Mahlimae (Doll Artist)

Mahlimae: An Interview with Nicole Watt


Magical. Fantastical. Imaginative. Incredibly talented and yet supremely humble, Nicole Watt does not consider herself an artist. She struggles with the definition of seeing herself as such. Grateful for her fans, Nicole appreciates those who have taken a fondness to what she commonly dubs as her "odd little ones". 

Like Nicole, her artwork has a compelling subtlety to them. They have a certain simplicity about them which is hard to resist, and yet their expressions and the emotions they provoke are far from being simple. Nicole's "odd little ones" have a way of drawing people into their ethereal worlds.

Nicole moonlights as an artist. By day, she works with children and families who need her support - at times, vulnerable children whose capacity to survive amidst life's difficulties and turmoil have inspired some of her pieces. There is nothing ordinary about Nicole. An extraordinary individual, her willingness to help young souls and her drive to create simple yet striking masterpieces which touch her fans convey an individual who has a fervor for conjuring the positive aspects of life.

Are you a fan of Nicole's work? Discover more Macabre Artists.

What inspires you?

I find myself frequently inspired by words...folklore, fables, mythology, prose, ritual. It is an incredible thing how a perfectly arranged group of letters can reach off the page and stir something deep within you. For me it's a matter of harnessing that energy and controlling it in such a way that I can guide it into my work.

I have always dreamed of lifting the veil of this world to expose another, one parallel to ours which we have all probably sensed at some point yet been unable to see clearly.

How and when did you first get started creating your dolls?

Towards the end of 2010, following the birth of my youngest daughter, I began stitching. Mainly soft companions for her of my own design although shortly thereafter my audience grew online then spilled over to customers worldwide. I have always harbored a strong desire to bring to life a group of characters with a greater depth, with a more tangible 'essence' than what I could achieve with textiles, so I turned to a different medium to achieve it. In December 2013, I began experimenting with stone clay and after a ridiculously long period of procrastination and self doubt, created my first collection of 'Echoes' and began conjuring the little souls to inhabit them.

What inspired you to incorporate a fae theme to your artwork?

I don't believe it is possible to experience a full and rich life without immersing yourself in the energy of magic, of limitless possibility. I have always dreamed of lifting the veil of this world to expose another, one parallel to ours which we have all probably sensed at some point yet been unable to see clearly. Whilst I never wanted to duplicate the magical world of Froud and other masters of the fae, through my Echoes I like to try and push the boundaries a little and tug at that tiny part of most people that still believes there is something behind the curtain of our everyday lives, coax them into the wild unknown and show them glimpses of what could be.

What is the hardest part about creating your dolls?

The hardest part of each piece I create is my intent to convey as much as I can with as little as possible. I deliberately omit many of the typical indicators of expression such as hands, eyebrows, a mouth etc. through which I hope to provide my audience with the freedom to interpret their own version of the stories hidden within their eyes. Simplicity speaks volumes if you listen...I've discovered it's just really difficult to do well.

Are you working on anything new at the moment?

I am actually creating my first jointed doll at the moment, she is someone who has haunted my dreams for a long while although much to her antipathy she remains in pieces on my work bench whilst I work on a number of creations for various group shows I am a part of both here in Australia and overseas in the coming months.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Most people in my professional life are surprised to learn that I moonlight as 'mahlimae' so potentially those who only know me for my creativity may be surprised to learn that by day I support some very vulnerable children and their families as they traverse through some of life's trickier moments. I am aware that many of the themes I encounter professionally such as vulnerability, loss, and abandonment permeate into my pieces as I struggle to process some of mankind's darker capabilities, but so too does the childlike innocence and light that balances our psyche.

Do you admire any artists?

Oh there are too many to mention, certainly too many to recall in any specific order at least. I adore the enchantingly surreal world of Dilka Nassyrova, frequently get lost in the work of Anja Millen, Ivana Flores, Ozabu, Dan May, Caitlin Hackett, Eric Lacombe, Daria Endresen; and admire the talent and uniqueness of Forest Rogers, Amanda Louise Spayd, Klaudia Gaugier, Valeria Dalmon, Scott Radke ...I could honestly go on and on...

Can you tell me a bit more about these creations - the process you took to make them, what inspired you to create them?

This piece is actually the first I ever sculpted, she is Echo. Purely experimental, she taught me a lot technically and showed me just how I was capable of evoking emotion in others through my pieces; I received some beautiful and heart breaking emails after I shared photos of her. She now watches over me in my studio as I work.

These little guys are called 'Wisps', they are one of many of the the textile creations I have introduced over the past couple of years for the younger folk. I initially designed them as a gift for a friend of mine who had twins as guides through the twists and turns of early life, but couldn't resist making a small batch to share with others. As with most of my textile pieces, I started these with a roughly drawn concept and then cut each free hand out of the softest hand-felted wool; the combination of the asymmetrical cut and the chosen fabric gave them a wonderfully organic feel and resulted in some wonderfully unusual poppets.

Echo 32 was born from the concept of a soul balancing the qualities of fragility and strength, seemingly delicate yet bearing the scars and totem of an unwillingness to flee from adversity. I see this quality in many of the children I have worked with, tiny innocent creatures yet they have had to develop and incredible resilience and innate strength to survive. This piece is now homed with a talented doll maker you have interviewed previously.

This piece titled "Longing" was created for a private commission with a minimal brief, the client allowed me complete artistic control over all the details. The crown was the most challenging aspect of this creation, as I sculpt in numerous layers, I needed to predetermine the height and span of the crown as I was wiring her armature to ensure its strength, was a laborious experience but she is one of my favourites.

Favourite or most inspirational place in Southern Tasmania?

My favourite part of Southern Tasmania is my own 20 acres, it is my ever changing canvas of inspiration. It is so wonderful to see how the seasons are played out in nature here, how it changes the palette of the landscape, the smell of the air.

I have a studio set among the trees that my husband and I built, it is my haven from the reality of the everyday, my bubble where I can just 'be'.

What does being an artist mean to you?

You know I still struggle with the title of 'artist', I have always thought that the title defined others....those who are far more technically brilliant, those more accomplished perhaps?

I was at a gathering recently and my lovely husband happen to mention to someone I was an artist, they later attempted to initiate a conversation with me starting with "'re an artist?!" I immediately went into total denial and continued to minimize what I do as just being creative. It's completely ridiculous in hindsight, but there is something within me that doesn't feel worthy of such a status which in a way, puts me in a category with some of my most admired humans. Nonetheless, I feel so truly grateful to be in a position where people wish to share in what I create, so much so that they wish to purchase the end result of what is an incredibly cathartic process for me, that is such an honour.

Hardest lesson you have ever had to learn as an artist?

To trust in myself, my style and my vision...being "out there" is both a blessing and a curse to someone whose instinct is to run as far from a spotlight as possible. I am learning to be strong in my vision and continue to keep focus no matter the critique.

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Upcoming shows/exhibitions

Aug 31, 2019
La Lune II
International Group Exhibition
Haven Gallery, Northport NY, USA

Nov 2, 2019 
Come Undone
International Group Exhibition
curated by Kylie Dexter
BeinArt Gallery, Melbourne VIC, AU

Dec 14, 2019
International Group Exhibition
curated by Beautiful Bizarre Magazine 
Haven Gallery, Northport NY, USA

For more info on Mahlimae

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