Mississippi Artist Draws Inspiration From Plants, Ecology

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — When Nicole Dikon was in high school in Florida, she thought she wanted to be a marine biologist. That notion changed when she got to community college.

“I started taking art classes, and I tried other things, but art is what stuck,” said Dikon, 31. “My paternal grandfather was a watercolor and landscape painter, and my mom also went to school for painting, so art was pretty much taught to me from the beginning.”

The Hawaii native went to the University of Central Florida in Orlando to work on her bachelor’s degree in art, then took a couple of years off from school and moved to Los Angeles.

“I kept painting and doing my art in L.A., but I decided to go back to Florida and use my scholarship to finish my degree,” she said.

While there, she studied under Ke Francis, an acclaimed artist who now lives in Tupelo.

“He was my instructor, but also my advisor and mentor,” Dikon said. “We were discussing my paintings, and he suggested I try woodcut, a type of printmaking.”

Dikon took that advice to heart, and after she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from UCF, she went on to Temple University in Pennsylvania, where she received her Master of Fine Arts in printmaking.

“I moved to Tupelo in 2017,” Dikon said. “There were about six of us who had studied under Ke in the past, and we’d come up here to Tupelo to work with him or in this studio.”

Right now, Dikon is the only one using the studio on Coley Road. Her co-artists have left to go on to graduate school. One of those artists is her partner, Jager Palad, a painter and printmaker who is working on his master’s in Iowa City.

“Ke knows, being an artist himself, that the first few years out of school are the toughest,” she said. “He lets us use this space until we become more established.”

Dikon works a couple of hours three to four days a week in the studio. She balances that time with a business she and Chasiti McGhee started in 2019 called Phlox.

“It’s regenerative garden design,” Dikon said. “We focus on native plants and edible plants. We don’t work with chemicals – we’re organic based. My time management skills have gotten much more efficient since we started the business.”

When Dikon is in the studio, she has learned to work quickly.

“I make whole bodies of work in the same color range, the same color harmonies,” she said. “I may work on eight or 10 paintings at one time.”

Dikon’s paintings are an offshoot of her woodcut work.

“For woodcut, basically I take a piece of wood, cut out an image and then roll ink on it,” she said. “I put a piece of paper on it and send it through a printing press, which puts a lot of pressure on it. When I pull the print off, the woodcut has left an impression on the paper.”

A single piece of paper may go through the press 20, 30 or 40 times, as Dikon creates each layer of the artwork.

“Each woodblock is a note to a song,” she said. “And I layer the notes in different orders in different prints.”

She draws from nature for most of her woodblocks, she said.

“I’ll go outside and draw something on paper, and if I like the drawing, I’ll transfer it to a woodcut,” she said. “The colors I use are pretty intuitive — I might find inspiration from a piece of fabric, or something in nature, or some man-made space.”

For paintings, Dikon might trace a design from a woodcut onto paper, and cut it out, like a stencil. Then she’ll trace the design onto a canvas, which will become an element of a painting.

“Basically, I’m recycling the shapes of the woodblocks in my paintings,” she said. “The drive behind making my work has always been plant-focused or ecology-focused.”

Dikon said her artwork, which includes prints, paintings and collages, can take anywhere from two weeks to two years to complete.

“Sometimes, you can see a piece needs something, but I don’t know the answer to the next step,” she said. “I might not see it until I’ve worked on other pieces.”

Dikon has been showing and selling her work at the Caron Gallery in downtown Tupelo since she moved here four years ago. Currently, she’s working on a new series of acrylic paintings for a special release in November.

“These pieces have not been shown anywhere else and are exclusively available at the Caron Gallery,” she said.

Dikon said her experience in Tupelo has been a positive one, but she’s not sure if this will become home. Her partner, Palad, will finish his master’s degree in May. At that point, the couple will have to make a decision.

“We’ll re-evaluate and decide whether we’re going to stay here or move,” she said. “I kind of like it here. But we don’t plan to have kids, so we don’t have to put down major roots anywhere. We’re kind of fluid.”