A peacock is crying and dogs in the distance are howling but I am transfixed by a bright white Gandalf flying through the air and landing precariously on the top of the window shutter, his silent partner Merlin below gazing up at him in awe.
I am in artist Christie Nicholas’ home in the heart of the Coín countryside and we are watching three of her seven cats frantically attempt to reach a bird’s nest on the other side of the window. The cats have nearly used up all of their nine lives as they climb and jump with kamikaze glee.
Much like her feline friends Christie has lived many lives within her lifetime, having channelled her gift for compassion, expression and art in various forms. But that’s not difficult when you have magic hands. And it is these hands that have seen her take on many a persona; as a semi-pro Flamenco dancer they’ve twisted, as an actress and model they’ve posed, as a professional osteopath and reiki practitioner she’s used them to heal, as a therapist they’ve held the hands of others, and now they have reached their true purpose in life – her hands have created one of the region’s most talented sculptor and painter.
So how did Christie go from successful London osteopath to rural-living Spanish artist?
‘I couldn’t fight it any longer,’ she says smiling. ‘It was a leap of faith, but I knew if I gave it my all I would learn and evolve every day, which I did. Then one day I was introduced to the widow of former Labour MP Bernie Grant, who commissioned me to create a sculpture of her late husband.’ Making a bronze statue is a complicated process beginning with creating the piece from clay, setting it in wax, casting it in cement, then forging in bronze (something that is done industrially on such a large scale). It was this piece of work that set her career as an artist in stone, so it was a bitter irony that by the time the bronze bust was unveiled in front of more than three-hundred influential business people and celebrities, she was on the verge of emigrating.
‘Finally I was being taken seriously as an artist and my career was taking off, but plans to leave the UK were already in place. Had I stayed in London I would have been an established artist by now, but then my husband and I wouldn’t be living here,’ she gestures at the surrounding countryside as we step into the garden studio that she’s been gradually converting into her dream workspace.
The glassless window serves as the perfect frame for the rugged view of undulating hills and wild grasses, home to her veritable farmyard of pampered pets. There’s a large grassy run for Contessa, the twenty-two year old tortoise she bought from a pet shop in order to rescue it from the shop window it had been trapped in for two years, two enclosures for the four pot-bellied pigs, ‘which had been sold to us as pigmy pigs, but just grew and grew,’ she laughs. There are four dogs at the back of the house being separated from a huddle of stray kittens she has recently taken in, plus a deep pond full of carp and a tiny turtle. Christie’s two horses will soon be re-introduced to the family too now that their field is ready. At night, she tells us, she’s serenaded by nightingales and owls. It’s this landscape that never sleeps that inspires her every day.
‘I’ve always been creative and have dabbled in art since I was a kid,’ she says, as she puts on her paint-splattered apron and swipes her fingers along the naked clay form that she has only just started working on. ‘Art has come naturally to me all my life, but like most children I wasn’t encouraged to pursue it, it didn’t seem like something I could make a living from.’ Her chestnut curls bob up and down, glowing in the afternoon sun, as her fingertips plough, gouge and pinch at the clay that is coming to life in her hands. ‘My work is about energy, you have to give and take from your art, read the subject and feel them form beneath your hands. Clay is from the living earth, and it’s this that takes shape naturally without me thinking too hard about it.’ It’s hard to believe that the North London girl has ever been anything but a trained artist, her oil paintings are as raw and vibrant as her sculptures, each swipe and layer of paint building up the image until it is nearly as three dimensional as her sculptures. ‘I’d always wanted to go to art school but I was guided into a life of medicine, never quite believing that I had any kind of talent. Even when art teachers told me I ‘had it’ and that there wasn’t much more they could teach me, I didn’t believe them. I have always felt like a fake.’
There is nothing fake about Christie’s work, it is more real than life itself, and thankfully she will be sharing her creations with the public in September when she collaborates with two other artists on her first major exhibition. And she certainly isn’t short of masterpieces. She shows me a collection of small statues squatting, lying and crouching on her worktops.
‘This is my favourite,’ she says, pointing to a figure of a lady siting in an uncomfortable pose. You can see the muscles straining and pulling beneath the rough hue of the clay marked by Christie’s quick strokes and fingerprints. ‘Being an osteopath has really helped with my sculpting. I understand the human body, how it works, how it’s made. But it’s the journey the artist has taken in their work that has always inspired me, the roughness and impreciseness that fascinates me. That’s why I love Rodin and Lucien Freud, their work is perfect because it’s so imperfect.’
She shows me a dramatic dark sketch of a horse she created using a broken twig and black Indian ink, along with single line life drawings and busy thick brush strokes on her vibrant oil landscapes.
‘I work with nature within nature,’ she says by way of explanation. ‘You have to keep things fresh and innovative to keep learning’
Like her creative heroes, there is a lot more to Christie’s works of art than just colour, form and technique. An energy and humanity emanates from every piece in her studio, such as the bespectacled lady that peers out at us from a large canvas in the centre of the room. I feel like she is watching us, eager to interrupt our conversation. ‘That’s my Godmother and she’s a big character,’ Christie laughs. ‘My art has never been about capturing what someone looks like, but more about who they are inside. My challenge in life has always been to discover the authenticity within a person, and art is a great way of doing that. So many people need uplifting, if you just take away their ego and what they think they need to be then you can uncover their very essence. Their soul.’
Back out in the garden there’s an urgent flurry of grey and blue feather as a peahen flies over our heads.
‘Gladys! No!’ Christie shouts, hurdling over Contessa the tortoise and shooing the bird away. ‘Leave the kittens alone, they are not yours!’
I stand and watch her running and jumping, flapping her magic hands in the air, until the peahen bows obediently and returns to her nest. Here is a soul who has truly found her authenticity, who has embraced nature and has had nature bestow gifts upon her in return. Christie has always been true to herself, she knows who she is – she is a healer, a protector and a creator. She is an artist in every possible way.