Kate Nichols is an artist obsessed with mimicry in biology and art, and how it blurs the boundaries between nature and artifice, science and art
She can trace this interest back some ten years—when she became wholly consumed by the desire to paint the luminosity of human skin in the way Northern Renaissance and Baroque painters did. Kate left college for a year to study as a painter’s apprentice, learning fifteenth-century painting and paint-making techniques.
After practicing as a painter in San Francisco for a number of years, Kate became fascinated by the surfaces of structurally colored animals—metallic-looking beetles, butterflies, and fish. Kate wrote a letter to scientist Paul Alivisatos at UC Berkeley, relating her wish to mimic these colors using nanoparticles. Much to her surprise, Alivisatos invited her to join his lab as its artist-in-residence, an offer she readily accepted. The methods by which Kate’s lab mates taught her to make nanoparticles were similar to those she encountered as a painter’s apprentice. She watched, repeated their actions, and made mistakes—in essence, she learned through mimicry. Her circuitous path, compelled by curiosity, has resulted in an art practice that blurs the line between science and art.
In 2010, Kate was appointed a TED Fellow and was awarded a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship. Despite her devotion to apprentice-style learning, Kate holds a B.A. in Studio Art from Kenyon College, a M.A. in Visual Studies from UC Berkeley, and an MFA from California College of the Arts. She has given lectures at TED, 3M corporate headquarters, TED Active, TEDxRainier, and the University of Florida. She lives in San Francisco.
TEDWomen 2013, TED Fellows Retreat 2013, TED2013, TEDActive 2012, TEDWomen 2010, TED2010
Areas of Expertise
I'm passionate about
Learning through making. Self-assembly. Bio-inspired design. Butter. Art. Color.
Talk to me about
Structural color. Nano. Art. Paintings. Bio-inspired design.
People don't know I'm good at