Nicole O’Loughlin is an embroidery artist from Tasmania whose embroidered portraits tell fearless tales with dry humour.
How did your technique evolve?
I taught myself embroidery when my son was born in 2016. It was a technique that was accessible to me as a new mother, stealing moments of time in between naps and caring for my child. When I started, I mostly referenced pop culture and creating portraits of celebrities and artists in whimsical compositions.
The first series I made called Pop Life, started to combine some other techniques I knew from my art school training, such as painting into the backgrounds combining some diverse textures on the surfaces. During this period, I learnt a lot about colour theory in embroidery and using stitches to create tonal variations, mostly using a combination of long and short stitches. Making these works honed my skills in portraiture in embroidery.
Since this first series I have continued to explore using embroidery in portraiture as well as pushing it further to explore the embroidery thread becoming the substrate, like in the collapsed landscape. The backing is washed away in this work to allow embroidery stitches to hold the work together.
Where do you think your creativity is taking you?
I keep trying to push myself further with textiles, exploring what is possible with the medium, but as well challenging myself creatively. Recently I had an exhibition where I used many new techniques to me, rug tufting, lace, textiles as installation. It is exciting to keep exploring the possibilities of textiles and what I can do with it. I like incorporating new techniques to see what happens when you take an idea into a larger scale and more immersive for the viewer. I would like to continue to explore taking textiles into an immersive/installation form. Textiles surrounds us every day in the clothing we wear, our domestic places, so I find it interesting to be able to extend this further transforming something recognisable and everyday into another context.
What other artists inspire you?
I find Joanna Vasconcelos incredibly inspiring for her pushing the textile medium into large installation formats and in her particular use of crochet and what we know as granny crafts into something that is powerful and transformative.
Cayce Zavaglia is a master of portraiture in embroidery, but she still is experimenting with techniques and how she can push her own styles and techniques further.
I always come back to Louise Bourgeois as a key artist to look towards in terms of having her own voice come through in the works and allowing for process and experimentation to drive new works.
What is your favourite tool to use in your practice?
I think the humble needle and thread can hold and transmit so much through the simple act of stitching. Although I am enjoying the speed that rug tufting gives me with my new tufting gun. I am looking forward to exploring tufting and rug making further. One other key item in my studio whether I am working in thread or paint is colour charts and my notebooks where I record what colours I use for each project.
Can you share one creative tip with our readers?
Use different mediums and techniques to allow yourself to play and have fun to develop new ideas. But as well when it comes time to make the work plan it out and do a lot of the problem solving before making the final work, so that you are not struggling or making mistakes with the final work.
Keep exploring and experimenting to come up with new ideas as well as allowing yourself to head in new directions.
Nicole has a real knack for portraiture and her glorification of pop icons reminds me of Jane Sanders‘ work, in that she creates images that feel like official portraits. Nicole’s work has a touch of drama, and with many of the familiar faces, there’s a story being told – an element of their artistic direction that she teases out that bit further.
There’s also a playful element to her work; a touch of the absurd that keeps these portraits from getting too serious. That’s not to say that Nicole can’t tackle subjects with more gravitas, and her COVID Discomforter from 2020 is a prime example of her use of textiles as a medium for critical exploration.
Nicole’s work grows in confidence and surety and there’s a definite sense that the creative process allows her the time to be both measured and unafraid in her storytelling. It is going to be fascinating to see where her creative path takes her.