Nicole Robinson, winner of the 2019 Emerson Young Artists Showcase

The St. Louis Artists’ Guild announces Nicole Robinson of Incarnate Word as the winner of the 2019 Emerson Young Artists Showcase. With the generous support of Emerson we are able to provide local art students with scholarships to attend college art programs. Recently, we had the opportunity to converse with Nicole via email and she graciously answered several questions surrounding her artistic background, inspiration, working methods, and future plans. Please read her responses below and take a moment to appreciate the wonderful art being created in St. Louis area high schools.

When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist?

“Fluffle,” graphite on paper, 18” x 24”

I believe that I wanted to be an artist from a very young age, but it wasn't until my Junior year of high school that I really began taking the idea seriously. In my junior year of high school, I retook the art classes from the last two years, and this experience showed me what it was like to challenge myself within my art. It was in these classes that I realized that no matter how I do it, I wanted to be able to create a story and a message through my artwork.

What is your favorite medium to work in?

My favorite medium to work in is graphite pencils. I find I have better control over details and I can play with the contrast and lighting, in addition to having the ability to layer my work in stages. I have also found that graphite pencils have varying textures that provide a lot of options within my pieces.

Did your childhood create reference points for your current work?

The idea of using animals to represent human emotion may have been referenced from Disney movies which give animals human traits and reactions. Rabbits have always been the animal to fascinate me with their animal instincts being able to portray human emotion. As a child I often observed rabbits and watched Disney movies, specifically the movie Alice in Wonderland. The white rabbit was always nervous about being late, which stuck in my mind that rabbits have a nervous sort of energy to them. Also, when I was young, I would paint alongside my grandparents. My grandmother's most common subjects were animals, mainly one's from the safari, and I enjoyed watching the way she brought them to life. Rabbits were the one animal I cannot recall her painting, and I think I chose rabbits because of their difference in style from her's, yet still maintaining the feeling of homage, I guess, that I felt when painting with her.

What inspires you to make art and what does it mean to you?

The thing that inspires me to make art is my emotion, which helps to create a boundary with no limits. It inspires me to think that others can relate to a piece about emotion- it makes me want to create pieces reaching out to those who are battling with their emotions or thoughts. I did not think I would be able to make pieces using themes so openly like I have, but from what I seen, one's pain and experiences create a platform to jump from and find ways to explain the way I think. I am constantly finding new ways to illustrate the emotions and ideas running through me, and it is humbling to see my drawings mature as I do.

Does your work comment on or interact with current events or cultural themes?

I focus on the themes of anxiety and mental illness, a cultural phenomenon that, at least from what I have witnessed in my viewing of art, is very popular to use as the theme of an art piece and to explore. The theme of mental illness has become a popular theme, with the film Split and the TV show 13 Reasons Why having been recent creations touching on the subject. This new awareness of mental illness has not stopped mental illness, and I still think it is a topic that should kept being discussed- something I hope I can continue to spark through my pieces.

How do you generate images and ideas?

I go through a number of sketches and revisions before I get an end result. Most of the images I generate are because the concept or pose seemed to best convey the theme and emotion I want it to. I almost always begin with the theme, and then I branch out to interconnecting images from what I have already used or what to change. This process means I am drawing images repeatedly to see how the subject or pose looks in addition to different compositions. Sometimes, I have to take a break, but I am usually always thinking about the new ways I can make a piece or speak through it. I rely on references when finding a basis for my drawings, but sometimes I cannot find what I'm looking for and I have to get creative with what I piece together.

Who are some artistic influences and how did they influenced you?

Professional artists that have influenced me are Kehinde Wiley and John Baldessari. From seeing Kehinde Wiley's paintings of African Americans in renaissance stances, it made me think more about the way that I draw, why I draw, and who I am drawing for. Before then, I mainly thought of my art as an outlet, with no purpose. In regards to John Baldessari, his collections of famous individuals with dots and pieces with curious titles, also stretch my mind in reference to why I put things into my drawings and using the title as a piece of the artwork. Within my family, my grandmother has influenced my love for art. She paints a lot of animals just as I draw rabbits and was always a motivator to do better and push myself to create the pieces I had on my mind.

Can you explain the technical process used to create your graphite drawings like "Speechless?"

“Speechless,” graphite on paper, diptych 18” x 24” total

I began by drawing in the shape of the mandible- which I had to erase quite a bit to get the desired size I wanted. Next, I drew rough outlines of both rabbits. At this point in the drawing I had very light lines sketched out to show the changes in value, along with the mandible teeth and both rabbits' nose and eyes. Once the rabbits were in the positions I wanted them, I then began to fill in the shading. I started with the face, with very delicate lines for the fur and moved around the bodies as needed. It was then a matter of applying layers of the same pressure in the areas that had more value. For the mandible I used the same technique, but with straight lines or ovular motions. Lastly, I placed in the background and the shading underneath the mandible.

In "Speechless," there is an appealing and metaphorical tension between life and death, what was the thought process behind creating such a dynamic composition?

I knew when I began the piece that I wanted there to be a visible and tangible tension, because that is the most present feeling I experience with my anxiety and what others conveyed to me the most when I would ask them about their experience with anxiety. Rabbits were something that stuck out to me as a subject for anxiety, that I wanted to be present in the piece. Throughout the process of creating the piece, I realized I was self-identifying with the rabbits, and since that was the case, my piece should place the rabbits in a sort of mirrored environment to my own experiences. The idea of the mandible came about slowly. The human skeleton was a subject matter that I wanted to incorporate so that the viewer could have something to relate to in a sense, but also to create more tension of animal versus human. The idea of the mandible became the end result of my sketches so as to create a starting for point for future pieces, and represent the area of thought and control for the human being. The mandible and skull which represent control and speech, I placed with rabbits so as to illustrate tension between the two subjects. The result was both subjects aiding to represent anxiety, creating an environment of such, as intended.

Now that you won the Emerson Award in the 2019 Emerson Young Artists Showcase, we know you are planning on pursuing an art degree. What field of visual arts are you thinking about studying and what colleges are you interested in attending?

I plan on studying Fine Arts with an Emphasis of Drawing at Fontbonne University. I am not sure what I will do from there in terms of careers, but I am interested in pursuing art therapy or art education.