Dab hand

Auckland artist Nick Herd takes an energetic, childlike approach to painting.

Drawing has always been part of Nick Herd’s life – it just gradually took over and everything else fell away. But after university, he started to really get into painting. Although he considers himself a natural draftsman, he says painting is hard “and always will be. I guess that’s why it’s quite a mystical thing.”

So, Nick, has Auckland always been your home? I’d love to say I’ve lived off pasta and wine in Italy, but actually I grew up in Dairy Flat, on a lifestyle block with sheep and a pet pig. It was great; there was no one around, so my brother and I had complete freedom to roam the fields and make up our own games.

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THAT’S LIFE Working with thick and runny oil paint, Nick favours painting people and flowers, and says we share common ground. “Both change with the seasons and according to our environment, so putting them together in my latest series made sense to me.” On the opposite page, he’s standing in front of a portrait of his friend Drew.

Your studio in Rocklands Hall on Gillies Ave is such a great space – how long have you been here for? About a year now – I’m extremely lucky. It was built in the 19th century for Judge Thomas Gillies and I feel like I’m entering another realm every time I walk in. The whole place is empty but there’s so much history behind it. The walls have so much character, the floors are out of whack – every room is beautiful. I’m always trying to work out what the rooms were used for in the home’s early days. My favourites are the ballroom, which has the most amazing detailed interior, and then there’s the watchtower up the top, with its incredible view.

Your paintings depict flowers and the human form – how did you come to land on these two themes? A lot of my practice and inspiration is derived from life. I like to experience painting with the real person or object actually there – you start seeing things you wouldn’t get from a picture.
I’ve always tended to paint faces and people. I’m just naturally drawn to them, with pencil or paint in hand. People fascinate me, as does what it is to be human.
I never thought much about flowers until I started painting them. From then on, I became fascinated with them, and they started popping up everywhere. I realised we’re surrounded by them and they’re there for people who want to see them.
I used to ride my bike to my old studio and take a pair of scissors with me. I knew where all the flowers were on my route. It was exciting – suddenly my eyes were wide open, kind of like a kid when they first walk into the zoo and there are all these crazy animals.

What else are your eyes open to? I’m often inspired by my surroundings – and sometimes uninspired. I’m a naturally curious person, and when I see things, I want to touch and investigate them.
I recently had an interesting experience with a horse. I fed it a carrot from the palm of my hand, and I’ll never forget the feeling of being up close to such a gorgeous, powerful beast. I will paint one – once I work out the logistics of getting a large canvas to a horse. I’m working on it.

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BLOBBING OUT “I’ve started approaching painting in a more childlike way, and it feels great,” says Nick. “I’ve stopped caring what others will think or what other painters have painted before me. My brushstrokes are just my marks on a canvas – kind of like my personality and my rough handwriting.”

What’s your typical process for creating a work? There’s a bit of a build-up to each painting, which starts with hand-making my canvases. But once I start painting, it all happens really quickly. My marks are quite gestural and energetic. I squirt thick blobs of oil paint onto a table and use a palette knife along with oil sticks and brushes for cups of runny oil paint.
I sometimes throw the paint straight out of the tube onto the surface.
I like to paint all different ways, and if it does become a routine, I have to break it. I recently grabbed a large spade from a hardware store, which I’m planning to use as a palette knife.

How do you choose which colours to use? I don’t really have a recipe for choosing them. When I’m buying them, it really feels like I’m a kid in a toy store picking all these toys to play with. I’m excited to see how the colours interact.

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ABOVE Nick’s girlfriend Charlotte and flatmate Becca sat for the new paintings pictured right; all the works in his new series are yet to be named.

What do you enjoy most about painting? It’s a very human activity, and still a very primitive one. You take a stick, you put pigment on it and then you scratch it onto something.

Do you have any exhibitions on the horizon? My last show was in October at Lindberg Galleries in Melbourne. Since then, I’ve gone into hiding in my painting cave. I get a little stressed out when it comes to that side of art, so I like to just focus on the painting and let all the other elements fall into place. I’m feeling good about my body of work and it’s growing all the time, so I’d definitely like to have a show in New Zealand at some point.

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Ophelia Mikkelson

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