Kirsty Nicoll – ‘In Mourning and Rage’

I arrived at Studio H Canada at the end of a five week trip travelling America’s west coast, during which I was told that – despite feeling nothing of the sort inside – I was harbouring a lot of anger. And so, I wanted to unpack this for my project at Studio H to see if there was some truth to it, as well as looking at female rage through a wider lens.

The last night before my residency, I was simultaneously relieved and pissed off to find that the party hostel I was (accidentally) staying in had a lock on the women’s bathroom, but not on the boys. A clear message that women should be scared and feel a need to protect themselves from the erratic actions of drunk men, to the point where we need a barricade. How long is it until we don’t need a lock on the door? The title for this project is taken from a performance art piece by Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz-Starus from 1977 that I found in my research prior to my residency. The piece was a response to an epidemic of unresolved rapes and murders of women in Southern California.

My first piece created during my residency at Studio H – Nauthiz –  aimed to visualise the five stages of anger; Trigger, Escalation, Crisis, Recovery and Post-Crisis Depression. The name comes from the first stone of a Viking rune reading that Heidi conducted for me on my night of arrival. I pulled this stone reversed; its meaning being to identify and interrogate my shadow areas, and to work with them. It urges that a cleansing is required, to be mindful that rectification comes before progress and to consider the uses of adversity:

You are required to undergo the dark side of your passage. To control your anger, to restrain your impulses, to keep your faith firm – all this is at issue here. 

Consisting of 59 self-portraits surrounding the central Trigger point, the goal with Nauthiz was to create a ripple effect, giving a rational structure to a feeling that lacks form.  


My next step was inverting the concept of Nauthiz and creating one large portrait broken into tiny cells. The self-portrait was painted on pages from a notebook taped into a grid. Once the tape was removed, each cell was completely abstracted when standing alone. Each page was attached to the wall with a single pin, allowing the cells to move in the draft, adding to the lack of concrete form of the portrait. I felt this represented the fluid nature of emotions, constantly in flux. 

Following this, I honed in on the ‘Crisis’ phase of Nauthiz; the stage when our survival instinct steps in and we engage in a fight or flight response. I was particularly interested in the portraits with a graphic quality created with green oil pastels. I felt this style with its removal of realism represented how our quality of judgment is significantly reduced in this phase of anger. This series of three portraits were strongly influenced by, and a response to, the work of the one and only Roy Lichtenstein. Following research on internalised female rage, I recreated his typical reactions of ‘damsels in distress’ into assertive women. 

I was stuck on where to go next, and decided I needed to find out what happens after the ‘Post-Crisis Depression’ phase in the Nauthiz series. The move of focus from the portrait to the figure was a natural progression, as in depression the mind and body are connected. The series of charcoal drawings were based on photographs by Carlo Roncancio. In these images, the shadow is the focal point, and it is the shadow that gives these images their strength. The combination of the shadow and figure together create an abstract form that I felt represented depression very well. 

Research also led me to discover that depression and spirituality are two sides of the same door, and so the rest of my work at Studio H was exploring the connection between mind, body and soul. This final series was created upon a Pollock-inspired surface build up of paint to signify different emotions; Happiness, Shame, Depression, Anxiety and Pride. The decision to depict a figure or portrait on top was dependent upon where in the body each emotion is felt. Source material for the portraits and figures were based on life drawings I made during my stay at Studio H and in Amsterdam last year. 

From May, I will be an Artist in Residence for a year at Villa Anita in Death Valley, California, painting murals and generally contributing to the build of this art oasis in the desert.

Leave a Reply