The artist loved by Obama and the Dalai Lama
Keep your Turners at The Tate, your Emins at Whitechapel…we're cock-a-hoop to have the latest exhibition by eminent British artist, Nicola Green, right here in Oxfordshire.
Talk about tuning in to the zeitgeist: in the week that Nicola Green’s exhibition, Unity, opens to mark the inauguration of President Biden, The Times runs with the headline, Time for unity. And indeed, this series of vibrant works now showing at Woodstock’s Zuleika Gallery represents just that – seismic change in America and the power of collective action. It has been an epic project of 12 years for Nicola in which time she gained unprecedented access to Barack Obama, and now Unity marks the next chapter. The art that Green has created on this journey already hangs in museums around the world, as well as in the Obama family home. Gotta tell you, I really wish it was hanging in mine too.
The art tells a big story. The circle in Palladium Wave, 2010, represents the world and the power of what can be achieved when people work together. Green was inspired by Obama’s 2008 nomination speech to a packed stadium in Denver in 2008. Married to the black MP David Lammy, she felt profoundly that her children would see the world differently from her because of their mixed race heritage. She wanted to acknowledge the first non-white leader in the West and what it would mean for the children of her generation.
We grabbed a coffee and chat to talk Unity, Barack and the transformative magic of art.
What was it like being on the campaign trail with Obama?
An artist had never before been allowed to follow a presidential campaign trail, and probably never will again. It wasn’t glamorous! It required an almost monastic devotion, and I had to keep my sights on the journey, it was a work of endurance really, but it think it will still be of interest in 500 years in museums because it’s about perpetuity. It’s about colonialism, the slave trade, social history and how we interact with each other in the 21st century.
Tell me about Struggle -it’s the piece of art I most covet
The image of the fist has layer upon layer of silkscreen printing built up around the pencil drawn hand that is then painted with thick 24 carat gold leaf to create this sculptural image that practically looms out of the painting. To me, it’s a product of grit and resilience.
Like having a plan and sticking to it?
Yes, even when it feels like it’s not working!. I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t found the past year a struggle. Everybody has had to change, but if you have something in mind, even something small, you should continue. It’s when you are climbing the mountain and it’s cloudy, but you’re nearly at the top, you just don’t realise it.
I had to stop breastfeeding my child when I got the call to get on a plane to the Democrats Convention. I was exhausted and I didn’t want to do it. But when I got there, into that stadium, it was like being in a masterclass of keeping going and keeping your sights on something that seems unimaginable. That was life changing.
Who has most left their mark on you?
Michelle Obama is phenomenal but two people specifically have left their mark – Obama and Pope Francis. They have a quiet calmness about them, When they walk into a room they don’t need to prove themselves. A calm descends on the room.
The Unity virtual exhibition is at the Zuleika Gallery in Woodstock, Oxfordshire until March 14.
MUDDY EXCLUSIVE ALERT: Muddy readers can take an exclusive virtual tour and Q&A of Unity with Green herself – not even kidding! It’s at midday on Thursday 11th February. What a perfect way to get out of the WFH and homeschool headspace for a lunchtime spot of culture and gorgeous art. Sign up for your free place on the virtual tour here.
Watch a short film about Nicola and how she gained access to Obama here.
Zuleika Gallery, 6 Park St, Woodstock, OX20 1SP