A room of her own
With an eye to flow and color, artist Nichole Lauren Fry paints to complement a space, not overpower it
Nichole Lauren Fry never planned on becoming an artist.
While the Sacramento-based oil painter did study art in high school and, briefly, in college—she ultimately decided to stop taking classes.
Why? Simply put, she couldn’t draw.
A love of decorating and interior design, however, eventually led her back to painting.
It started in 2007 when she moved in with her boyfriend. His house had a lot of bare walls. Walls just asking to be covered with something—anything.
One of Fry’s friends had also recently bought a house and had done some paintings to decorate the new space. She suggested Fry give it a whirl herself. So, she did just that. But the first painting—“Espresso and Chocolate”—well, her boyfriend stuck it in a closet.
“He said, ’This is horrible,’” Fry remembers now.
She was undeterred by his criticism, however.
Instead, Fry undertook a second painting, this one intended for the fireplace mantel. This time she was satisfied with the results and kept painting. (“Every room was blank,” Fry says.) Others liked her works, too—to the point that they encouraged her to pursue gallery shows. Fry followed their advice, and by 2008 was showing her work during Second Saturday events.
Now, Fry looks back on those early paintings with a disconcerted eye: Her mom still has four of those older works hanging in her home, much to her chagrin.
“I’m sure those paintings were horrible when I first did those shows,” she says.
Perhaps. Fry’s more recent works are worthy of decorating any space. Her paintings seem to be possessed by a mysterious sense of movement. Pieces such as “Echo Lake” reflect an almost melting, ethereal blue, watery quality—an image in the distance perhaps being washed away in the rain. In contrast, a piece such as “Cadence” appears as a fiery explosion and expression in red, calling to mind a struggling heartbeat.
It took several years to get to this place of creative realization.
A few years after she started painting, Fry took a job bartending, but still kept busy with commission work. Exhibitions, however, took a back seat until 2014 when Fry finally put down the cocktail shakers to paint full time.
Since then she’s worked steadily, something she credits to a near sell-out exhibition at the Tim Collom Gallery in 2014.
Amber Massey, director at the Tim Collom Gallery, calls Fry one of the “most humble and prolific young artists” she’s worked with in awhile.
“Nichole’s paintings are reminders of abstract expressionism with her largest influence being Mark Rothko,” Massey says. “She explores the connection of color with our deep-set emotional responses. Her paintings also play into the human nature of creating a literal out of the figurative.”
Fry’s “Wheatland” does just this, she adds by way of example, capturing the motion, colors and swaying of a luscious field of wheat.”
By creating added textures with a palette knife, impasto and reflections from metallic oil paints, Fry’s work “creates the illusion of horizons and shorelines,” Massey explains.
“All of these aspects, plus [her] aesthetic eye … helps viewers make a personal connection,” Massey says.
That aesthetic makes sense if one traces the story back to a pivotal moment in Fry’s childhood. When she was 12, she visited the an art museum in Washington, D.C., with her father. It was there that she first discovered Rothko’s work, buying a poster depicting one of the abstract expressionist’s paintings.
“He’s just so simple,” Fry says of his work. “He just stood out to me, and always has.”
Specifically, she says, she’s been influenced by Rothko’s use of horizon lines.
“I do [those lines] in a lot of the paintings,” Fry says. “I try to get away from it, and then I sometimes can’t.”
Fry’s love of art predates Rothko, of course. As a kid she liked to paint her room and decorate her walls, always working to change the design of a room, sometimes to the point of plastering the walls with magazine ads.
She would doodle, too, but painting as a fine-art medium wasn’t really something she thought about.
“I used to just do these things, I would do shapes and sketches,” Fry says.
Although she no longer puts magazine ads up on the wall, Fry says she still works with the intent to decorate a room.
“I just wanted to find something that can accent the interior … rather than take it away,” she says.
When she started, Fry worked with acrylics, but found herself always adding water. Eventually, she was drawn to the colors that oil produced. Unlike acrylic paint, oil takes longer to dry. which allows Fry to spend multiple days working on one piece.
“The way the colors came out, it just kind of flows a lot better for me on the brush,” she says.
Flow is important. Fry says she tries to stand by the way color moves in her work, looking at what the painting can bring to the room or the show so that everything works together. A lot of times she starts with three or four colors; blending them on the canvas.
Likewise, when she’s working on a commission piece, Fry likes to takes stock of the room or space before she starts painting. This gives her an idea about size, color and other elements—the room’s wood pieces, fabrics, etc—and helps shape her painting into something that accents the area instead of overpowering it.
“I have a hard time when you walk into a room and it’s like this screaming, loud painting,” Fry says.
Instead, she says she wants her art to work within a room, acting like another decoration.
“That’s what I did when I started painting,” Fry says. “I just wanted it to bring the house together, rather than throwing a mirror on the wall.”