Nick Smith Interview on ‘Psycolourgy’

There is a wave of excitement rippling its way through London ahead of our first exhibition of 2015 and what better way to kick of proceedings than with ‘Psycolourgy’ our debut solo show from the master of colourful collage Nick Smith. We caught up with Nick ahead of the exhibition to discuss his work and the thought provoking ideas that permeate through his practice. 


How did the use of colour chips in your artwork first occur?  


It came about through my career as an interior designer, I would work with colour and like any designer I would use swatches as a way of referencing and communicating colour, so as a result I always had these chips of colour around me. After a project I had lots of loose ones so the idea came to me about rearranging them into images, this started as fairly arbitrary images and then I moved on to recreated iconic ones. The firsts artworks I made using this technique were really simple 20cm x 30cm which I sandwiched between glass or stuck down. The chips I use now have an adhesive backing but the early images were rougher, stuck down with blue tack or some double-sided tape. 



What were the subjects of those early experiments? 


The first recognisable image was Andy Warhol’s ‘Marilyn’, the pink one, which I gave to my friend as a wedding present. I did a small version of George Stubbs’ ‘Whistlejacket’ as well. 



Other artists would go to a local art shops for their paints and supplies but with your approach you’re not afforded with such a convenience. How did you go about sourcing your colours? 


I’ve got loads of colour reference books that are now missing key colours. I’m really short on blacks because they get used up the quickest. The books I use now are discontinued so I have to scour eBay for them; recently I’ve been getting them delivered from the US. It had been a struggle locating them so it put me in a position where I had to find an alternative, so I started to actually print my own squares of colour.



I couldn’t use the text on these new chips due to copyright infringement; I had been doing some prints using word colour associations and thought this was the perfect opportunity to make my own chips, inventing my own colour names and substituting with a word that I feel is associated to the colour or overall piece of artwork. This means I no longer rely on sourcing half used books while taking my work into a new direction adding a new layer of information to each artwork.


Can you describe to us the process of choosing the words for each piece? 


Well for the example on my version of the Mona Lisa the bottom of the painting has really dark colours and you find yourself racking your brains for the right word to put in. The first 50 black colours are easy; you’ve got word like ‘tuxedo’, ‘mafia’, ‘demon’, ‘corruption’ and things like that. Then you find there’ll be a pattern or narrative at the bottom of a painting, it’ll actually be evil with really dark associations. As it goes up through the painting, at the top in the landscape it’s green with natural tones and that pertains to nicer words like ‘forest’, ‘pesto’ or ‘Robin Hood’ and more natural things. I find myself standing back and making a block assumption that a grouping of one colour will evoke one particular feeling or message. So the bottom of the Mona Lisa is evil and the top is all about recycling and wheelie bins.



Colour psychology is what it’s all about with these pieces. Other ones likes the hot pink in the Marilyn contain sex-orientated words and things associated with the physicality of the human body as she was seen as a sex icon. Different shades of colours mean different intensities of the same subject. Other pieces I’ve done don’t have that colour association; I’ve just run a story or narrative through the piece that related to the content of the artwork. When I did ‘Son of Man’ by Rene Magritte, for me it linked perfected with Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, I’ve read it a number of times so I picked out a few paragraphs I thought were really relevant and they run through the artwork. 



You’ve chosen a number of well-known paintings from the great canon of art. Many of these images are very familiar and have been burnt into our in collective consciousness. What is your intention behind using these universally recognisable works of art?  

It’s almost like deconstructing a painting; you get to see the ingredients, which are the colours that were used. I find it surprising sometimes when analysing the colours that are present and their subtly. You might look at Hockney’s ‘A Bigger Splash’ and think that the sky seems like it’s the same shade of blue all over but through this process you discover it’s actually slightly darker on the top left hand corner. It’s a bit like what the top chefs are doing deconstructing food, I’m deconstructing the artwork. These paintings were made before there were computers and the opportunity to do this so I’m getting a voyeuristic view on the pallets of artists to see precisely which tones and colours they used. 



You must have closely studied and scrutinised the paintings, as a result do you feel like you know what say Hockney’s decisions were when choosing his pallet and what he was trying to depict?


I do, I find myself thinking about it a lot because I sit in front of this one image for hours and hours on end. The whole process involves gridding up the image and rationalising all the colours on the computer. Originally when I was matching it I used to print out what I had made on the computer and sit there with the book matching and sticking down the colours. Now the rationalisation is done on a computer I think about it even more because I’m adding words. You have to become familiar with every single part of the painting. 



The pool Hockney painted is a fictional pool in California so for the words I chose real Californian place names, towns and districts. There around 1500 names and you really struggle to find enough to actually fill it. You end up learning about California and become familiar with the original piece and the thoughts behind it. ‘Whistlejacket’ was a hell of a lot of fun to do. It’s got over 1000 racehorse names running through it with some fantastic and embarrassing ones in there, I mean why would you call a magnificent stallion ‘Mr Blobby’? When you read through you get a line of arbitrary words, which form these crazy sentences you couldn’t possibly randomise in your head.


Do you have a favourite colour?  


I definitely have combinations of colours that I like to work with in design but I find that evolves quite quickly. I like teals, petrols and warm greys as combinations.  



Who are your favourite artists for inspiration? 


I really like Jake and Dinos Chapman, I’ve got two of their etchings at home. At first glance it looks like a jolly scene then you notice the macabre and disturbing elements, I like their layered approach. Sam Kaprielov is an artist I love; he just works in a chalk and pastel doing these incredibly dreamscapes. Another quite obvious one is Warhol and what he did to art by creating a platform that enabled pretty much anybody to become an artist. I like the cleanness and block colouring of his work along with the repetitive elements.  

If you could reproduce any painting in your style regardless of time and scale what would you choose?


I’m interested in seeing how small I can make something so that it’s still recognisable. I’ve done a reduction series of the Mona Lisa that get smaller by 10cm each time so over 6 pieces you’re left with just one colour that is the average tone of the painting. People have suggested I do large pieces like the roof the Sistine Chapel or famous scenes like the twin towers but I don’t see the point in doing something like that, I’m not trying to put across a political message, I’m trying to explore the ideas of recognition. The images I’ve previously used are my pallet and my tools, I want to experiment with those and create as many different possible iterations. There’s so much that can be done with them in terms of reduction and word association.



Finally what can we expect from your debut solo show ‘Psycolourgy’?  


The show will be an experience where people look at things slightly differently. It will provide a new lens and fresh way of examining a number of recognisable artworks. I want people to think about the effects and meaning of different colours when sitting next to each other. I would also like it if people walked away from the show with a second dimension to the way they process images, only if they want to of course... 


Psycolourgy: Nick Smith

23 January 2015 - 21 February 2015


To register your interest and be invited to the opening night reception please email us at

January 16, 2015