Fellows class

TED2010

About Kate

Bio

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.

Education

  • UC Berkeley; Visual Studies
  • California College of the Arts; Masters of Fine Art

Job Titles

Artist

Skills and interests

Art, Artist, Nano, Structural color

About Kate Nichols’ work

My art explores the myriad ways in which humans manipulate light and color. My choice of media reflects my desire to point out that these light-manipulation practices were developed over many centuries and by diverse communities. To this end, I create my work using techniques developed by medieval artisans, Northern Renaissance painters, Victorian mirror-makers, traditional Filipino food craftsmen, and contemporary chemists. My work makes clear the inclinations and fascinations shared by artists, craftsmen, and scientists alike.

Companies and organizations

The Alivisatos and Arkin Labs at UC Berkeley, California College of the Arts

Uploaded photos

Projects

Jan. 01, 2008 - Present

My art explores the myriad ways in which humans manipulate light and color. My choice of media reflects my desire to point out that these light-manipulation practices were developed over many centuries and by diverse communities. To this end, I create my work using techniques developed by medieval artisans, Northern Renaissance painters, Victorian mirror-makers, traditional Filipino food craftsmen, and contemporary chemists. My work makes clear the inclinations and fascinations shared by artists, craftsmen, and scientists alike.