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Illustration Alumna Opens New Surrealist Painting Exhibition in the Big Easy

When we first wrote about Anne Faith Nicholls, School of Illustration alumna from the Academy of Art University, she was coming off of a successful exhibit called Neosurreal, displayed at the San Francisco Martin Lawrence Galleries location in 2015. We recently caught up with Nicholls again as she opens a new show at the Martin Lawrence Galleries in New Orleans this month, where she explores the Big Easy’s art, culture and history through her surrealist paintings. 

Nicholls’ work is stark with symbolism that touches upon one’s subconscious, and how it relays to ideas of identity, truth, power and especially, feminism. We were eager to know more about how Nicholls’ ideas meshed against the rich heritage and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana in her art, so we spoke with Seattle-raised painter on her creative thought process, what parts of New Orleans inspired the paintings and where she finds continuous inspiration, both in the United States and outside of it.

The last time we spoke with you, your show Neosurreal had just debuted in San Francisco. What have you been up to artistically, in the two years since that show?  

In the past two years, I’ve had several exhibitions around the United States with Martin Lawrence Galleries, including shows in New York, Nevada and California. And I’ve taken a lot of time to travel in the name of art research. From Canada to the low country of the American South, so many places have inspired me over the last few years. To continue to expand on concepts and ideas revolving around surrealism, I’ve spent a lot of time in Spain, mostly in Catalonia, specifically Dali’s Playground on the Costa Brava, taking in the environment that inspired master surrealists. When I am not traveling, I work in my studio, currently situated in a historic, mid-century area of Palm Springs, California.

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School of Illustration alumna Anne Faith Nicholls. Photo courtesy of Anne Faith Nicholls.

Can you tell us about your latest body of works for the Martin Lawrence Galleries? What sparked the idea to do this series of paintings?

My theme for my New Orleans exhibition developed organically, so to speak, into Strange Botanica, with an emphasis on secret gardens, symbolism, magic, voodoo, femininity and history—all informing the work’s signature, ‘neo-surrealistic narrative’ styling. Collectors can enjoy finding mysterious details and commentaries hidden among lush landscapes and wonder about the parallels of symbolism to current times, coming to their own conclusions about each painting’s true meeting. A little history, a little mystery, and details that are best experienced in person and this body of work will be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys surrealism.

Tell us about your New Orleans experience. What stood out to you as far as the city’s culture, history and art? 

I’ve spent time in the Lowcountry (South Carolina)—Savannah, Charleston, etc.—but never New Orleans, a city that’s been on my “must-visit” list for ages, so needless to say, I’m beyond excited for my art’s debut there.

That said, I suppose I have a naive, romanticized idea of the region, which was actually helpful in creating more dreamlike works for the area. Considering the region’s known affinity for jazz, voodoo, carnivals, food, the grotesque and history, I imagine my work will play nicely in such a vibrant city full of lovers of life. I have many collectors who have always raved about their home city of New Orleans, so I can’t wait to experience the real deal Big Easy. 

Did you have to do any research for the paintings, such as symbols and their cultural significance, the history of the city’s heritage (French, Creole, African, Afro-Caribbean, etc.), Mardi Gras, etc.? What was the process for developing your ideas for this show?

Yes, much research went into this body of work, dripping in symbolism. Not so much specifically on the area’s local specialities or heritage, but more so the commonality of surrealism, art, music, dreams and history, which are prevalent in both New Orleans and my work. So, I think there will be a little something for everyone to relate to, regardless of where they come from.

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The Last of Her Kind by Anne Faith Nicholls.

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Wild Thoughts by Anne Faith Nicholls.

New Orleans was part of the antebellum South, which is where the image of the Southern belle was developed. Is that something you explored in this latest set of paintings, considering feminism is a common theme in your overall work?

Yes, the “feminine experience,” is indeed prevalent in most of my works, as really, most art is (to some degree) autobiographical. Both to be gazed upon, and related to, the girls in my paintings (usually vulnerably naked but also confrontational) offer a human connection and bridge to the symbolic narratives hidden within. In regards to the iconic image of the “Southern belle,” you probably won’t find that in my work. Having grown up between the sea and mountains of the Pacific Northwest, I’m about as far away from the typical Southern belle as you can get. But I do find it forever interesting how the role of women is changing in art and society, and will continue to change the world. 

What other ideas and themes are featured in this exhibit? 

Expect plants, greenhouses and symbolism—all themes present in this body of work. Lots of green and dark color pallets punctuated by fleshy pinks, or vibrant reds, for a historical, antiquated look that I love to achieve in my paintings. 

What’s in store for the rest of 2017? 

More of everything: Exhibitions, travel, art, artists, painting, life.


Opening Reception and Meet the Artist:

Saturday, September 9, 6-8 p.m.

RSVP (504) 299-9055

Martin Lawrence Galleries + 433 Royal Street, New Orleans (In the Heart of the French Quarter)