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Nicky Hirst, MASS
At work with

Nicky Hirst, MASS

Nicky Hirst is a practising sculptor who was official election artist for the last British election. She’s also a mentor on the MASS Sculpture Programme, and Editor of MASS sculpture magazine.

‘When I was a child, two things used to bother me a lot. I had heard that a giant squid could blanket Piccadilly Circus and if we pulled out our intestines they would reach the length of a tennis court. Later I learned that there are more atoms in a cup of water than there are cups of water in all the oceans of the world. It is this absurdity and an interest in connections that keeps me wanting to make things I have never seen before.’

Nicky shares her week ahead as the first issue of MASS goes on sale.


What are you up to this Monday morning?
This Monday morning I am happily in my Peckham studio tidying up after a really busy period of making and showing work. I have acquired a quantity of old stained glass so I’m going to be cleaning and sorting that too.


The Electorate at Domobaal, London


This is unusual for a Monday though, as the start of the week is often spent at MASS HQ at Thames-Side Studios in Woolwich. MASS is a new Sculpture Programme which offers on-site studios, off-site participants and a correspondence course. I am co-leader and mentor alongside artist Ian Dawson, as well as being Editor of MASS magazine. Last Monday morning the MASS cohort came to my show at Domobaal Gallery to discuss the works (above), then we all went to the British Museum in the afternoon to look at favourite things.



Describe your desk and your work space
My studio is in an old laundry building tucked away in a residential street with about ten other artists and makers. My space is freezing cold in winter and far too hot in summer. There are a lot of windows but it’s not overlooked and is very quiet.

It’s just me and some manky South London foxes hanging out on the roof. I have four big tables that are like work stations for different activities. I need them to be clear and defined to make sense of the muddle in my head. I do that clean desk/ table thing so each morning feels like a fresh start.



Which magazine do you first remember?
Joe magazine which was founded in 1973 by writer and publisher Hillary Ng’weno and my dad, artist Terry Hirst. The magazine was named after ‘Joe’, a common man who used humour to deal with the realities of urban life in contemporary Africa. Joe was popular all over East Africa and used comic strips, stories and themed columns to address everyday problems.

I remember not understanding what was going on with the words but really liking the cartoon drawings of people and the colours on the cover.



Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
Turps magazine is about painting, written by painters and is on its 25th issue. It is the model and inspiration behind MASS magazine, which is about sculpture written by sculptors.

Marcus Harvey, who is Editor-in-chief of both publications, has a strong ethos of, no advertising, no backers, no professional critics and no lifestyle drivel. Personally I don’t mind a bit of lifestyle drivel but totally agree with the other criteria which means the writing comes from the horse’s mouth, straight from source. Artists can choose what or who they would like to write about or have a dialogue with.



Describe MASS in three words
Peer to Peer


Nicky Hirst, Elemental 147, paired magazine pages


How do you balance your own art practice and writing about art?
MASS is a collaborative effort with many contributors and consequently doesn’t take up a huge amount of time. As with Turps, we intend to produce two copies a year, so once artists have been invited to write something there is a lot of fallow time when they are doing the work.

The really fun bit comes when all the texts and images arrive. To me it felt like making an assemblage with differing weights, speeds, pressures, temperatures and tones. I find the hard bit right now is just trying not to think about the magazine and sculpture programme too much, as that can affect and squish my own practice and studio time.



We don’t have other magazines about sculpture, despite the form's popularity. Why do you think this is?
I think some aspect must be market-led. Sculpture can be awkward and take up space and often needs more materials and expense to produce it than painting. Commercial galleries will always prefer the relative ease of wall based painting, prints and photography and will therefore advertise in those art magazines. Sculpture is also harder to photograph and represent well. There is usually a ‘money shot’ but the really interesting bit might be round the back somewhere.


How do you set the tone for Mass when there’s so little else out there?
In our editorial discussions we thought about what we would want to read and which images would look great. A gender balance is always at the back of my mind too. We focussed on the detail of the texts rather than an overall vision. I think of it like a meal where if you use really good quality, simple ingredients it will always be delicious.



What is the current state of sculpture?
I would say it’s looking pretty healthy right now. Women are a lot more visible in galleries and museums and I’m really enjoying tapping into the wealth of seminars, talks, podcasts etc that are out there.

On the MASS Sculpture Programme we have a visiting artist come in every couple of weeks. People like Annie Cattrell, Richard Perry, Alice Wilson, Terry Smith, Olivia Bax, David Kefford and Laura White have been in. I love the discussions about processes and the stuff of sculpture, the making and thinking through doing.


Please share one piece of advice for somebody wanting to launch their own publication
Do it with friends and people you like and respect.


Giardini della Biennale, Venice 


What are you most looking forward to this coming week?

Some solitary time in my studio then preparations for a trip mid-June to the Venice Biennale 2022. I have swiped through far too many photos of the Biennale on Instagram and cannot wait to see, hear, smell and experience the works for myself in real life.


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