I am a maker of obviously ‘assembled’ or ‘constructed’ things; that create pictures, tell stories; and respond to people and places.   This interest in the ‘constructed’ naturally leads me to the built environment as my main inspiration.  I always begin with drawing; capturing the character of a place and of inhabitation.  I incorporate found materials to build-up the surface of my paintings into three-dimensional relief, which creates an effect of ‘super-perspective’.  The paintings are often made from hundreds of little found pieces.

I have always also made sculptures and reliefs; and for the last ten years I have been developing a series of sculptures in concrete and steel which have been inspired by the forms of the urban landscape.  My sculptures begin with an observation of a place and a subject.  I work in an intuitive way, usually aiming for the work to be contextual in a double sense; relating to their setting in both a visual and thematic way, creating the fullest resonance with a place.

I have found ways of making highly coloured and precise concrete.  My steel sculptures are always brightly painted.  Sometimes the sculptures are more pictorial, and sometimes more abstract.  Often they owe something to a more collage like method of composition, even when realised in a solid and monolithic form.  The more abstracted ones owe something to architectural composition in that they are clearly formed from an assembly of separate elements.

Whether working on something that is more sculptural or more painterly I non the less think in a ‘constructional’, rather than what might be called a ‘plastic’ way.  This ‘building-up’ follows my intuitive methods, where being hands-on with my materials is part of how I think.  For me this is part of the life and vitality of the work.  On the one hand I want to capture a sense of life in forms and places, and I want to create work where the gestures of its making are present in the finished piece.


In 2009 Nick Bullions, artist and Operations Manager at the Henry Moore Foundation, wrote a paper that accompanied my one person show at the Gibberd Gallery (see below)

Urban Paintings is an exhibition of ‘constructed paintings’ created by artist Nicola Burrell.  Seen very much as a personal project, the work brings together two of her life’s interests. 

The first is her love of urban spaces, particularly the downtrodden.  She feels an affinity with corners of a past modernity, long forgotten, and now ignored.  These feelings are represented in her paintings through images of abandoned shipyards, 1950’s shopping precincts, social housing projects, and tatty seafronts.  Her choice of imagery is an emotive decision, made subconsciously, and appealing in equal measure to her aesthetic and romantic sensibilities.

Burrell is unquestionably an instinctive artist.  Her intuitiveness stretches beyond her choice of subject, encompassing her whole approach to art.  As an artist she appears most at home when applying mark and colour or cutting and joining.  And it is this pleasure, gotten from the processes of making, which represent the second of her interests.  This is no more apparent than in her constructed paintings, exhibited her at the Gibberd Gallery, where she attempts to amalgamate the disciplines of sculpture and painting.

Burrell’s paintings begin in a conventional manner: she draws up her composition in pencil on board, which is then worked up in paint.  This process continues until she feels ready to begin building the sculptural components.  These are built directly onto the painted surface and made out of thin wooden strips, cut crudely from fruit boxes.  They are subsequently painted or left bare to mimic elements of the pictorial scene.  Both the painting and built structure are then re-worked until the illusion of form and actual form are unified.  Burrell avoids this appearing ‘slick’ or ‘gimmicky’ by creating, as a counterbalance, a surface tension.  This is achieved instinctively through her handling of the materials; the loose brushwork and rawness of the wooden pieces jar against the architectural nature of the pictorial elements.  It is this tension that tricks the mind, and flattens the surface, creating a kind of tromp-l’oeil in reverse.  In fact it is only under closer inspection or when approached at an angle that her paintings appear, in part, sculptural.

Urban Paintings spans a twenty year period, beginning with a large painting of a high-point view of the Belfast cityscape, made in 1989 whilst Burrell was still a student.  It continues with places near her home in Essex, of Colchester and Clacton-On-Sea.  There are also works of Le Mans races and the M6 motorway.  The exhibition ends with a series of paintings of Harlow.  These are all new works, made partly for the exhibition, and partly in response to the times she has found herself alone, wandering the town’s housing and shopping precincts.  More precisely these journeys have occurred over the last five years, in-between working on two large scale sculpture commissions, for Latton Lock and the Florence Nightingale Health Centre in Church Langley.  During this period she made many hundreds of drawings, some of which are on display in this exhibition.

Nicola Burrell studied as both an undergraduate and postgraduate student at the University of Ulster and has worked as an artist and arts educator since graduating in 1990.  She is best known fer her public sculpture including pieces at Highwoods Country Park, Colchester; South Woodford, London; Kleinbrightenbach sculpture trail.  Her work has been exhibited locally, nationally and internationally.