Today, I’m excited to share the work of Vicki Brown (a.k.a. La Nomadita) with you. Vicki has created a series of incredible artworks spanning her journey from Marrakech to Lisbon, and she’s put together her pieces with a narrative especially for you. You can find out more about Vicki, her travels and her art at La Nomadita and on Twitter.
Labyrinth was the first painting I did of Marrakech, and it was an absolute joy to work on. As I sat in front of it and drew the details of the canvas, I was faced with a brilliant wall of many shades of red – much like the walls of the city itself. It was Marrakech in all its jumble of wonder, the nameless backstreets, wondering if I’d ever find my way back to my riad, the glimpses of palms and tilework and Arabic signs through every alleyway, door and window frame.
Stars Above and Below
On the overnight train between Tangier and Marrakech, I awoke in the early hours of the morning and peered out of the window as we crossed the desert. It was pitch black – but the sky was carpeted with stars. I remember wondering how people used to use stars to navigate – the odd pinprick we see in European cities is not much of a GPS. But out there, on the edges of the Sahara, the stars traced their own vast map in the sky, as clear as any roadmap. They were barely any dimmer in Marrakech itself; this painting, Stars above and Below, is the view from the rooftop terrace of my riad, with the celestial glow above me and the star-patterned ceramic tiles beneath my feet.
The experience of travelling overland to Morocco was surreal; I boarded a boat in one continent and disembarked in another. This was the first time I had set foot outside of Europe and the US, and as I stood on Tangier beach, able to see Spain across the dark blue waters of the Strait of Gibraltar, I was stunned at how two countries could be so close – yet so distant.
The Thin Line
Andalucia’s architecture has fare more in common with North Africa than with the rest of Europe, with its flat-topped, whitewashed buildings and wrought iron window grilles. But here on the Moroccan side, the men outside the cafes were drinking mint tea rather than ice cold beer, and the call to prayer bounced off the gleaming white walls. The Thin Line was inspired by this.
Urban Sprawl and Lanterns were experiments in using not just the paint but the canvas itself to rebuild the Moorish cities as I had experienced them. Marrakech just didn’t fit neatly into a rectangle, and much as this ancient cities had grown almost organically over the centuries, I liked the thought that the paintings could do the same, as new canvases were added on, a puzzle coming together. By the time I painted these, I had been living back in Seville for some time, and my Andalucian surroundings were unconsciously influencing my paintings; details have crept in from the Moorish Alcazar and the Sevillian tilework as the two cities merged in my memory.
A close up of Mezquita
Mezquita’s Spanish inspiration is clear: Cordoba’s incredible church-turned-mosque-turned-cathedral, alongside the fragrant orange blossom (the wonderfully named azahar) that lends its scent to the Spanish streets each spring.
Lisbon inspired me to fill a sketchbook during my first visit; when I moved there several years later it provided the perfect progression for my paintings. My work had always been based on the geometric patterns of the Arabic tiles – now it was softened by the gently rounded, almost floral shapes painted onto Portugal’s characteristic azulejos tiles. Lisbon is a city of tiles, in fact – the buildings’ facades are covered with shining white, blue and sea green squares; the roofs are tiled in orange, and the pavements are swirling black and white mosaics.
While Marrakech had been an asymmetric cluster of canvases, Lisbon was pieced together with square “tiles”. Living there for a year gave me long hours to wander the city without a map, climbing the endless steps, walking through archways to discover what was on the other side, and sketching azulejos wherever I went, fuelled by potent Portuguese coffee. This painting evolved over several weeks, to capture the experience of walking through these picturesque streets, and being utterly charmed by my new home.