Nicolas C. Grey
“Nicolas C. Grey is a collector.
Of Asian cigarette packets, bank notes and medicine bottles.
Discarded photographs and Bollywood memorabilia.
Broken toys, lost things.
Fragments of stories.
Bits of lives…”
And sooner or later all of these bits (and a few of the bobs) come through in the art. Visual mysteries – drawing the viewer in. Inviting them to speculate on the unknown connections that draw the disparate elements together, to imagine the stories behind the pictures.
“I have no idea what my pictures mean to me personally, or even what I am trying to say.”
Nic grew up in Brighton, England. His paternal grandparents were Indian, and after living in Hyderabad in India for a few years he relocated to Cambodia where he now lives and works. He is currently represented by Java Arts Gallery in Phnom Penh.
He works in a range of media – collage, photography, comic art and mixed media wall sculpture. But, his signature style remains pen and ink drawings – the intricacy and visual wealth of which never fail to fascinate audiences.
Nic's engagement with the lives and cultures of South and South East Asia during the past decade has introduced an increasingly ornamental and decorative element to his drawings. Recurring motifs of birds and monkeys, patterned fabrics and oriental carpets are used to create a visual pallette of psychedelic complexity and density.
Nic was born in London in 1968, and having left both school and home at 16 is a self–taught artist. Working under the name Dead Nic during the nineties he was involved in the underground comix scene, producing, together with Benjamin Heath, the now legendary Watermelon comic.
Nic also produced stand-alone pieces during this time which were shown via the London agency du jour – Britart. However fame and fortune remained elusive and Nic spent much of the decade either in prison, under psychiatric supervision or living on the streets. He continued to produce art throughout this period, and the work from this time chronicles the darker side of life in East London.
An interest in the aesthetics of language scripts is a thread that can be traced back to his comic art background, and much of Nic's current work features text written in Hindi, Khmer, Vietnamese and Tibetan, together with his own rather esoteric ideoscripts and the mathmatical formulae of quantum physics.
Nic has produced portraits for the British band Faithless and the United Nations Legal Affairs Team at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, as well as completing a series of portraits of contemporary Cambodian artists and performers.
Nic collects old Indian photographs – and this influence can be seen in the formal positioning of his subjects, the use of props and the overall framing and texture of the portraits.
Nic is drawn to the idea of social and human failure, and creates art featuring the world's marginalized and broken people.
His 2010 comic – Joe Odd – is based on a story found in a psychiatric hospital and written by an unknown patient. His hugely popular Light Box installations use found objects, text, photographs and light to create wall-shrines devoted to street dwellers in Calcutta.
Devotion, ritual and religion are abiding interests, and Nic's work frequently references the ideas and aesthetics of Buddhism and Hinduism. Viewers in South East Asia have particularly identified with the sense of the supernatural, or “Ghost World”, found in many of his drawings.
Recent showings of his work have been marked by a palpable sense of pleasure and wonder at these strangely imagined and beautifully crafted works.
A gallery experience that allows the viewer to be intellectually engaged, whilst appreciating the technical mastery and enjoying the sensual pleasure of the work has proved enormously popular with Cambodian audiences, and recent shows have sold out.
Art as rich as Nicolas C. Grey's is done no favours by written pieces such as this. You have to see it.
~ James Farley
July 2010, Phnom Penh, Cambodia