Episode 8: Nikki Brugnoli: Daily Ritual as Art Practice

I loved talking with Nikki! We discussed how and why she made the shift from teaching at the university level to teaching high school and the value allowing her career dream to change brought to her life. She talked about how she balances teaching and family and art-making and how her art practice is connected to every part of her life. She uses daily rituals to continue making throughout the busy times. She talked about embracing failure as an opportunity to learn. Nikki has such an incredible way with words and I found myself wanting to write down so many of her phrases! I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did!

I especially liked the idea of teaching on a platform of failure, helping high-achieving students learn to embrace failure and learn from it, both in artwork and in life. I also love the lists she shared of her current inspiration. Thank you, Nikki!!

Books Nikki is reading
Music she’s listening to
A few of the podcasts she’s listening to

Nikki Brugnoli received her BFA from Seton Hill University (2004) and her MFA from The Ohio State University (2007). She currently teaches studio art at Flint Hill School, in Oakton, VA and serves on the Artist Advisory Committee for the IA&A at Hillyer, Washington D.C. Previously, she served on the faculty at George Mason University and was the Assistant Graduate Programs Coordinator and Graduate Advisor in the School of Art. She also was the Coordinator of the Art Lab at the Lorton Workhouse, Lorton, VA and served as a Hamiltonian Mentor. Nikki has taught at The Ohio State University, the Northern Virginia Community Colleges, and The Renaissance School in Charlottesville, VA. Nikki’s work is included in many private collections across the United States, and is featured in national academic and public institutions.

Nikki’s students at work
“Horizon Lost” 2017

Nikki is married to Artist/Maker, Josh Whipkey and they have one son, Finnegan, a crazy tabby kitty boy, Augustus Ravioli, and one-year old golden retriever, Joon. They started SILO PRESS, a small artist residency in their farm house in Warrenton, VA in 2017.

“Above the Horizon” 2016

In her recent 2-person show with her husband, Josh Whipkey, at Riverviews Artspace, both artists aim to share their experiences of loss, transformation, re-evaluation and memory, after being displaced from their home in 2015.

“Field Guides” 2019

Below is Nikki’s statement. Check out her site for more images and poetic writing accompanying each body of work.

My work is an exploration into the transformative power of landscape, memory, time, and the ritual of daily observation through abstraction and the widening power of the horizon in its various forms.  I seek to find mystery and presence through meticulous investigations of daily life, many of which are recorded digitally during my walks. My various approaches to seeing and recording are permutations and meditations, informed by my very specific history, growing up inside of a 5-mile radius in South Western, while in contrast living in Northern VA, commuting 70 miles a day. Home is where I am, and through intentional, repeated, and widening circles, I map my spaces using careful selections of my photo documentation to record any changes that may occur from day to day, in an effort to translate those observations into my studio investigations. 

The horizon, as an idea or actual form is the physical embodiment of reach, longing, expansion, and in many ways, the unattainable. It is a line –a horizontal pull through physical, atmospheric space.  The horizon is always in sight but never within reach; the infinite and finite; the point where light meets dark. It beckons and draws me into the immediate present, while simultaneously stretching my memory and imagination for other places in time. 

The history of my work has been driven by observation and my fascination with contrast, color and surface, material manipulation, landscape, and ideas of absence, presence, the body and of memory. I have investigated loss. These are some of the primal things that make us human, and so it is the root to which I can connect my work to, beyond my own reach. I aim examine the opposites that exist in us all. 

Over the last few years I have been intensely researching, revisiting and documenting post-industrial forms from both my past and my present; in an attempt to better understand ideas surrounding BELONGING. Abandoned beehive coke ovens from my youth outside of Pittsburgh, and an and abandoned silo on the farm where I lived from 2015-2019 in rural Virginia have been my muses. The differences and similarities discovered inside of and around the forms is haunting and has led me on a widening path of insight and the creation of large, new bodies of work.

My most recent investigations are rooted inside of making visible the moments hardest for me to capture. I regard them as the unknown, and they are found in the night and the mist. 


“Beyond” 2017
“Grit” 2017
“Field Guides” 2019
Nikki’s home studio
Nikki’s home studio
Nikki at work, with her studio mate, Joon
Nikki’s teaching studio at Flint Hill School
Student at work