LOCAL FOLKS: Painter experiments with her art

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Plan? Penny Nichols doesn’t need a stinking plan.
“What I mostly like is experimental art,” she said. “It’s starting without a subject in mind, using all different types of materials and supplies, anything that you want to create different textures and shapes.”
The 62-year-old Tupelo native has been drawn to art since childhood. Throughout her life, Nichols has studied at schools and workshops, and she knows how to make a plan, if she wanted one.
“They always tell you, ‘Art should always have a plan. Do your sketch first,'” she said, affecting a voice that wasn’t quite her own. “I just want to sit down and paint.”
The results aren’t predictable, but patterns emerge. By layering paint, taking it off and repeating, she often finds herself with a canvas full of trees with roots twisting and turning beneath the surface.
Her abandon will produce mountains and valleys, or a mesa overlooking a town, or something altogether abstract without obvious connection to the real world.
“They can get weird,” she said. “Sometimes.”
They also can impress. Her piece, “View from Above,” won Best in Show at this year’s Market Street Festival Juried Art Show in Columbus.
“It actually was a plum credit to add to my CV,” she said.
In addition to her Best in Show awards, Nichols’ rampésumampé includes showings throughout Mississippi and Texas, her old stomping grounds before returning home to Tupelo in 1999.
She has shows lined up at galleries in Water Valley, as well as Shelton, Wash. You’ll also find her work at Staggs Interiors in Tupelo.
“It’s not really a money-making deal,” Nichols said with a laugh. “All I need is a man to come along and say, ‘You just paint all day. Don’t worry about anything else.’ It hasn’t happened yet. I guess I just have to keep working.”
Throughout the week, she sits with an elderly woman at Mitchell Center. When work’s over, Nichols knows she probably should be asleep.
“But I paint, because I’m still trying to get it out, just get it out,” she said.
Her studio
At home, Nichols keeps her finished work in the den and hanging along a wall near the backdoor.
She has approximately 30 “starts,” or incomplete paintings, in her cramped but well-ordered studio. She likes to finish two to four paintings a week.
Acrylics are her paint of choice, but sticking with one type of paint might seem too much like having a plan.
With different pieces, she’s been known to add India ink, pastels, watercolors and pencil. Stamps, knitting tools and shelf liner are used to add texture.
All of her tools, conventional and experimental, are easy to find in the proper plastic, metal or wood bin in her studio.
“I’m obsessive-compulsive about it,” she said. “I have to have everything just so.”
There’s also room for whimsy in her tight quarters. One sign says, “Create,” another says “Stressed spelled backward is desserts.”
Recently, she wore paint-splattered pants and a shirt with Snoopy over the pocket and stitching that read: “No autographs, please.”
“I’m wacky, but nice,” she said.
Art is everywhere
Nichols is committed to her experimental art, to letting a piece become what it’s meant to be, rather than steering elements into place.
“There is an unbridled delight and exhilaration for me in this type of creation,” she said.
To her, art is everywhere. It’s in music. It’s in science. It’s in the smooth lines of a classic car, or among roots and dead leaves at the base of a tree in late winter.
And since art is everywhere, she might as well keep layering paint on, taking it off and repeating until something weird or glorious arises.
“Someday when I am pushing 90,” Nichols said, “I hope they find me with inks spilled everywhere and collapsed on my easel with a smile of joy on my face.”
That almost sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?

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