Talk to Nikolaos Hulme about his latest series of watercolor paintings, and it becomes fairly obvious he’s been wrastlin’ with some demons… wrastlin’ and learning where they go on the memory board and then putting and leaving them there to gather dust.
A curated version of the series is showing this month at Brothers Drake Meadery. The images are object memories watered down by time but ever as colorful—a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, a whale, a heroin needle and spoon.
“Some of the work is really racy,” Nikolaos said. “It will either offend people or they will look at it with an open mind.”
Of course, I recommend going in with an open mind so you can experience this artist’s great ability to tell a story with just a few objects. This series is a stark departure from his usual bold poppy subject matter (which is also so fun and gorgeous for their jagged line work and the way he’s able to inject his own voice into a popular or recognizable image without shouting over it and without ripping off the original idea).
I think it’s part of the mid-twenties life crisis. Nikolaos just turned 27. I think after 25 you start to learn to settle into past pain, or figure out a way around it, through it, over it. Whatever. You recognize that pain will always be here, but how can you manage it best? What do you want to say about it? How is it not anybody’s “fault,” per se?
When I talked to Nikolaos for this interview, he was still developing the series. Not in the final show, but part of the process, were other images reminiscent of his childhood but with a knowing grownup touch. The trailer he lived in when he was a kid, a grief stricken but acceptant Mary and Jesus.
What I love about this series is that I don’t think he’s judging anyone or anything related to the iconography, even if that iconography is a bottle of prescription pills, which likely holds a painful memory if you’re associating that with your childhood. There’s a humility and acceptance in the paintings that is comforting, and watercolor proves to be a very effective medium in balancing subtle power through color.
Nikolaos, 1. Demons… eh, .5?
“I don’t look at art as a way to make money. I look at it as my therapy,” Nikolaos said. “I want to leave something behind when I’m not here anymore. It’s nothing else. It’s what I want to do, what I’m passionate about.”
Love it! But, of course, y’all got bill$. We talked about that, too; balancing freelance work with personal projects. That and more below. Read it, then go see the show.
What’s your artist origin story?
I was just always drawing. It’s a natural thing for a kid to draw but it just always stuck with me. My grandma Hulme would sit down with me and draw batman and mermaids. I had a very supportive family. When I was very young they put me in the Saturday morning CCAD classes. I won a scholarship and it was a big deal to my family. I was always involved in contests. It was always an escape thing because I was never into sports and my dad would try to push my brother and I into boy scouts and football but I never connected, never really stuck. Art was always the outlet. I was always the weirdo drawing Garfield in class.
What mediums do you use?
Right now just water color and Indian ink. That’s what I’m mainly using. I love acrylics and oils. Oils are also therapeutic to me I just hate how long it takes for them to dry. I’ll just set it in the corner and run into it and ruin it.
I’m obsessed with these watercolors. I was just playing around one day. I fell in love with the technique. It’s easy and it’s natural letting the water move the paint. You end up with this beautiful, organic-feeling piece of artwork. If you don’t do it right the first time, you have to do it again. If I don’t like something I’ll just do multiple versions of it or I’ll scrap it all together.
Did you study art collegiately?
I am self-taught. I think if you’re passionate about anything the drive will push you to become better at whatever you’re into. You’re going to get better if you just keep doing something. I think art school’s an awesome thing, but I think we have an issue where we’re taught we have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars and put ourselves in debt to do what we love to do to survive. If we’re given a gift naturally, if you have a vision, you should pursue it, whether you have schooling or not.
What are your thoughts on the Columbus art scene?
I think it’s amazing. There’s a lot of diversity. The art scene’s growing. And it’s nice to feel appreciated. There’s so many people that are into art. They like to follow what you’re doing and that’s nice and it’s motivating. I think that helps give me drive.
Can you describe your artistic process?
Sometimes I’ll paint nonstop. Watercolors are so therapeutic and so simple. It’s easy to bust a couple out in a day. I like to incorporate things that stood out to me as a kid or teenager. Things that represent family members, good and bad experiences growing up. It’s me confronting demons, confronting things I struggled with and tried to hide or keep in. It’s me coming to terms with who I am as an adult.
I didn’t go to art school, I’m struggling to do what I love. Do I need to go school to get a piece of paper to do a job that I already know I’m qualified for? Painting is me coming to terms with who I am and learning to love myself and accept all that I’ve gone through.
