Interview with alumnus Nick Pearson

04 September 2014

Nick Pearson is alumnus of the Pre-BA Foundation Diploma in Art and Design, 1977-1978. Currently exhibiting at Leeds College of Art in our Blenheim Walk Gallery with ‘I’m not being funny but’from until 3 October 2014,  we caught up with Nick to get an insight in to his practice as an artist working with sculpture and drawing and how it all began at the College all those years ago.

Can you tell us what you remember about the course in the 70s and what you studied?

Before doing the course I was convinced I was going to design record covers once I left art college. I knew what I was good at and I just wanted to get better at it, get a degree and then a job doing just that. Jacob Kramer College of Art (as it was called then) completely confused me and upset my plans no end – as of course it should have! What did I know about art & design and the options available as an 18 year-old? The teaching, the unusual and challenging work I found myself doing and the books we were encouraged to read had a huge effect on me. Also, a range of complimentary, slightly tangential and downright unconnected – but brilliant – lectures introduced me to unfamiliar subjects, artists and attitudes I have carried with me ever since. 

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Nick Pearson then and now – Left, his College photo from 1977-78

What did you enjoy about your time at Art College and did it help you to decide on your next steps towards becoming an artist? 

The course and the environment in which we were immersed taught us to think in different ways, to really look and see things afresh: from experiencing the curved corridor at the back of the Civic Theatre on the way to lunch, to drawing a rocky outcrop in North Yorkshire in the rain. Each of us was encouraged – through drawing, film, literature, performance and stories – to expand his or her own horizons; to see beyond them with an imaginative, thinking eye. And to be informed by things around, beneath, and often beyond us. That big emphasis on drawing – and drawing students out – was really something special.

I said I was confused by my time at the college. It was a kind of 'creative confusion', the kind I think is useful, even healthy for someone at the age I was. After leaving, I went to study graphic design (it was what I'd always thought I wanted to do) at Wolverhampton Polytechnic. But I realised, once on that course that it wasn't for me. Something had kicked in at Art College in Leeds (I guess it does for everyone in different ways and leads each along different paths) and I couldn't shake it off. I transferred to another college to take up a degree in fine art half way through the first year. I may have made better and more regular money as a graphic designer, but I've never regretted my decision to change. 

Do you remember any early work you made or moments of discovery?

Like most of the students, I had come straight from A-level art at school, where I had excelled at drawing neat, 2B pencil renditions of cheese plants and slide projectors (along with a reasonable line in supplying tattoo designs to school mates!). I was shocked when confronted on my first day at the college with a washing line hung diagonally across the main studio and being told to draw the 'rhythm' of the pegs that some tall mad-looking tutor had arranged (apparently randomly) along its length. A lot of blind faith in what we were being taught, regular morning drawing sessions and several large, mucky, well-worked charcoal drawings later, we began to 'get it', though we were still not sure of what it was we'd 'got'. Making art is still a bit like that for me and I hope that it always retains that magical 'slightly beyond my comprehension' feel. I thank the Foundation Diploma course at Leeds and the creative, committed people who ran it for giving me that. 

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Can you tell us more about your studio and practice as an artist?

Since coming to London in the '80s I have worked in an old, small 19th century school building in Hammersmith, which I share with a printmaker, a photo-artist, two painters, two filmmakers, and two other artists who, like me, make work in various media. We have all been there quite some time and know each other's work pretty well. There is some discussion about art, chats in the kitchen and some borrowing of tools etc – and we all get together once a year when we have our Open Studios weekend. But on the whole, we tend to get on with our own work individually in the old classrooms that are now our studios – whenever we are not working for a living. I work part of the week as an art college lecturer and as production manager at a small publishing house.

I make objects, drawings, collages and photo-works (though I'm not a photographer and usually get 'real' photographers to take pictures of my work). I'm interested in the way an object might be an example of 'the uncanny'. I look for ways it might suggest other associations outside of itself and the relationship sculpture has with objects in the world outside of art. What grip on reality do these objects have and are things really what they seem to be? Apart from the exhibition currently on at Leeds College of Art, you can see my work at

Do you have any advice for students, starting out at the beginning of their careers as artists?

Always keep notebooks, absorb everything and note it down. Draw a lot and be wary of throwing anything away. You may go back to that old, bad idea, rediscovered in storage or found jotted down in an old notebook sometime in the future and like a flash, you'll know how to approach it differently, creating a new, stronger work from the bones of an old failed one. Get a studio. Having a place to work in makes such a difference (and you'll have somewhere to keep all that old rubbish I mentioned earlier! Don't let life get in the way too much. Don't get distracted. If you really want to be an artist, you won't be.

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