Black paint is made with yellow, red and blue. No matter how pitch-black the paint appears, colour can always be found in the darkness. Artist Nikè Marchand knows that darkness inside and out. Armed with her brush, she navigates through her inner world; from the warm core, through entangled thoughts and along mental chasms. With daring, she exposes her heart on canvas, raw, pure and compelling for all to see. Nikè's works are all a triumph for the art world, but perhaps more importantly, a triumph over herself.
On Bredaseweg, opposite the water tower in an old monastery, we step inside a studio-appartment combination. Donkeys are set up among benches, plants and jugs. Paint pots spread out on the floor and against the former monastery walls, under a sky-high ceiling, colourful works are displayed. Across from us sits a sunny apparition in the form of artist Nikè Marchand.
While the tea bags draw, we dive into a light-hearted topic with Nikè: Greek mythology. Indeed, her namesake is the goddess of victory. A beautiful name and a fitting one; even at a young age, Nikè had to overcome. 'Growing up in Tilburg, I felt like an odd duck. I had a nice childhood, no disrespect to that, but I didn't see my external features mirrored anywhere, not at school, not on TV. As a half-Dutch, half-Nigerian, I didn't really belong anywhere. I realised pretty quickly that colour defines you.'
In 2016, Nikè picked up the brush and decided to use colour to define herself. She had been drawing for much longer, but she felt she needed paint to tell her story well. 'I immediately felt that this was where my heart was and I really just never stopped'. Paint gave her a way to engage in a dialogue with the world and herself. 'In my art, I started playing with skin colours, to alienate and liberate. I use my own body as a frame of reference: my nose, bone structures and shapes. In order to explore my own thought processes, to look at myself and my roots through paint.'
'I immediately felt that this was where my heart was and I really just never stopped'.
In less than seven years, Nikè developed a distinctive signature on her own: iconic African characters with powerful compositions and popping colours. 'I call it expressionist. Through colours, I try to put emotions down on canvas, sometimes figurative, sometimes more abstract and psychedelic.'
In each of her paintings, we find that one essential ingredient: vulnerability. Nikè is not afraid to put her inner world on canvas. 'It is even inescapable,' she says. Anyone who had spoken to Nikè 10 years ago would have heard something different. 'I closed myself off from everything for a very long time, I thought: if you don't talk about it then it's not there, if you don't feel it then it doesn't exist. Before 2016, I was always very good at hiding things away. As a result, I was depressed for a long time because I didn't express myself.'
For a long time, she was lost in her thoughts, resulting in a destructive mindset. She had to totally change direction to break that pattern. 'Painting has given me tools. To make something visual and tangible with my hands, to fill a canvas from my mind. The process of painting, which I then spend hours on, is very healing for me. It doesn't solve everything, but it is a way of taking care of my mental health. I can now make a very sad painting, for example, but look at it from a distance and think: yes, I felt shitty at the time, but I accept it.'
'Painting has given me tools to use'.
There is an idea that artists have to be unhappy to make good work. Is that a myth? Nikè: 'I think there is a lot of power in tragedy. Coincidentally, my heart was broken the other day. A lot of paintings came out of that. Only, suffering shouldn't become your identity and I don't have to be unhappy all the time to perform myself.'
Nikè has arrived at a point in her makerhood where she no longer depends on her moods. Her artistry has become integrated into her whole being, all her fibres. 'Because I am consciously and unconsciously constantly working on my art, it flows naturally when I sit down to a canvas. And by repeating it even more and putting more hours into my art, it flows even faster and easier.'
Now Nikè is building an impressive collection from her emotion. In an upward spiral, she is working towards her first solo show. 'That is my dream though: a solo exhibition here in town or work in a major gallery. But for that, I need to build up an assortment first. So next year I'm going to paint a lot first, make a lot' And there's nowhere she'd rather do that than in Tilburg. 'Tilburg is an ideal city if you are creative, in various fields. It really is a city of makers. Something is allowed to grow here, you can just feel it. The makers' itch is stimulated.'
For inspiration, she dives into the city: to Krakers in the Nieuwe Vorst, Tyrone Tjon-A-Loi's Goldfished or to Adrie and Jac at SamSam for a plate and a pack. 'There are many inspiring figures in the city that make it a lively place, people who give colour to Tilburg. Entrepreneurs, organisations and creatives support and encourage each other here. As a result, Tilburg has a creative scene with a lot of depth. Super inspiring, that gives motivation to get back to work yourself.'
Seven years after she first picked up a brush, Nikè is a name to keep an eye on. Ten years from now, her work could just be showing off in the major galleries of the Netherlands. But that is all by-product according to Nikè. 'My painting has given perspective. When you are mentally trapped and struggle to see positive things in life, that is exactly what you need. Even though I feel depressed or lifeless, I try to sit behind the canvas for a while. Just to get it out anyway. And afterwards I feel better. That's the biggest victory.'