Nicole Salgar is one of those street artists who can stop you dead in your tracks. Her epically sprawling and impossibly intricate murals transport viewers into an electric fantasy. Drawing inspiration from everywhere from Barcelona to Gotham City, she and her partner Chuck Berrett add otherworldly texture to the busy streets of New York, inspiring moments of introspection and creative rebirth within even the most hurried passersby. Below, Salgar answers some of our most burning questions. Take a peek, and follow Salgar and Berrett's work here.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started in street art?
I am a miami born artist who came to NYC to pursue a career in fashion. Since the 4th grade, I went to art-specialized schools but turned to fashion in my high school years. I graduated from The Fashion Institute of Technology with a bachelors in Fashion Design and started working in the industry before I got my degree. 7 years of my life I gave to that career, and even though it is still a passion of mine, I chose to focus on my art. In the past, the only people that ever saw my artwork were family or friends. I wanted to make a statement with my work and what better way to do it than by putting it outside on a wall so everyone can see it. Street art in itself generates creativity within our communities, helps rebuild as well as simply making the streets of this world a more interesting place to walk through, and I wanted to give back in a big way.
Who are your inspirations?
As a child, I was always fascinated by comic books. X-men, Spiderman, Batman, etc. I began illustrating by trying to redraw what I saw in my favorite books. You can see a lot of that in my style to this day but my main inspiration comes from art nouveau & the victorian era. My
favorite city is Barcelona, where I spent a lot of time in the past few years. It has a lot of art & architecture by the infamous [Antoni] Gaudi, among other artists from that movement. The colors, the compositions, details, everything inspires me. You can see a lot of that in my clothing design as well. I use a lot of lace, silk, chiffon, mixed with denim, cotton twills,wools,etc. You could say my style is a mix of antique softness with a modern edge.
How is it to collaborate with other artists?
As an artist, I love working alone. Making art is a very solitary thing, but for me, working with and around other people has taken my work to the next level. When you are in your head too much, you tend to over-analyze things. The beauty of collaborating is that it creates a path to let go of these "set ideas" one can have as an artist. We all get stuck in our style, and the way things should look etc. It forces you to look beyond what your stopping point would normally be.
Working with someone else is another way of building on your own idea. Morphing it into something even bigger. Of course it all depends on who you surround yourself with during this process. In the past, I have always created art alone, but this past September I made a choice that changed my artwork in a major way. My partner Chuck Berrett, who also happens to be my significant other, and I decided to submit artwork to do a mural for the Centre Fuge Public Art Project Trailer together in the lower east side. It had been my first time doing a collaboration like that, and although we were skeptical because we have never painted on a scale that large, it was very successful. Not only do we have a great connection and energy as partners but also as artists, and it is obvious when you see our styles come together.
Since we started doing these murals together, we have developed a style as a team. It has been amazing to see it evolve and it just keeps getting better and better with each one we paint. Looking at our murals you can see who worked on what part and who thought up the concept etc. When we work we mostly work beside other muralists / street artists. This is a huge advantage to us because we learn something new from everyone we paint next to and feed off of each others’ energies. We see different styles of painting. Some by hand, with spray cans, wheat paste, different techniques etc. Collaborating has been a great experience and I believe more artists should do it just to switch things up. Give yourself a new perspective.
What cultures and mythologies inspire you?
Since I was a small child, I have traveled all over and was exposed to many different cultures at an early age which I think has influenced me greatly. Egyptian, Spanish, Mayan culture, Ancient Rome, these are only a few that I find inspiration from.
Fantasy and mythology have always been interesting to me because it takes you to another world. An escape from current day life. It also tells a story that usually has some kind of message or lets the person come to their own conclusion, which is what I want to do with my art.
How does your city and its architecture feed and inform your work? Does your vision change depending on the location?
New York City is a wonderful but overwhelming place. It means having to constantly be a step ahead of the game. Think outside the box and find a way to stand out. I feed off of all of this and it helps fuel my creativity. Street art has become very prominent in this city and has been since the late 70's early 80's. It has just been continuously evolving. I am happy to be able to contribute to this in my city and in my neighborhood.
When we paint murals, we have to study the space. Look at the dimensions and the shape to be able to execute what we want to paint accurately. Location is very important, and it does change with each one we do. Each mural has it's obstacles and learning curves. That is what I love about it. It's a constant challenge that to me is very rewarding.
Does being a woman inform your work or influence its reception?
I have yet to feel that being a woman has held me back from painting among [men]. Most of the men around me, that have been doing street art for years, have been very welcoming and even some have given suggestions to better execute the work. I do get a lot of people that tell me they think it is great that I am a woman and have been getting noticed in such a short time period. Shows that hard work and dedication pays off.
Much of your work is transcendent and otherworldly. What are some stories behind the epic murals? Can you tell us a little bit about one of your favorite pieces?
Most of our murals start out with a theme. One of my favorites is our first, a Phoenix, which came about because I was curating and showing work in an art show with the theme being Fire and earth. In Greek mythology, the Phoenix is reborn and obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. A symbol of renewal so it was perfect.
The Mural we are painting now in Bushwick, with a group called NY Street Gallery, the theme is the ocean, which ties into another group show I am curating and showing work in with Chuck Berrett and other great artists at Culture Fix Gallery from Jan 13-21 in the lower east side. Opening reception is on the 16 in case any NYC readers want to come by and check out some of our artwork in person.
What advice would you give aspiring artists?
My advice to other artists would be that if they are truly passionate about what they want to do they should do it whole-heartedly and not think things are "impossible" or "unattainable". If I had had that mindset I wouldn't be where I am today.
Images via Lois Stavsky, Daniel Albanese, Chuck Berrett, and Louis Salgar