< Back to List

Nicole Browning

The Soul of Salvia, 2020, Watercolor, Courtesy of the Artist.

Visit Nicole Browning’s website

Hear from the Artist



My name is Nicole Browning, and the work I am exhibiting in the Newport Biennial is called The Soul of Salvia.

I started painting when I lost my 19 year old daughter to suicide. My life was turned upside down and everything around me seemed colorless. I knew that time would eventually lesson the energy required to hide my immeasurable grief, but I could not imagine having the same lust for life and ability to see beauty that I’d previously known.

All of us experience difficulties or trauma in our lives and we wonder how we will pick up the pieces. My paintings are about resilience, the ability to bounce back after setbacks. We often have to learn how to access that, particularly in our most dark times.

Shortly after my child’s death, a friend came by and brought a small children’s watercolor set. She opened the paint, poured a cup of water, and ripped out a piece of paper and implored me to paint. I was struggling and this was the last thing I felt like doing. I was annoyed. But this was a good and insistent friend and so she prevailed. I painted-or made marks with paint like a child would. In that moment of doing I was taken away from my pain.

I subsequently mentioned it to another beloved friend who happened herself to be an immensely talented artist. She marched me right into an art store where she proceeded to fill my basket with brushes, paints and watercolors. She gathered up the supplies, and my broken heart and soul, and we went to a place near the ocean that my daughter had adored. My friend wet the paper, and then just had me throw color on it and play.

As I watched the color saturate the paper, and spread, and flow and move—I was again taken away. I saw how it matched the pain I was feeling and how the spreading and seeping felt like my own. How it started and stopped—never really knowing where it would end up.

And so my journey into painting began. I poured my heart and pain onto the paper. I started seeing the world in pieces of subjects for paintings, and I was ultimately drawn to the beauty, mystery and resiliency of flowers.

Painting gave me the gift of bringing hope and optimism back into sharper focus.When I first saw this salvia captured in this painting, I felt that belly flop with the fullness of its arresting and engaging beauty. I tried to capture that graceful movement, the energy, and the depth of all things in our soul—darkness and light, shiny and flat, muted and sharp, nebulous and formed, warmth and coldness, colorfulness and paleness, and the certainty and uncertainty. So while I painted this salvia and witnessed its beauty and experienced joy over doing so, I marveled at the strength and resilience of the human soul and its mysterious complexity.