Old enough to take care of pet birds but unable to fully protect them from pet cats, a very young Nicolini lost several birds in a row to her feline companion. The worst image was of one bird dead, and its mate hiding in the corner of a dollhouse until she rescued it. Getting that picture out of her head and onto a canvas takes about 200 hours of research, sketching, and painting, the end result innocent in the way an illustration in a children’s book is, but seen through the eyes of an adult with a much darker worldview. As example, the purple finch here pulls at a loose string on a carpet in an elegant foyer (inspired by the exhibit of 68-plus Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago). Is the bird simply feathering its nest? Dismantling the house protecting it? Or just trying to feed itself and mistaking a taut string for a worm? Tackling loss, death, and life, each elegant painting pays penance and resurrects those lost pets, but also heals old wounds by creating something beautiful from childhood trauma.
“Moving in with Mrs. Thorne” (2016), oil on panel, 12 by 16 inches. See Nicolini’s work on
exhibit at CAP Gallery in Laguna Beach from March 3 through June 17. You can reach her