Nikky Morgan-Smith lives in Eureka in a house tucked away on the side of an overgrown gully. It’s the house she grew up in, where her parents still lived, until Nikky and her then six-month old daughter, Morgan, moved back from Melbourne about 9 years ago. “We moved in and when it was apparent that we weren’t going to move back out, they moved out”, Nikky says, smiling. Her parents now live in another house on the family’s 50-acre property, while Nikky and Morgan share the old house with their menagerie of dogs, cats and birds.
Both Nikky’s parents are artists, and as a kid being dragged around to gallery openings, she wasn’t keen to follow in their footsteps. By the end of school, though, Nikky enjoyed art enough to enrol in a Visual Arts degree at age 18.
“In a way I didn’t really have a choice because it was the one thing that I knew how to do the best.”
Nikky transferred her studies to Melbourne and became involved in art therapy, volunteering at hospital brain injury and spinal units and being mentored by the Melbourne Institute for Experiential and Creative Arts Therapy (MIECAT). She now works at The Buttery rehabilitation centre in Binna Burra as an art therapist one day a week, but the rest of her time is devoted to painting.
“Art, I feel, is like a jealous lover,” says Nikky. The choice to make painting her full time profession is one Nikky made quite early in her career, but it hasn’t always been easy.
“A friend said to me that if I want to do something, don’t split my energies. Just believe in myself and don’t get a day job. Just do it and then you don’t have a choice but to make it work.”
Morgan, now 9, has emerged from her bedroom to join Nikky on the comfy old couch on the verandah. It was partly thanks to her that Nikky’s focus changed from art therapy to painting.
“For me having a baby just changed my whole perception of time and what mattered to me and what I wanted to do. I remember the first show that I had after she was born. I think she was one. I’d just done this painting and I was really happy with it. I came out and she went in there and painted over this painting, just totally sabotaged it. It was totally from jealousy because she wasn’t allowed in the studio at that time. She doesn’t do that anymore”, Nikky grins, glancing at her daughter.
Nikky is influenced by both her father’s abstract painting style and her mother’s mixed media work, as well as the early work by British painter, Antony Micallef, who blends abstract drawing with hyper-realistic elements in his paintings.
Nikky has recently begun a new series of paintings exploring flight and movement, which will be shown at an upcoming exhibition at the Lismore Regional Gallery from 11 June to 17 July. These new works signify a change in direction from her previous style, incorporating screen-printed wing motifs and more meticulous detail layered over her signature, dreamlike backgrounds.
“As an artist it’s important to keep pushing yourself and keep exploring new ideas. If you just keep doing the same thing over and over again it just becomes bankrupt of ideas and energy after a while, and even the viewer can sense that”, says Nikky.
The idea of art as therapy, and the joy of being able to express herself are what cements Nikky’s love for her work.
“It makes me feel good when I paint. It’s the best job in the world. I keep trying to get other jobs but then I just come back to the studio and remember how much I love it.”