Beauty in the everyday
From a Suffolk farmyard, artist Dee Nickerson draws inspiration from ordinary events, depicting them in her lyrical, flowing style
Short days and long nights make the winter months the most productive time for artist Dee Nickerson. After supper in the former showman’s caravan she shares with her partner, Richard, she’ll turn on the lamps beside her blanket-strewn sofa, stoke up the woodburner and paint until the early hours of the morning. “That’s partly why my pictures look a bit different,” she says, “because they are done at night. There’s less intrusion and noise then. I know that no one will come round. But I feel a bit like a teenager – mornings don’t really work for me.” While Dee sleeps in the following day, Richard gathers more logs, lights the fire and makes the coffee. He has taken on the household chores as well as plans for a purpose-built studio, to allow Dee to concentrate on her art as her work becomes increasingly sought-after.
Celebrating everyday beauty, her paintings have a broad appeal. Elegant, stylised women are portrayed in flowing patterned dresses, long coats and hats, walking with dogs across fields or beside the sea, or in the midst of household activities – knitting, baking, reading or writing. The bold colours and simple lines are mesmeric;
the large eyes and oval faces are reminiscent of religious icons, and the overall effect creates a feeling of tranquillity. “The women are partly an artistic interpretation of me,” Dee says. “That started because I liked fashion but couldn’t afford to buy things, so I would draw how I wanted to look. I was a romantic young woman, interested in myths and legends. I’m more absorbed in the real world now and my paintings have evolved to reflect that.”
Dee and Richard have lived in this corner of a farmyard on the Norfolk-suffolk border for 20 years. After moving from Norwich in search of a more rural life that would give Dee time to paint, they struggled to pay the rent on their new house, and a caravan seemed a sensible alternative. Richard’s father owned a farm, so the couple parked it on his land and now enjoy living there so much that they can’t imagine moving anywhere else.
Their home – a sleek, silver hideaway – used to be part of a travelling fairground before Richard rescued it from dereliction. Now sheltered from the elements by a tall hedge of conifers, with brown and white hens pecking at the doorstep and cockerels
crowing in the distance, it’s the perfect artist’s retreat, although Dee admits that it has some shortcomings: “The toilet’s across the yard and I sometimes wonder what it must be like to get up in a warm house. But I don’t mind the simplicity.”
A farmer’s daughter, Dee is used to living a no-frills lifestyle and often had to amuse herself as a child. She remembers the first thrill of drawing when she was three and making her own clothes when she was 12. However, her parents didn’t want her to study art and, feeling demoralised and directionless, she left school with no qualifications and married at 16, with a daughter arriving soon after.
But her love of painting never left her and when she joined a local art group, her teacher was so impressed that he encouraged her to apply to art school and helped her put together a portfolio. After graduating from Great Yarmouth College of Art and Design, Dee went on to study pattern cutting and English literature at City College in Norwich, juggling the course with a full-time job working at what was then a local branch of Liberty: “It was an ordinary shop job really, but it was quite a nice shop to be working in!” While there, she learnt a lot about fabrics and won a fashion competition held by the store. “It was a good place to make clothes, but I found it harder to paint. I think I need the isolation and countryside to do it,” she says.
Now her home provides plenty of natural inspiration, with Waveney Valley, home of painter Alfred Munnings, on her
OPPOSITE AND THIS PAGE In her homely caravan, which showcases her own work and that of other artists, Dee paints scenes of countryside living and the activities she enjoys, often including images of herself, such as in Wind of Change (above)
FROM ABOVE LEFT Dee often delivers finished paintings to her customers by bike; her farm-based home/studio near the East Anglian coast provides the perfect surroundings from which to glean inspiration for new ideas