Nico Cathcart: The Revolutionary Potential of Art

“I believe in the revolutionary potential for art — especially public art.”

This mural honors Brown Ballerinas for Change (BBFC), a group whose mission is “to help create advocacy, social justice, and to increase participation of underrepresented populations in ballet.” Nico Cathcart created it in collaboration with Monty Montgomery on the corner of Main and Granby in Richmond, Virginia. This is a prime example of how Cathcart uses her vibrant art to uplift and honor the people, movements and ecosystems of Virginia (and beyond). Her subjects include women leaders, local Virginia wildlife and habitats, racial justice protestors, climate change, and more. She says the piece below, “Delta,” was created at the Few & Far & Friends festival during hurricane Delta, and that it comments on the increased activity of hurricanes and their effect on coastal Virginia.

The portrait in the top left is of Juliette Gordon Low, the Girl Scouts founder, who, like Cathcart, suffered hearing loss. The top right mural was painted in collaboration with Michael Birch Pierce, and the bottom right with Austin Miles.

I believe in the revolutionary potential for art — especially public art. To me, it is a way to speak about issues that matter. Art can make issues like climate change and intersectional women’s empowerment easier to understand. I think art allows us to push boundaries and create emotional connections to global concepts. Art has the power to change people’s thoughts, confront issues that make us uncomfortable, and can give power to ideas that need to be magnified, while bringing joy to a viewer’s day.

Embarrassingly enough, when I was in college, I used to paint abstracts. I was very interested in how paint could be applied, doing large scale black on black paintings with different mediums, to see how I could make the paintings move, and playing with colors. Looking back, I was just interested in the mechanics of the paint.

As I matured as a painter, my subjects turned to nature and women’s empowerment. I think these two issues are interconnected in many ways, relating to how the systems that are in place are set up. I focus on the environment, as we can not survive without clean water, clean air or food. I focus on women’s empowerment, because women still make up only 11% of major museum acquisitions in the last decade, and because I have absolutely been the only woman in a show or in a festival.

My recent series of canvas paintings are based on the academic tradition of Memento Mori. They are ornate still lifes that use skulls, flowers, pollinators, fire, ice and water to highlight the connection between humans and the environment. I do this to create conversations about climate change in my viewers. These particular paintings start as sculptures that I photograph, sometimes collaborating with local florist Photosynthesis florals.

My most recent mural was a collaborative piece with RVA born, San Diego based muralist Monty Montgomery. We donated a piece to Richmond Non-Profit Brown Ballerinas for Change. I was humbled to be able to create this collage of all 4 of the ballerinas — Ava, Kennedy, Sophia, and Shania — from photographs I took at the Dogtown Dance theater. By combining all four of them into a graceful leap into the future, accompanied by a sparrow, which is a symbol of spring, renewal and change, I was hoping to capture the power of the girls in creating and sustaining change. I was just shown a photo and video set of a young ballerina, dancing and posing in front of it. This is exactly why I create things like this mural — so that little girl can see she is capable of anything.

In 2020, I did a lot of collaborations, several with the amazing Austin Miles, as well as fashion designer Michael Birch Pierce and painter Justice Dwight. I do this with the intention of learning and moving away from toxic competition within the public arts industry. I love nothing more than a good partnership. Absolutely nothing can keep you on your toes better than working with an artist who can keep you on your toes.

I would love to see more diversity in the public arts and gallery systems. I think a lot of collectors and galleries shy away from art that is socially minded but this type of art is important, and it can only be made now. I’d love to see galleries, museums, collectors, and financial backers look at the portfolio of work they support and find ways to

challenge themselves to make the ratio of creators more accurately reflect the amazing BIPOC, Queer and Women artists that make up the society we live in. Too often this burden of diversifying falls on the artists, and the gaps are not examined.

Thank you very much for inviting me! I am excited to see the change that 2021 will bring. Keep an eye out for my new prints being released by House of Roulx in February!

Nico Cathcart is a painter and muralist hailing from Toronto, Ontario, and currently living in Richmond, Virginia. She strives to discuss Intersectional feminism and climate change in her highly-colorful works which often include local flora and fauna, as well as the female form. The artist is in the process of going deaf, and often includes birds in her work as a nod to her disability. You can find a TEDTalk about her work, and disability, here. A veteran of the past three RVA Street Art Festivals, you can now find her highly colorful realistic murals in many cities across the U.S., including Richmond; Ithaca and Rochester, NY; Pittsburgh, PA; and Columbus, OH. Her work has been shown at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, and the Hermitage Museum in Norfolk, as well as galleries across the continent. In 2020, Nico was honored as an Agent of Change for her use of activism in her art by the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, and was the recipient of the 1708 Gallery Space grant.

Thanks to Nico for being the first artist for this series’ new home on Medium!

Learn more about the Ask Artists interview series and submissions.

Julia Travers, Instagram

I’m a writer who runs the Ask Artists interview series. Find interviews here along with some other stories. More of my work: https://linktr.ee/JuliaTravers

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store