Home » Artists and Residences » Maddi Nicholson

Image above: Going Home from Here (pictured at Roanhead, Barrow-in-Furness) by Maddi Nicholson, 2009 Photo by Rob Fraser
Maddi Nicholson

Maddi Nicholson

Artist, Co-founder, Director, Art Gene

Maddi takes a leading role in Art Gene projects – if she is not lead artist herself, you can be sure she is behind the scenes contributing ideas and ensuring everything runs smoothly, or cooking up a feast for our guests. Maddi is the public face of the company and is ambitious for Art Gene’s role in bringing intelligent social and economic regeneration and reform to the Barrow-in-Furness area and beyond.

Above: Still from Sediments – Barrow Islands, Clara Casian, 2019

Maddi is currently leading Real Barrow, the latest programme of work supported by Arts Council England’s funding for National Portfolio Organisations. In recent years she has been the driving force behind major projects including Low Carbon Barrow, supported by the ERDF and Cumbria LEP, and The Islands and Bays of Barrow and Furness Coastal Team, awarded £444k from the Coastal Communities Fund to act on the aspirations of our team’s Economic Place Plan written by Charlie MacKeith and Maddi Nicholson.

The plan focused on a suite of projects to improve local green infrastructure and develop mechanisms through which our communities could become more engaged with our outstanding natural heritage assets, improving health and well being.

Artist in Residence

In her solo work, Maddi has a diverse practice. She works primarily with people and place – her interest is in communities: communities of people, of objects, of interest, of life – and the choices and allegiances that one makes.

Artworks include inflated structures, plastic installations, and works in photography, painting, textiles and video. Past commissions range from a 6 metre-high pink inflated bathtub balanced on the balcony of Bishop Auckland Town Hall, Shall I Draw You a Bath Dear, to 1000 inflated dog bones wallpapering gallery walls, in the installation, Bone Idle.

Her large scale works have clad castles, London tower blocks, town halls, art galleries and vehicles ranging from a Norwegian passenger ferry to double decker buses and trucks.

A self-proclaimed ‘Artist in Residence’ in Barrow since 1990, she came to the area for a year residency, was intrigued and stayed.

It’s got under my skin. I live and work in a place that could be considered to be the periphery; it is far from that. The perspective here is more interesting, you could say it is the raw truth”. Maddi Nicholson

Going Home from Here

Image above: Maddi Nicholson’s Going Home from Here, pictured at Burlington Slate Quarry, Coniston (left and centre),

In Going Home from Here, Maddi recreated a derelict terraced house, from Arthur Street in Barrow-in-Furness, into a photographic ink jet printed PVC inflated replica. Two thirds the scale of the original terraced house, it was complete with ‘tinnies’ on the windows and doors – a statement of urban decay.
The dense terraces, very much part of the Northern landscape are now in some areas considered substandard, and are demolished and replaced, for example, as part of the Housing Market Renewal scheme. Arthur Street in Barrow was formerly a shining example of civic pride, with well publicised 1970s images of street parties. However in recent years, a number of social problems have blighted this formerly proud street, it became a so called ‘problem area’, which in part led to its demolition.

“My work looks at and celebrates ideas of cultural and social distinctiveness, in areas perceived as being socially and culturally deprived”. Maddi Nicholson

Terrace on Tour took the house to various beauty spots around Cumbria. It was rebuilt -inflated – on beaches and parkland. Out of the context of the street, the single terrace had a considerable effect on the positive perception, status and interest in such housing.

Small Holdings

“I grew up on a rural small-holding in the 1960s, with my grandparents who were still living with the 40’s ‘Make do and Mend’ ethos; nothing was thrown away but reassembled into the next shed, hen pen, frock or blanket. This was true vernacular living and a long way from the romantic view of ‘The Good Life’ – my grandmother certainly bore no resemblance to Felicity Kendal. In hindsight, it was an invaluable early training in how to make everything you need in life from what is already around you.

