By Amanda Stoll / Photography by Craig Stocks
For Nikole Cooney, art is more than just a hobby; it’s an expression of life. The surreal nature of her paintings and sculptures is confusing to some and insightful to others. Whichever it is, Nikole uses her art to express herself and connect with her audience on a deeper level.
“They each have a specific story, or an observation, or an experience that I’ve been through,” she said. “They all come from a very reflective place.”
Nikole grew up in Green Valley, spending her childhood in the countryside. “I was able to be reflective and let my imagination run free,” she said. “I was in the woods a lot, in nature a lot, and that’s where I would find a lot of my inspiration. The quietness there is just very conducive for me to be able to be creative.”
She began drawing as a young child, and continued being intrigued by art during her time at Parkland College, where she studied Veterinary Technology.
Taking all the art classes she could, Nikole found that her true passion was art. “I’ve always had this draw back to my artwork, and that was where my passion was, where I was happiest and most peaceful.”
She studied art at Illinois Central College and apprenticed under Preston Jackson at the Contemporary Arts Center. He encouraged her to apply to the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, where she later received a presidential scholarship.
“I love the figure, and I like to include animals, and I like using symbolism to lead people to a story,” sad Nikole.
Abstract art can be difficult for an audience to understand, and for Nikole, that’s alright. “It isn’t always easy for a reader to directly interpret, and some of that is intentional,” she said. “Sometimes you want to share the whole story that is on your heart when you make a piece, and sometimes it’s so personal that you want to keep some of it private.”
Whether or not the audience fully understands the meaning or story behind a piece is not the most important part to Nikole, making a personal impact on people is.
“Hopefully there’s something that connects with you on some level that you find intriguing, that makes you want to stand in front of it a little longer, and maybe just wonder about it,” she said.
While much of her recent work has been painting, Nikole is also a sculptor. “I don’t believe you’re either a painter or a sculptor,” she said. “I believe you’re an artist, and you can cross all of those boundaries.”
Nikole lives in Pekin now, and shares a studio at the Contemporary Arts Center in Peoria with her husband, Eric Cooney.
“We are both artists and we really work well together creatively,” said Nikole. “We feed off of each other’s ideas and we propel each other forward”.
Sharing a studio with Eric is something Nikole enjoys because she can collaborate creatively with him continually. “Our pieces are intertwined in thought a lot,” she said. “Being around other artists and creating is inspiring, but when you are on the same path where you just want to propel each other forward, it’s wonderful.”