Today in Lisbon by Light, I introduce you to artist Nina Fraser who explores the world around her through the medium of paper, resulting in two and three dimensional works spanning across a variety of disciplines including site specific intervention and installation. Her collages are often reworked, each piece becoming not an end, but a starting point for a new journey. She relocated in Lisbon since 2014 and she shares with me (us) the journey she’s been through.
Hi Nina, tell us more about you, what is your background and what are your achievements?
I grew up in Hertfordshire, close to London, in the UK. I studied Textile Art at Winchester School of Art – a subject rooted in the conceptual use of textile processes to create art works. I was able to experiment with so many different mediums and departments during the course. I dabbled in collage throughout my life – my grandfather, an artist, used to send us collaged cards for birthdays and Christmas – I always had a close attachment to it.
What drove you into this area?
When I relocated to Lisbon in 2014 I felt a huge sense of displacement, and collage helped to piece things together. Also, I enjoy the nature of repurposing something to give it a new idea, a new life.
Why Lisbon ? What do you like about this city?
My partner is Portuguese, that is the reason I moved here. I had also left my job after seven years, and I was welcoming a change. When I arrived in 2014 the city was still a little sleepy, but it didn’t take long to wake up to the cry of tourism and redevelopment.
What are the advantages but also the limitations of this city?
In the UK we are generally practical thinkers, and there are solutions to every problem you can think of (or haven’t thought of yet)… Portugal on the other hand, tends to be more poetic about things.. although I would like to avoid generalizations as the culture and country is complex and fascinating and takes some time to unravel. Daily stresses are different here – it is easier to adopt the Portuguese mentality ‘It’s enough’. I love the extended sense of ‘day’ in Lisbon – if it doesn’t get done today then maybe tomorrow. I enjoy the manner of not over extending or striving for high profits, basically the value of time over money. In art, there is an integrity and value placed upon ‘honest’ materials… the truth is not polished. Also the value of eating well and spending time with family and friends.
What is the separation between collage and mixed-media?
In terms of definition, mixed media is a variety of different mediums used in one composition. On the other hand, I like the effect that a paper collage can give – just two images juxtaposed together can be very striking, powerful. I also like to paint, I like to stick things on top, rip things off, because you also get this layering effect. I’m playing with both techniques, as well as constructing things out of found materials. Each visual language has its own limitations and formal concerns. I often think ‘why this image, material etc’? Although, some of the best work I made recently happened at the end of the day when I was really tired… I was about to throw away a whole batch of paintings that I thought were ‘failures’. So I began pasting fragments of collage over them. I was amazed at the transformation – I ended up with a whole series of painted birds with clothes and things on their faces… It was crazy! I’m more aware of not trying to control everything in the process, but also not leaving too much to chance – somewhere there’s a balance!
Could you describe one of your typical workdays?
I try to go to the studio 4 – 5 days a week, this is where I work with most focus. Most of the ‘business’ side of my art happens at home, in a cupboard by the kitchen – I make and organise my prints and do admin etc. I try as a rule to have weekends off – I really need the balance – and every four months I visit my parents in the UK, using the time to explore galleries and opportunities in my home country whilst trying to keep up with what’s going on… although politically I don’t think anybody knows. It’s getting harder to visit places like London, I’m always wondering why everyone is in such a hurry!
Do you have routines or rituals that you perform before starting a workday or before starting a project? How do you motivate yourself?
I like to work with the seasons, so usually every 4 months I will give my workspaces a good clean and de-clutter, setting myself intentions for the next period of work. I find sweeping very relaxing! And with collage, well it needs to be done often…
What do you do when you have a lack of inspiration?
I go for a walk, I try to make a few small intuitive collages… I talk to others, this is usually the most effective at extracting the ideas from the rest of the stuff in my head.
Tell me about the business side of your practice…
I started selling my watercolours through boutique shop, in my first year in Lisbon. They were paintings of landscapes of the local area, and although they weren’t designed particularly for tourists, they appealed to that market because my amorous fascination with the light and colours of the city showed through. I knew in the back of my head that this wasn’t ‘it’ , but it was a start and helped me invest in my artistic growth. I made prints of these images and eventually it became a small but steady business. I sell in Loja Quer (Principal Real), Icon shop (Chiado), Apaixonarte (Sao Bento ) and various boutiques and small galleries around the city and overseas. This works really well for me as, like most artists, I don’t particularly enjoy the selling process, but I am happy that someone else does!
Do you have a website?
I have two websites and sometimes make online sales, mainly commissions. Actually the moment I became freelance I created a website, even though I didn’t know what would be on it! I knew I would need one, so I kind of created myself as a brand, which is perverse because I had nothing yet to sell! In my previous job (co-director of a non-profit arts cafe in Southampton) I had a gained, over the years, a substantial list of people who were very connected with me and my artistic journey, so when I left UK I kept in touch with them through email. Quite a lot of them turned into clients, which was wonderful, as I don’t think I could have gone forward with my art career in Lisbon had I not had that support.
How do you balance art and finance?
My business model is based around throwing myself at a lot of places and hoping some will stick! At least it was in the first few years – I am starting to refine it now. I enjoy running a business – the mentality, keeping the balls juggling… It’s the only thing I’ve really ever known, having started co-managing the cafe at the age of 23. What I learned is, you have to take consistent steps forward into the unknown, and when something feels good, give it some energy and see where it takes you. Sometimes things land on your hands – usually (and thankfully) in period of doubt.. a few weeks ago I was feeling a bit low and then everything came at me in one day – a license opportunity for a book image, a bunch of art sales, and an offer for an exhibition in a gallery I have had my sights on for a while. I need the fuel of the ‘not knowing what is around the corner’ to stimulates me. I also find a sense of satisfaction in grounding tasks like admin and accounting… it’s not that I really enjoy them, but i like to feel in control of them, as I know it’s the groundwork for creative growth.
I see you do workshops too..
Yes, I started them recently. When I first arrived in Portugal I was slightly overwhelmed by the amount of new things I had to do and learn, and mainly I had to ‘find myself’ in my artistic practice. I joined Mart, an artistic space for creative learning and projects, where I stayed for two years, exhibiting collectively, taking workshops and delving deeper into my studio practice. At that point I wasn’t ready to teach. Then, by the third year in Lisbon I was approached by a lady who loved both collage and watercolour and asked me if I did workshops. I thought, well why not! I spent several months teaching her everything I knew! I realised I had a different cultural perspective, and within the subject of collage a fine art background, which is appealing to many people. I currently organise workshops at Cafe Tati (saturday morning workshop with brunch) which focuses not only on the practical methods of collage but the social side of it too – (for more information about workshops and exhibitions see www.ninafraser.co.uk)
How do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully still doing what I’m doing! As an artist there is always growth and always new work to be made. Finding ways to make it pay the way, that’s an important part, but also creating work that that is closely aligned to my values.. whilst sharing what I’m learning. The world is changing rapidly, and we are all tied up in this process and change, so, for me the key is to remain fluid, grounded, but with a quick reaction response!