This early learning was embedded, and today my studio is cluttered with the detritus of humanity. A single wall houses shelves of multiple collections of objects ranging from all the brick walls, hens, sheep and hay bales produced in farm sets, to each type of action man boot, handgun and helmet. Certain plastic toys fascinate me, all those I desired as a child, but couldn’t have. Liberated as an adult I have redressed the balance, and scour junk shops for what I now call a huge archive, a growing number of useful materials for my work. These artificial handleable versions of life form the basis of many of my sculptural installations or are the beginning impetuous for other pieces of work.” Maddi Nicholson

Several brown, plastic, inflatable monkeys, 50cm high, with an arm raised above their heads stand in Maddi's studio. In the foreground are framed art works featuring the toys.
Maddi’s Studio
Image of a grey plastic toy soldier and an orange plastic toy pig with their heads transposed
The Moment it All Changed, by Maddi Nicholson
Two plastic figurines on green bases, holding ducks and perhaps depicted working in a farmyard, with superimposed toy duck heads.
Found You – The Happy Couple, by Maddi Nicholson. Archival Print.

Deception and Decoys

“I see a story a person or character in every object, one thing is often something else, with another hidden beneath. In this way the objects can be seen as playful, a decoy, a foil to facilitate, question or reference a deeper understanding of the human condition.” Maddi Nicholson

Image above: Penthouse Apartments Available for Rent, Good Views Interesting Neighbours (detail) 80 birdboxes and plastic figures

“There is a plastic soup of waste thrown away by humankind, floating in the Pacific Ocean; when it forms an island we should be proud. The love children conceived between the Lord of the Flies and Planet of the Apes will inhabit it.” Maddi Nicholson

“God damm you, God damm you all to hell”, spoken by Chartlon Heston, Planet of the Apes, 1968

Two plastic inflatable monkeys facing one another, heads manipulated to simulate guns firing a cream plastic foam.
Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, by Maddi Nicholson. Archival print

Nicholson Bastik

Since 1996, Maddi has been collaborating with Stuart Bastik as  Nicholson Bastik. Together they have designed architectural projects including schools, playgrounds and the superb Roker Pods, commissioned by Sunderland City Council for Roker Beach.

Image above: Roker Pods, by Nicholson Bastik, 2012

More recently Maddi and Stuart collaborated on One for Sorrow – a war memorial and working gate, leading onto the North Walney Nature Reserve (the site of the Art Gene archaeological project Fort Walney, Uncovered). One for Sorrow represents both the fragile nature of wildlife, and the men who were so tragically lost in battle.

Image above: One for Sorrow (detail), by Maddi Nicholson and Stuart Bastik, with Charlie MacKeith


Maddi has a strong interest in education and research. As part of our long-term project Allotment Soup, a field sized exploration of community gardening, Maddi and Armelle Tardiveau of e.c. Architects worked in-depth with Year 6 children from Vickerstown Primary School. The work is described on this Curating the Ground project page.

Maddi has undertaken a wealth of commissions, exhibitions and residencies, in community and educational contexts, and gives regular lectures and courses of training.

Image above: Curating the Ground

In 2009, Maddi Nicholson, Stuart Bastik and Steve Harris ran Art Gene’s now legendary Re-visioning Utopia Charette. Our international programme and test-bed-concept Barrow-by-Design, had already seen Art Gene pursuing pioneering working partnerships with local and regional regeneration authorities in Cumbria, which we aimed to adapt and apply globally through our associates.

Over 4 days, Re-Visioning Utopia brought artists, architects and academics together in small multi-disciplinary teams that were fuelled both by an intensive series of research field-trips exploring the diversity of Barrow and its islands, and chaired debates on both achievable and imaginable objectives for Barrow and beyond.

Image above: One for Sorrow (detail), by Maddi Nicholson and Stuart Bastik, with Charlie MacKeith

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