What has painting this series (now at Brothers Drake) revealed to you? (Part of the show is pictured above.)
I realize there’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’m painting a trailer. It’s something I didn’t really think about, but once I painted it and thought about it, any shame I had about it came to the surface and I was like, “Who gives a fuck?”
It’s weird how we just tuck things away and forget about it and then you talk about it and you’re like, wait I feel so much better now that I told somebody that.
This series is the most personal I’ve gotten with my artwork. After I painted it and let it out, I realized something I didn’t realize was bothering me. I like the mystery.
Painting this series, I started off with the whales and the marine life. I was really intrigued by mermaids and fish and whales as a kid. My favorite animal is the humpback whale. I love their fins and how they swim and jump out of the water. I was just always obsessed with them and the idea of living underwater and all that weird stuff. Then I started painting palm trees, which led into my pre-teen years of living in Florida and then that all led into the bad experiences of living in Florida, and then it kind of took off from there and getting really personal with all the work. It’s fun. It’s weird because when you have this theme just start pouring out of you and stay on track. I haven’t thought hard about what I’ve been painting, I just let it naturally flow.
What other work have you done that you’re really proud of?
I’m obsessed with pop art. I did a series of Wizard of Oz paintings [that showed at The Candle Lab in the Short North]. The mechanical guy for Steve Aoki, when he was in town, he bought them all. It was awesome. That was the biggest sale I’ve done so far.
I have a problem with committing to one series. I’ll paint and paint and paint and then decide the next day, yeah I painted these 12 paintings but I don’t think I want to show them, and they’ll get tucked away in the attic. I do that all the time. If I don’t like and I’m not happy with it I won’t show it.
I did this series of circus illustrations that were weird and quirky. I didn’t do anything with them. I just become interested in different styles and I like to evolve my work. It’s my therapy.
How do you deal with painters’ block?
I get bored easily. I like having a distinct style that’s recognizable, but if I work on something too much I lose interest and I have to start doing something different. I just move on to something different. I go through spells where I won’t paint for a few months. I’ll just live life. I’ll work on projects Nina West or other local assignments or travel. I want to travel more, see more and do more things. That alone is inspiring. Life experiences are what I’m inspired by. There are stages where I don’t want to do anything or have a lot going on.
How do you balance freelancing with personal work?
Even when I do freelance work, unless they let me have free rein, I’m not completely happy with it. I’m learning as I get older how to be better at making time to paint for myself. If I have something bad or stressful or even good in my life, it’s good to paint it. It’s something that symbolizes it. I’m getting it out of my body. It’s just like a journal.
How do you get freelance work?
People just contact me and ask me to do paintings. If you’re involved in the community and do good work, your name will get around. It’s nice. I’ve been privileged to be able to do the freelancing. But again, I don’t do it all the time because I can get lost in it.
I’m horrible at procrastinating too. I embrace it. I wish I didn’t. I wish I would do what I was supposed to be doing. But I work really well under pressure. If I’m reaching a deadline, I will bust it out in a few days, which is kind of nice. That adrenaline and that motivation forces you to come up with an awesome project…. And lots of caffeine.
What do you want to do next?
I’ve already started working on my next series, which is a series of inkblots. I’m really obsessed with psychological things right now. I’m doing the water colors again and I’m letting them do their own things. So I’m examining these inkblots after I make them and try to figure out what I see in them. Then I will add to that. And I’m trying to give something to the audience too and give them something to see and explore too.
I want to experiment with more, or different elements of art. I want to learn how to get really good at oil and other mediums.
What’s the most challenging aspect of being an artist?
I’m crazy. My emotions are up and down constantly. You’re very in tune with everything around you and it kind of drives you insane sometimes. At least that’s how I feel. I think maybe we’re all just a little crazy. We’re expected to be robots or be a certain way. We have to be a certain way to succeed. Some of the most successful people in history were insane! Why can’t we all be insane? Being an artist pushes us to have our own identity and be ourselves.
What has been inspiring you lately?
I’m really into, this sounds tacky, but scientists and Nostradamus. I love watching those documentaries on Netflix. I am obsessed with how a lot of things were discovered by star gazing and studying the stars. I’m really inspired by what drives us to do certain things or live certain lifestyles and how it affects us.
What three artists, living or dead would you invite to a dinner party?
I’d probably have to go with David Lynch, Francis Bacon and Salvador Dalí. I’m sure that this mix would make for an interesting evening.