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Tensions between man and nature are consistent themes in my work. This comes as no surprise for an artist born and raised in West Virginia, where the economy has been corrupted by coal while continuing to depend on it. With environmental concerns in mind, I began to use mediums that undergo processes of extraction from the earth with increasing frequency. Wood, clay, and various metals began to form relationships with less organic mixed media. The contrast between traditional oil, gauche, or acrylic paints with natural materials that often endure unnatural processes sparked an exploration of working with my home state’s natural resource—bituminous coal.

Experimentation began with gathering coal from riverbeds, train tracks, the bottoms of mountains, and surrounding areas of abandoned mine sites. When taken out of context, it’s easy to acknowledge the beauty and luster coal possesses as an object. When put back in context, the toxicity reveals itself in a very physical way. Our bodies, much like the environment, can be polluted.

Pneumoconiosis, or miner’s lung, surfaces frequently in my research. Studying medical scans of lungs diagnosed with pneumoconiosis, I noticed similarities in the natural shapes, textures, forms, and patterns found in root systems, rock formations, vines, and fungus. I was reminded of narratives surrounding growth, decay, destruction, redemption, and beauty versus the grotesque. By using coal to reference history and personal experience through images and forms, I strive to spark conversation about the complicated dynamics related to the destruction, extraction, and profit of what is our planet.

Nicholli Matheny was born in West Virginia before moving to Philadelphia where she attended Moore College of Art & Design. While earning her BFA, she interned with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), a nonprofit with a mission to elevate and expand opportunities for emerging artists. There she assisted with gallery and exhibition preparation, as well as the handling and installation of artworks in diverse mediums. She also assisted with CFEVA’s Senior Partnership Initiative and was mentored on the process of coordinating the enrichment, funding, and proposal of ideas for community outreach programs.

In addition to her interest in nonprofits, Matheny works in mixed-media. She works in oil paints, ceramic, metal, and wood but stays connected to her roots by using bituminous coal to activate her art through direct references to the environmental and economic consequences of mining—weaving together narratives of destruction, redemption, decay, and growth.

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