Furry and Feathery Fashionistas

Karen Nicol’s ‘Conversation Pieces'

On September 1st at London’s Rebecca Hossack Gallery, the animal kingdom will have its opportunity to flaunt its furs and feathers along with sequins, beads, embroidery and other fine stitchery in Karen Nicol’s new exhibit, Conversation Pieces.

Nicol, who worked for several years in fashion with leading designers such as Marc Jacobs, Michiko Koshino, Chanel, and also has her own label for Anthropologie—dressed and styled numerous animals in couture as a nod to these creatures whose fur, feathers, and skin have been used in the name of fashion, “I began thinking of humans wearing animal skins, and gilded the lily by embellishing animal forms,” she explained.

The critters range from crustaceans to carnivores, and each one beautifully models the artist’s unique and fantastic creations. For Bear Faced Cheek, Nicol, inspired by wood carver Grily Gibbons, took a hulking wood polar bear fitted a digital print of wood grain taken from photographs of the Santa Monica pier, tailored and manipulated to fit the bear’s dimensions. Whereas for the graceful and very feminine Goldfish, Nicol fashioned pale pink gossamer fringe for the dorsal and tail fins and deep orange and coral floral appliques that run along the fish’s curvaceous body.

Textile artists run in Nicol’s family—both her mother and her sister are designers—but she chose painting, a medium, she says, “with some street cred.” Yet the textile bug bit when she started working with fabric in college and admits that she was hooked. “Mixed media textiles is unbelievably versatile, a vast array of materials and ways of manipulating them, painting the form, texture, it totally suits my need for variety and innovation, its only drawback is its reputation.”

Nicol has been established in her London-based design studio for over twenty five years, and apart from her fashion clients, her interior textiles have decorated the homes and offices of royalty such as the King of Qatar to religious leaders like His Holiness the Pope.

For the past five years, Nicol work has embraced gallery art pieces, commissioned by Shell Oil to create an artwork to celebrate plankton and by St James’s Cancer Hospital in Leeds to do an embroidered triptych. These were followed by her first solo shows at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery and the Mantero gallery in Como, Italy where her work explored a mix of fashion and art. This year, Nicol was selected for the 2010 Jerwood Contemporary Makers exhibition.  And when she isn’t creating her unique pieces, she can be found teaching at the Royal College of Art where she holds a Visiting Professor in Textiles position.

Her upcoming work at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery also includes a collection of vintage women’s handbags that have quirky sayings on them like her Eye Bag that says, “My mind doesn’t wander…it leaves completely” thus the title for the show Conversation Pieces,’ which Nicol points out is, “A fabulous umbrella title where I could be as diverse as my ideas are allowed.

The diversity of those ideas and the varied materials used have given some of her animals most favored status, and so far her lithe swan with it colorful flower buds wins a spot thanks to “the irreverence of painting over hours of embroidery with emulsion paint,” neck-to-neck with the coy cat whose “ ‘hair’ is ‘burnt peacock hurl’ which is a really exciting to work with and I’d never seen it before.”

And for the fun of it, HAND/EYE Magazine asked if she had to choose to morph into one of her animals, which would she choose? “Of the animals I have done I would probably like to be the swan, it must be great to be covered in paint and still be beautiful.”

Conversation Pieces will open at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery on September 1st and will run until September 20th. For more information, please visit, http://www.r-h-g.co.uk or for more on Karen Nicol and her work, please visit www.karennicol.com.

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