The Glass Dreamscape

Nicole Chesney creates mirrored-glass paintings


Layers of sheer oil paint enswathe a lucid fog; the look is created by acid-etched and mirrored glass. Every painting on the walls of Sky/Water Studio transform with changing light and perspective. These mirrors metaphorically reflect introspection, which Nicole Chesney experiences as she thoughtfully coats the luminous panes with rich burgundy hues or tranquil shades of blue. “A work of art, like a mirror, is meaningless until someone looks into it,” she says.

Although she is open to anyone who wishes to delve into the deeper meaning of her work, Nicole primarily focuses on invoking a visceral, emotive reaction from her audience. “My work is all inspired by that intersection of sky and water as one looks out; [that] sense of horizon or ambiguous space,” says Nicole. This fascination with perception and understanding is what inspired the title of her company.

Aside from commission work, it usually takes over a month for Nicole to complete each piece. Her process is deliberately unhurried so she can spend time ruminating on the changing aesthetic of the fogged panes as she paints throughout different points in the day. This repetitive and contemplative process has become a cherished form of meditation for Nicole; she feels restless when a busy schedule takes time away from the studio. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. Nothing is as truly and as deeply fulfilling as the time I get to spend painting,” she says. Nicole does a significant amount of planning before she even picks up a paintbrush; she sketches mockups and devises a cutting plan. She uses pre-treated panes, bought in bulk from a company in Canada. They are cut by two custom glass studios in Rhode Island, which allows Nicole to focus entirely on the creative process.

However, she used to do all the prepping herself, which took over two days for one pane. She eventually ran out of the space and time necessary to create her translucent ‘canvases’, so she relied on the help of others as her projects continued to get larger and more frequent.

Making art has always been a natural part of her life; before she was even old enough to articulate it, Nicole knew she was going to be an artist; “I knew I would work with my hands. I was always making things.” Nicole studied in Boston, California and Australia; she has also exhibited all over the U.S. and the world. Her work has seen Italy, Germany and even South Korea. After graduate school in Australia, Nicole traveled for several years before she decided to settle down in Providence. By the time Nicole decided to return to the states, she knew she wanted to live in the Northeast, but didn’t want to live in Boston or NYC. Providence’s thriving art community compelled Nicole, “so I thought I would try it... and that was 11 years ago.”

Nicole has outgrown two studios during her stay, but she has found her dream space at Hope Artiste Village. After spending a little under a year negotiating and constructing a custom design, Nicole could not be more thrilled with the finished product. Her office is deliberately excluded from the studio, as if to separate the two sides of her mind. “An artist needs time and space to make work. That could be a sketch book, or an amazing studio,” Nicole says, with a giddy smile. She paints in the gallery after the panes have been
installed, using a rolling shelf as her palette. The tall, white ceilings of the spacious, old mill pour light through the windows installed high above. Her mysterious paintings melt into different patterns as their onlooker circumnavi- gates around the room.

Sky/Water Studio has become a sanctuary for Nicole, she spends more time here than in her own home. “I owe so much of my artistic growth and my career’s development to the quality of life I have been able to create here [in Rhode Island].” Although she has found her ideal workspace, she will never choose a favorite in her collection of work. Nicole’s favorite piece is the one that has not happened yet, because that is what continues to make her an artist; this drive is what continues to allow her to grow and reflect, much like the mirrors that stand before her.

Sky/Water Studio. 1005 Main Street Pawtucket. 727-8228