painting the edges of memory
Nostalgia and storytelling in the work of Nicole White Kennedy
By Kathryn Manis
NE COULD ARGUE that
all visual art is narra-tive;
that a time, place,
context, and subject
are implied once brush
is set to canvas in both
representational and abstract art.
And yet, there are those images that
take this experience a step further. Like
a well-edited movie trailer or polished
advertisement, visual art can paint a world
for the viewer, even in a spatially restricted
Nicole Kennedy is an artist who entices
her audience with story and emotion,
even as she focuses on a single moment in
time. Kennedy paints en plein air as well as
from photos that she takes herself. She has
cultivated a unique style for which she has
received many awards. Her work includes
a wide range of subjects, including Italian
street scenes, architectural elements in the
Bahamas, and empty boats bobbing gen-tly
Nicole White Kennedy paints on the docks at
Seapath in Wrightsville Beach, where she and her
husband keep their 34-foot Elco picnic boat.
in the water, but all of Kennedy’s paintings are distinctly hers.
She is perhaps best known for her “Beach People” series, vignettes
of human life and interaction inspired by years spent at Wrightsville
“Girl with a Bright Orange Skirt,” one of the series, depicts a young
woman standing at the surf’s edge. The girl holds a pair of sandals
in her left hand. A breeze rising off the water picks up her shoulder-length
blond hair and long, orange skirt. Her perfectly curled hair,
brightly colored clothing, and metallic shoes suggest that she has
arrived at the beach from a special occasion. The girl is alone, but she
is poised on the edge of motion as she looks searchingly in the direc-tion
of the viewer, anticipating the arrival of a friend or loved one.
Both the girl and her surroundings are gently crafted, with impres-sionistic
brushstrokes and masterful capture of light. The waves rise
to the shoreline in front of her as the shallow water she is standing in
WBM july 2017
pulls back, capturing the ebb and flow of
Across her body of work, Kennedy’s
interest in painting motion is apparent.
This is why water appears in many of her
“I like the movement of water,” she says.
“It reminds me of spontaneity and youth;
of being on the beach at that time of your
life when everything was beautiful and
In “Ripple Effect,” two small, brightly col-ored
boats bob gently on the water next
to a dock. The soft teal and maroon of the
boats is contrasted by bright yellows and
primary blues that are reflected on the
water around them. Kennedy’s ability to
paint shadow and variation in light grants
the flat surface of the canvas a sense of
soft, constant movement and inspires
a feeling of nostalgia. Like an image on
screen, this painting allows viewers to step
into the scene; to sit on the dock with their
feet in the water and listen to the small waves lap gently against the
side of the boats.
Though Kennedy has experimented with a variety of painting styles
— from abstracts to landscapes and everything in between — she
prefers to paint images that involve people or movement. But she
makes an exception for boats.
“I do a lot of boats,” Kennedy says with a smile. “They are like people
to me and they have great form and structure. And boats all make
When viewing her paintings of these craft, you can almost hear the
subtle splashing of the water, the rocking of the boats being gently
tossed, and the cry of gulls overhead.
Kennedy and her husband moved to North Carolina in 1996 to
open Caffe Luna in Raleigh. They have been docking their boat at
Wrightsville Beach ever since.
PHOTO BY ALLISON POTTER