium your never totally in control, which makes for exciting and unplanned outcomes; coupled with the fact that I work on such a large scale (for watercolours) and with paper made from rags that can’t be stretched, the warp and weft and buckling will take the pigment where it likes and then it dries. You can re-glaze and manoeuver the paint around when wet but only up to  a point and then your stuck with it.

A: Why is it that whilst you frequently paint animals, that you do not consider yourself a wildlife artist? Do you think you would give yourself another title?
NS:I’m not great with titles .. .I find it very frustrating to be labelled a wildlife artist because I’ve made a painting with a Tiger in it, or an Equestrian artist because there’s a horse involved.I recently painted a  picture of some gemstones, it provoked several comments along the lines of “ I didn’t know you painted still life!”  Well, I don’t – I’m painting rocks that have been transformed by humans … that’s why I called it Still life, but not as we know it!

A: Could you discuss how your works become a “blueprint” of life – is it your intention to map or document different sources of life, and if so, for what purpose?
NS:Blueprint in the sense that its a visual formula, a pictorial constraint against which I portray aspects of the natural world as a contrast, to illustrate how the world of Nature is changing because of us.

A: How does mathematics inform your artistic practice? Do they form a figurative symbolism within the content of your works?
NS: I study maths, and geometry in particular fascinates me. Who can resist the aesthetics of code and formula? But I don’t always fully understand the the scientific or mathematical data I use.  It’s a visual vocabulary which seems to me to symbolise a scientific word view, a very ordered and man made one.

A: What do you have planned in terms of future projects?
NS: 2016 turned out to be (still is!) quite an interesting year! My painting , Phoenix Rising the first of the Wing series was exhibited in The Threadneedle Prize show and selected to tour to Palazzo Strozzi in Florence this summer, the second in the series, Hermes is about to be shown at this years NOA  National Open Art exhibition in London. I’m currently working on some new pieces which have evolved out of the Wings for a show later in 2017 in New York … that is if I ever get off this computer and into the studio!

Find out more about the artist:

1. Nikki Stevens, Sleeping on Juno. Watercolour 37″ x 53″. Courtesy of the artist.