Q&A: Nicky Giraffe

On the Road to the Sea is the first book from artist Nicola Adriana Rowlands  AKA Nicky Giraffe, showcasing Nicola’s contemporary photography alongside a collection of Victorian/Modernist poems. This unique pairing of Nicola’s own surreal, entrancing photographs and the poetry of Charlotte Mew is a beautiful intertwining of their two narratives. The book has already been shortlisted for its cover design by the British Book Design & Production Awards ’14.

On the Road to the Sea can be purchased here.

I caught up with the captivating Nicola at her recent book launch in Chelsea to discover more about her creative practice and inspirations.

How would you describe your work?

I call myself a surrealist artist … I am interested in the interaction between the imaginary and reality. I create to get to an emotional universal truth. I want to create work that is active, that projects and imbibes emotion onto the viewer through the composition and color. I hope that through my work I use a combination of reality and imaginary to transport people to somewhere they have been before or would like to/wouldn’t like to go. I guess it’s about communication and transportation from reality to a familiar surreality. Staging and choreography are inherent in my work as well. Most of my photography is preceded by drawings/sketches/stage design … so I suppose like poetry it’s a contrived image making process that hopefully results in something that appears more effortless and ephemeral.

What influenced your new series and book On the Road to the Sea?

The poetry of victorian/modernist/lesbian poet, Charlotte Mew. But on a formal level, I’ll let you in on a little secret, the colour palette in each separate series is influenced by a specific Rothko painting.

L-R: Untitled #1 from On the Road to the Sea, 2013 and Untitled #2 from On the Road to the Sea, 2013

How did you discover Charlotte Mew’s Poetry?

Charlotte, in an odd way found me, her poetry read as a visual language and posed questions about my own image-making processes and why I am a photographer. Charlotte and I were introduced by the poet Jane Weir, who looking at a montage of my photographs, intuitively drew a line between my work and Charlotte Mew's famed poem The Farmer's Bride. The montage was shot during my first trip to Derbyshire at the end of March. 

England's grey sky was cut open with ice-blue, black silhouettes of winter trees and lambs teetered on the hills, and I walked for my first time on the cusp of winter slipping to spring. It was an afternoon of revelation and the photographic sequence are a southern Californian's instinctive response to this northern European shock of nature in transition. In those moments I shot compulsively. It was as though I was translating, editing and creating my reactions through my lens, through my eye — but why photography? 

Answers came from this yellowed, well-thumbed copy of The Farmer’s Bride, where I first read Charlotte's poem of the same title. Alongside my work the poet painted, framing herself into my experience; I recognized myself – the woman, 'flying like a hare', across the fields, escaping the farmer’s grasp, spoke of liberation. The same emotional release I experienced as I captured the photographs … my images, climaxing with a nude erected on a frost bitten wall. In its visual and linguistic representation of specific moments, poetry becomes photographic in its method and process, through the medium of poetic language. Photography and poetry, both devices of artifice, strive with impression and image to project and then communicate whatever preoccupations rise to the surface in the artist’s consciousness.

L-R: Untitled #2 from Fame, 2013 and Untitled #3 from Fame, 2013

What mediums do you work in? 

Photography and film. However, my work is preceded by writing, research, drawing and painting. When I say painting I mean sketching or storyboarding - with really cheap watercolours. For this project I spent a lot of time hunkered in the V&A library researching and getting yelled at for bringing paints into the library. For On the Road to the Sea I shot on 120 film with a Pentax 6 x 7, I processed and developed the film and prints myself. As most of my work is staged, I suppose you could say that people, costume, scenery are my mediums as well, all of which are placed within the frame. 

Do you think that growing up in LA informed your interest in film?

LA affected everything … that crazy, bizarre, beautiful, SURREAL place. It’s a place where make believe is taken seriously and it’s only when I left LA that I realised how engrained the idea of play, façade and hyperrealism is to my work. Growing up I was always in theatre and ballet, I know that this has had a huge impact on my work. I was lucky to have spent most of my academic years in after school arts programmes. I come from a theatrical family, my sister and I were always putting on shows, making movies and dressing up.

LAX from Greetings from ... Los Angeles

What are your challenges at the moment? 

At the moment, the biggest challenge is wearing so many hats! I mean, I love hats! But sometimes it gets frustrating, exhausting and confusing being your own business manager, assistant, PR person, mother, grandma, critic, doctor etc. I am coming off doing a show in LA, having my book published, finishing a film and screening it at festivals, and an exhibition here in London and finally it feels like a space has opened up for creating work again (which I hope speaks for itself).

I’m excited to get back into the trenches… But I feel incredibly lucky to be in total control of the creation and presentation of my work.

So … what’s next?

I have some ideas brewing … things are going to get a bit sculptural.

Check out the link below to explore the alluring world of Nicola Rowlands (aka Nicky Giraffe)