This month’s Manc of The Month is none other than Sophie Nixon. Based in Manchester, Sophie is a talented painter who in recent years has focused her style of art on the everyday life around her, both in the studio and en plain-air using vivid colours and her own creativity to create dynamic compositions. Read on to find out about her work on the Sale Arts Trail, her plans for 2021 post-pandemic, and how actually leaving the art world then returning years later influenced the type of artist she is today.
Cotton On MCR: Please introduce yourself and your work to the readers.
Sophie Nixon: “My name is Sophie Nixon and I’m a Manchester based painter. I graduated in Fine Art from Newcastle University in 1995 and have painted from a space at Bankley Studios in Levenshulme and more recently I have built a home studio in my garden. I am primarily an oil painter capturing scenes that interest me from light dappled buildings to sulphuric light night scenes.”
CO: You paint sometimes en plein-air, how do you think this aids your work and what challenges do you face in doing so?
SN: “My work has always involved being studio based and working from digital images that I have manipulated and composed. However around 2016 I started feeling that some of my work was becoming too tight and almost heading towards photo-realism which, whilst I admire the style, is not something I wish to emulate. So I thought back to my university time and how we were taught to “free up” by sketching and painting from life and I set up a life drawing group locally. This was fantastic. Two hours every week with no distractions. Just the model, a group of like-minded artists and my easel. It really helped to put my “artistic eye” back in and my work became much looser. After 2 years running this group I realised that I wanted to bring the same freedom to my paintings so I picked up my sketch book and started taking it out and about with me wherever I went. With a young child in tow I sketched on walks, around town, sitting in cafes wherever I had time and space. This led to me wanting to paint in situ and I did a small amount of that around my hometown, painting the canal and the lovely buildings, however I always felt awkward sitting in public with my paints around me. This is when I had the idea for the residency and I went to speak to Claire Turner at Comme Ca Art.”
CO: We love what Comme Ca Art do, please tell us more about residency.
SN: “Comme Ca had moved to the fifth floor of an old mill building in Ancoats and had some of the best views across Manchester City Centre and out towards the hills. I decided that if I was anchored by one space (albeit with 360 degree views) I would be forced on a daily basis to respond to the weather and the ever evolving cityscape. Not everyday would be my signature Manchester blue sky nor would every day be a dramatic storm. Some days would be grey and there would be no shadows cast and on those days the real job of finding interest in the everyday kicked in. The pandemic has slowed the residency down, there was a period when the mill was closed completely and I have had to be careful to only go in when the Comme Ca gallery isn’t too full, but it has been a fantastic experience so far. I was surprised that despite loving the city and painting it so heavily over the past twenty years, I was actually far more drawn to the snow topped hills and indeed the interior of this beautiful building. I hope to continue this project into the new year but I can already see a huge change in my style and where my work is moving.”
CO: Your website says you worked in the commercial world for ten years before returning to painting in 2006 – what work did you do and what made you come back to art?
SN: “When I graduated from university I knew that I needed a job to support my art and I loved the busy social life of working and living in the heart of Manchester (I had an apartment just off Whitworth Street). I fell in with the wrong crowd, hanging out with a bunch of recruitment consultants and before I knew it I was working in an office a five minute walk from my flat. I spent the next twelve years working as a recruitment consultant placing accountants and enjoyed the social life that came with it but always had my easel out at home. In 2006 I had the opportunity to work part time and get a studio. I feel that my time living and working in the city centre massively influenced my painting style and the subjects that interest me.”
CO: What is a day in the life of Sophie Nixon like?
SN: “Mornings are a mad rush. We have a five year old son who has to be out of the door so it’s all packing and begging him to eat until his Dad walks him to school. As soon as he’s gone I’m out in my studio with either music or a podcast playing in the background. My days have become much more structured since having a child, I have a finite window to paint so where I might have dawdled and painted for a few hours anytime from 9am – 9pm I now know I only have a 6 hour window to get work done. I used to believe that painting was a purely artistic process and the feeling would come when you were ready. I now realise that the process of squeezing paint onto the palette and starting is enough. Once it’s there the creative process has begun. I pack up just before 3pm and head out to pick up from school. Evenings are spent playing with my son and working on my website, promoting my work on social media or answering emails.”
CO: Our favourite painting is “Petrol Station V” please can you tell us more about this piece.
SN: “Thank you! I love that series of paintings as well and they are starting to re-emerge in my current work. They began around 2010 whilst I was still at Bankley Studios. I would drive home at night using an old digital camera, capturing the light trails that come off the cars as you go by or those petrol stations that, when taken out of context, are just beautifully lit complex structures. There’s something about petrol stations that I love. On a night journey they are sometimes the only life you’ll see and you can sometimes be in the middle of nowhere with no other light then suddenly this brightly lit structure seems to pop up from nowhere like an alien life form.”
CO: What do you think of Manchester’s art scene?
SN: “There is such a strong diversity of artist talent in Manchester, from the plein-air painters to the street artists around the Northern Quarter and a rich mix of abstract and conceptual art. I love that art is everywhere in this city and that I can stop and talk to my boy about the work we see on our travels. I love our large public galleries and the work they bring to our city, but I feel sad that the commercial galleries are dwindling.”
CO: Other than art, what are your hobbies and interests?
SN: “With a young son there isn’t a huge amount of time left for hobbies. In 2014 alongside two other established makers we created the Sale Arts Trail. It’s a community event set up to celebrate our town and our artistic culture and to get creatives together and we run two events a year, a trail and a selling event. To relax I love reading, gardening and walking and when this pandemic is finally over I’m looking forward to spending time with friends again.”
CO: What are your plans for 2021?
SN: “It’s a bit hard to plan at the moment isn’t it! However in the immediate future I hope to continue my residency with Comme Ca Art and get a strong portfolio of work together from that. Alongside Jo Lavelle (the other half of Sale Arts Trail) I want to think about a really exciting event that our art venture can work towards. And in an ideal world I will be able to put on a show. I have so much work that has been produced in lockdown and I would love to see it all in a space and see the progress that this weird year has allowed. I would also like to collaborate more. Being based at home is quite insular and working with other creatives is a great way to think about your work in new ways.”
CO: If you could live in an artwork, what would it be and why?
SN: “Ooh what a brilliant question. I love Edward Hopper’s work and I’d be the enigmatic women staring out of the window onto a bustling city below in “Morning Sun” or one of the friends deep in conversation in “Chop Suey”. I can taste the coffee and hear the traffic outside. Wonderful!”
Find out more about what Sophie has to offer via her website.