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


Maddi Nicholson

Artist Founder Director, Art Gene, alongside Stuart Bastik

Maddi has leading role in most 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 also our lead fundraiser and there is no limit to her ambition for Art Gene’s role in bringing intelligent social and economic regeneration and reform to the Barrow-in-Furness area and beyond.


Maddi Nicholson (foreground) and Hannah Brackston in the Art Gene Workshop, working on one of the Razzle-Dazzle Hides Art Gene designed and made as part of a commission by Cumbria Wildlife Trust for the South Walney Nature Reserve, 2016.


Maddi is currently heading the Islands and Bays of Barrow Coastal Communities Team: an association of stakeholders of the Cumbrian coastline: community representatives, local businesses & industry, environmental & ecological statutory bodies and charities. In 2017, The Islands and Bays of Barrow and Furness Coastal Team was awarded £444K from the Coastal Communities Fund to begin to act on the aspirations of our team’s Economic Place Plan written by Charlie MacKeith and Maddi Nicholson.

The plan focuses on a suite of projects which will improve our green infrastructure and develop mechanisms through which our communities can become more engaged with our outstanding natural heritage assets as a means through which to improve health and well being.

Find out more about the Islands and Bays of Barrow Coastal Communities Team.


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 and video. Past commissions range from a 6 meter 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), and featured in Huff Puff and Blow – a collaboration with filmmaker Sheryl Jenkins.
Photos by Rob Fraser


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 as part of Housing Market Renewal schemes. 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 or 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 has embedded, and 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 a growing number of useful materials for my work.
These artificial handleable versions of life form the basis of many sculptural installations and models or are the beginning impetuous for other pieces of work.

Maddi Nicholson


Image above: Maddi’s Studio
Image above: The Moment it All Changed, by Maddi Nicholson.
Image below: 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 dam you, God dam you all to hell’.

Chartlon Heston, Planet of the Apes, 1968

Image below: Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, by Maddi Nicholson. Archival prints.


Nicholson Bastik

Since 1996, Maddi has been collaborating with Stuart Bastik as under the title 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 have been collaborating on One for Sorrow – a war memorial and working gate, leading onto the North Walney Nature Reserve (the site of the Art Gene archeological 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 current project Allotment Soup – a field sized exploration of community gardening, Maddi and Armelle Tardiveau of e.c. Architects took Year 6 children from Vickers Town Primary School. Read more in Curating the Ground.

Maddi has undertaken a wealth of projects, commissions, exhibitions and residencies, in community and educational contexts, giving lectures and courses of training. She was invited Speaker at the 2008 Labour Party Conference, on Art, Business and Education.


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 (inter)national programme and test-bed-concept Barrow-by-Design, had already seen Art Gene pursuing pioneering working partnerships with local and sub-regional regeneration authorities in Cumbria, which we aimed to adapt and apply globally through our associates. (See Barrow by Design, Shop Fronts link below).

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 both Barrow and beyond). Find out more about the Re-visioning Utopia Charette

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