Nine questions with Nigel Sense

A profile of the artist in anticipation of his upcoming exhibition ‘Departure Lounge’

Nine questions with Nigel Sense

Nigel Sense’s upcoming exhibition ‘Departure Lounge’ has been delayed to 18 September to 30 October, in light of Melbourne’s lockdown restrictions. So put down your luggage and pick up our equivalent of some in-flight entertainment as we spent some time getting to know Nigel Sense and hear his thoughts on art, travel and starring in a Bollywood film.

Nigel Sense in his studio, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist

What is your artistic outlook on life?

My artistic outlook on life is a Anthony Bourdain quote “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park, enjoy the ride”. That doesn’t mean I want to get loaded all the time, it just means I just want to live a life that’s fun and happy.

What music have you been listening to lately? 

The music changes depending on the time of day. No one wants to wake up straight away and start listening to Lou Reed. But I have had a lot of Lou Reed, Johnny Thunders, Mark Lanegan on – mmm my music choice is fucking depressing, maybe I need The Smiths on to make it even more dark! The last few days I’ve been listening to Prince so that’s a change for the better.

What was your process in creating ‘Departure Lounge’ and how do you approach painting generally? 

I like the saying – “Painting is the easy part, it’s what to do when you’re not painting that’s difficult.” The painting process comes second nature to me, it’s like breathing or eating, I just do it. I love being in the Studio. I feel connected to life and feel free. With ‘Departure Lounge’ I had more time to just look and slow it all down a bit. If I wanted to spend the whole day in the studio just looking at the painting I would.

Why is travel important to you?

Travel means everything to me – seeing how other cultures live is amazing. It makes me a better human and apart from art it’s one thing I’m really good at. The person I am today is because of travel. It is a way of life, you either get it or you don’t.

What’s your best travel story?

Wow, that’s a tough one, so many great stories – but I will tell this one: My girlfriend, now my wife, and I were walking around Colaba, Mumbai and we got stopped by a talent scout and asked if we wanted to be in a Bollywood movie. That morning we had promised each other we would say yes to more things as we travel so we said ‘OK, sure!’.

We were in the Bollywood movie called Blue with Kylie Minogue as back up dancers. It was wild. I even got to chat to Kylie Minogue for a minute or two and yes, we can been seen in the movie dancing. I love seeing how the movie was made, all the sets were made out of plywood or cardboard so you couldn’t lean on anything. My wife was also in rap video in Sri Lankan too.

How have the periods of lockdown and travel restrictions affected your practice? 

It’s been shit really. We have been living a nomadic life for the last few years, and we had sold everything we owned, so coming back to Australia last year because of Covid was hard. At times depressing and brutal, but it was my art practice and my wife that saved me. My paintings have gotten brighter and happier as I’ve tried to lose myself in my practice.

I thought my paintings during Covid would be very dark, but I’m glad they’re not. There is enough bad shit out there at the moment so isn’t it nice to be surrounded by happiness and positivity for a change.

Where’s the first place you’d visit once restrictions are lifted? 

Anywhere that will have me. I don’t give a shit! But I would love to move to Oaxaca, Mexico in the next few years. It’s an amazing place to be an artist and I love Mexico.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I have been given a few good pieces of advice and some really shit ones too. There’s one piece of advice that changed everything for me: First trip to Thailand in my 20’s and I had just finished a day tour and the local guide invited us over to his family home for tea. It was really a modest place to say the least, a kind of a tin shed, and I was thinking ‘wow this is tough going’. As we left I gave him a tip. He said he didn’t need the money. He could see I was confused and asked me how many days a week do I work. He told me he only works two days a week and hangs out with his family and friends the rest of the time, which made him have a happy life. I was working a lot, 70 hours a week kind of thing. It was the first time I realised that money doesn’t equal happiness. I come home, sold a lot of shit. It truly changed how I still live my life now.

And what piece of advice would you give?

Don’t take advice from people like me! I don’t know, just live a good life, don’t sweat the little stuff and remember life is about chasing joy.


Nigel Sense’s ‘Departure Lounge’ will run from September 18 to October 30 at Fox Galleries.