Nicki Shockz Combines the Physical and Digital with an Optimistic Palette

At a small operation such as the Hardy Gallery in Ephraim, staff members end up doing a little bit of everything, said Sarah Zamecnik, the gallery’s executive director. As an example, she had spent time that morning repairing a lockbox. 

Nicki Shockz. Submitted.

Such an environment has been a good fit for Nicki Shockz: someone who thrives on trying new things, has a mix-and-match approach to her own art, and has pretty much wrapped up her fourth summer working at the Hardy.

Shockz studied in the BFA program at St. Norbert College and worked in its art gallery under curator Shan Bryan-Hanson. There Shockz learned how to hang shows, including complex ceramics installations, and how to design the graphics for the explanatory text on the gallery walls. After graduating, Shockz took a year off to apply for grad school, and without a school schedule, she could work through the entire season.

“She was such a good employee, I asked her to come back,” Zamecnik said. 

Though Shockz is now in her second year at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco and Oakland – the first year of the MFA was online, and COVID-19 played havoc with schedules – Zamecnik was pleased to have her back for an unprecedented fourth season.

With grandparents Joe and JoAnn Havel in Southern Door, Shockz has been visiting Door County for years from her home in Elgin, Illinois, and even has a working studio that her grandfather helped her create in a 100-year-old barn.

“When I decided to be an artist, I was like, ‘Oh, I need a studio,’” Shockz said. “It’s big and so Door County.”

Her grandparents continued to foster her artistic pursuits when she asked to use an old shed on the property as her oversized canvas for a spray painting. 

Shockz painted this shed on her grandparents’ property, where her studio is located. Submitted.

“I wanted to try a mural, and they said, ‘Sure, go ahead,’” Shockz said. 

“My whole family is a big support system for me and my art career, and they’re encouraging and helpful.”

Although she did her undergraduate studies in graphic design, Shockz also took a lot of fine-art courses, and fine art is her focus in grad school. Still, she plans to take full advantage of CCA’s interdisciplinary approach to combine her digital work, cutouts of textiles and paper, and traditional painting in acrylics and spray paint. And Shockz won’t stop there either: She’ll take a film class, be the teacher’s assistant for a textile class and is looking forward to the oddly titled class, Anti Closing Down the Machines.

“I heard it was a great course to change your way of thinking and how you make work,” she said. 

That may be helpful as Shockz prepares for the graduate exhibition, which will combine all of her artistic approaches.

Some of her pieces have combined stencils she’s designed on a computer and then produced through using a Cricut machine that can print or cut the designs. Then she prints a page or two of the code as text and combines that with the design that the code has produced. 

Shockz works on a piece inside her rustic barn studio. Photo by Katie Hopkins.

“It is a way to layer more meaning and to show different ways of painting – contrasting the computer with the human eye, the digital and the handmade,” Shockz said. “I just really love layering things, hiding things under things and building up imagery so it is super dense – borderline sensory overload.

“I do love the precision you can get with digital work, but I also like to get messy and use real paints,” Shockz said. “I like the happy accidents with spray painting or using acrylic paints.”

Those qualities lend themselves well to her bold, super-saturated color palette, which she noticed brightening during the winter in Illinois. 

“The Midwest winters are so long and cold and dreary,” Shockz said. “I just crave this bright color in winter when the skies are gray and there’s snow on the ground.”

An avowed optimist, she’s looking forward to working in the art world: in a gallery, as an artist, as a teacher or in some combination of all three. For now, she’ll return to Ephraim to install the Hardy’s final show of the season, which features landscapes. 

“The Hardy is such a great place and a good connector, too, for all the Door County artists,” Shockz said. “It’s how I’ve met a lot of artists.”

And as a graffiti-art enthusiast, she finds the Hardy, with its heavily graffiti-painted exterior walls, to be the perfect spot.