"It's worthwhile to persist through things that push the boundaries of your artistic capabilities, even when it's uncomfortable."
Artist Nicki Cherry on pivoting from physics to artmaking.
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Great artists make artists. And to prove that point, over 70 of today's greatest have contributed their work in support of Children's Museum of the Arts' Emergency Arts Education Fund, establishing utterly ambitious art programs in New York City schools that need them most.
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Below, meet auction artist Nicki Cherry.
Nicki as a young artist
Nicki's childhood artwork entitled "Toad Graveyard"
Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?
When I was little, I used to beg my mum to drive me to the Indianapolis Children's Museum every weekend. My favorite section was one where you could build tin foil and popsicle stick boats to float down an artificial river with waterfalls. Building and testing my boats has a lot of parallels to my art practice today — both involve making something over and over again, experimenting with different materials and forms, and ultimately releasing my creations into the world.
What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?
When you're struggling with a task, learn to tell if it's because you dislike doing it or because it's challenging you. It's worthwhile to persist through things that push the boundaries of your artistic capabilities, even when it's uncomfortable.
How does working with children inspire you?
I'm inspired by how children approach art with so little ego and preconceptions. One of the challenges I face as an artist is shooting down my ideas before I even start — dismissing things because they seem too weird, too dumb, or too derivative. Seeing children make whatever they want to see in the world is how I think we should all approach artmaking.
When did you first know you were going to be an artist?
I started my undergrad studying to become a physicist. By my third year I realized that even though I still loved the big romantic ideas of particle physics, the nitty-gritty of being a scientist wasn't for me. I accidentally enrolled in a sculpture class that fall. Although I found the boundless material and form possibilities of sculpture to be incredibly challenging, I felt motivated to figure out what making sculpture looked like for me. At the end of the class I decided to try being an artist and fully dove in.
Can you describe a formative experience visiting a museum or gallery?
In the same sculpture class, our professor brought us to meet with Theaster Gates at his Dorchester Projects. At the end of the visit, Theaster took us to see the Stony Island Arts Bank. It was remarkable to hear him talk about how he was going to transform this crumbling building into a space for archives, art, and community. That was my first exposure to seeing how expansive a contemporary art practice can be.