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Nicole Davy x Bollinger Atelier

Interview by Daniel Mariotti

Photos by Daniel Mariotti and Nicole Davy

I met up with our head mold maker, Nicole, at a local coffee shop: Dark Hall coffee. Located right next to a tattoo shop and what I thought was a fire. Nicole pointed out that they were just fast moving low hanging clouds and that she’s terrified of fire. She believes her fear of fire is hereditary. When her mom moved to the states, two of the houses they lived in burned down and that perpetuated her fear. An ironic dichotomy of how she uses it to make the most important things for her – sculpture.

BA: How long have you worked here and what was your first day at Bollinger Atelier like?

Nicole: Year and a half since last June. My first day was filthy in the shell room. I’d never seen foundry work on a production level and learning how to work with huge dripping shell. It was a very messy and arduous process. I loved every minute of it. It was the dirtiest, hardest work I’ve ever done and I got to do it every day. And it’s still like that and I still like it.

BA: What is a typical day look like for you?

Nicole: I’ve been trained to move around in all of the departments but am the head mold maker here. I assess what process needs to be done first to accommodate waiting time. Typically what that means is that I immediately  spray on a coat of rubber and then do any other tasks in between coats. Sometimes I miss bouncing around departments. I miss the labor portion of being outside.

BA: Most challenging piece you’ve done?

Nicole: There was a recent piece we did that we can’t talk about just yet that was really challenging. It was incredible to see so much texture and shape in the form transfer into the mold, but a nightmare to have to figure out how to take it apart and then keep all the details. It was like solving a solid green 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

BA: Can you go into detail about why making this mold was difficult?

Nicole: There was so much texture that was plaster and chicken wire; it’s really hard to get a mold of chicken wire. I also think the piece was as hard as it was at the time, because it was the first project I took over as mold maker. And the panic that was left on me settled in and was very intense for me. I think it was difficult because of all the materials used; it needed a lot of different releases (paste wax, Vaseline, and Zip). We also had to cut a lot of it apart for the undercuts. But because I’ve never labeled and deconstructed for a team before, it was scarier. How do I cut this apart when it’s such an abstract form to give enough information to the next part of my team to say this is how it goes back together? What I love though is what it looks like now in metal. She’s gorgeous.

Person molding sculpture

BA: What is your background?

Nicole: I went to ASU for a fine art degree; I thought I was going to be a painter but I got restless and started making sculpture. I took a foundry class and I fell in love. The first time I got to pour metal I think my heart started beating faster and I thought “oh this is for me”.

BA: Describe the restless feeling?

Nicole: I wanted to make paintings that were 3D and I realized, I was starting to build forms on a flat 2D surface. And I still kind of do. I think the painting can be reinvented.

BA: Reinvented how?

Nicole: It doesn’t have to be flat or hang on a wall. I think sculpture can be a part of that.

BA: Do you want to combine sculpture and painting?

Nicole: I don’t think so as much anymore. I paint to feed the sad part of me and the sculpture is the rebuilding part.

BA: Do you think painting is the sad part because of its accessibility?

Nicole: I feel like paintings are the whispers of people. In Boston I saw a lot of Van Gogh’s paintings and I looked at every combination of brush strokes and colors and I could just feel it. I dunno, that sounds crazy but it’s true. And I feel that way about a lot of paintings, not all, but there are some that register to me.

Nicole Davy sculpture, wood and iron

“The A7ter”, 2018, Cast Iron, Bass Wood, Mahogany – Photographed by Brandon Ng

BA: How does it feel working on pieces from well-known artists?

Nicole: Surreal and amazing. I like that it’s not about me, it’s about the process. Michelangelo had an entire workshop making his work and we don’t know their names. But they still made the most important work sculpturally across time for how long? That stuff exists because of a team of people not because of just one person. We put our hands on something and make it real based on someone’s idea. And I like building the skills to do that. Regardless if it’s going to go down in history as important, I like growing in that way.

BA: So art is for you, really.

Nicole: Yeah, every day.

BA: 100%?

Nicole: Oh, yeah. I don’t have to be at Bollinger. I’d make more money as a tattooer only. But I really love being there. I like the people, I like the environment. It took a while to get into the bubble of love with the team. But that’s part of what makes it great. It’s a reward for me.

BA: How did your work change while you were in school? And how has it changed since leaving?

Nicole: While in school, at first it was just the exercises of learning how to make, it wasn’t personal. In my final two years I started approaching my work from a more sincere place as an artist and started to try to make work that really pushed me and what I felt comfortable with. Since leaving school I have tried to just make work that continues to make me feel a little uncomfortable, it’s important for me to push the boundaries within my work.

BA: What does your personal work aim to say?

Nicole: How emotion transfers through our entire being into the outside world.

BA: What inspires you?

Nicole: Emotion. I’m really studying transfiguration. What happens to us at a cellular level through emotion. Investigating how cells remember. What happens to us when certain things in our life impact us; happiness, sadness, despair; all these things and what does it do to us inside. And then I try to make work that makes sense that kind of sort of looks that way. But sometimes it doesn’t and that’s OK. I just want it to be lovely.

BA: What are you working on now and why?

Nicole: I’m still working on the correlation between body parts and organic growth. I’m interested in using a collarbone as a landscape and then growing things on it. Or like part of a face and a flower. These are the thing I’ve been playing around with and sculpting at home. But it’s not something I’m super sure about yet so I haven’t brought it out to the light of day.

Nicole Davy sculpture, bronze form, bougainvillea

“Transfiguration”, 2018, Bronze, Bougainvillea – Photographed by Brandon Ng

BA: What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

Nicole: I’ve been working as a tattoo artist for 9.5 years. I did a traditional apprenticeship and that was my full time job until Bollinger. It was the first other job as an artist. It’s really rewarding. I got restless though, because it’s more like graphic design. I make images based on what other people want and sculpture is for me and Bollinger has given me all the tools to be able to make the art for me. It’s a good split. I get to work and live everyday as an artist. It’s the perfect mix.

I was also a waitress, a bartender, a cardiac stress stent technician, and dialysis technician. I’m a jack of all trades and I would like to drive demo derby at some point too.

BA: Do you have any experience in driving derby?

Nicole: Not at all but I would love to crash cars for fun.

BA: How does one start?

Nicole: You get a junkyard car, there’s a monetary limit. I think it can’t be more than $500 or something, and then you build a cage around the radiator and you bust out all the glass and then the entire goal is to just ram into cars like bumper cars till they overheat and break down and you’re the last one running.

BA: Like a mosh pit for cars.

Nicole: When I was little I wanted to run away and join the circus. That will never happen but I feel like demo derby is the most chaos that I can put in my life of controlled chaos. So I’d love to do it.

BA: What’s your scariest experience?

Nicole: Raising two teenage boys.

BA: How old were you when you figured out Santa Claus was a lie?

Nicole: I was about 9 when my cousin told me Santa wasn’t real. I didn’t believe her at first but then I started to doubt just enough. And then my dad did a scavenger hunt for me and I told him that Santa wasn’t real. And he got super upset. I remember crying and he picked me up and he said I’m not lying why are you so upset. And then I got even more angry because he was so full of it.

BA: When did you tell your kids Santa wasn’t real?

I never told them that he wasn’t real, but last year my youngest said out loud “thanks for everything; I know Santa isn’t real btw”.

BA: What is community to you?

Nicole: Community is super important but I think we get super wrapped up in it too. When we get wrapped up in everyone else’s comments and stop doing what we’re meant to do and change it because of criticism; I don’t know if that’s always great. Sometimes I think we adjust for popularity and we need to be conscious about who we keep in our inner circles for community. You can have genuine people giving you feedback and you can have people that want to slice you apart because they aren’t doing what you are doing. But community is important because it motivates and helps us stay driven. I’d say community is good but be cautious.

BA: How can you differentiate?

Nicole: I go by the people who are around without asking. People who are exchanging all the time; friends who hang out because they are actual friends that don’t take something from you every time. Those are the ones you keep around and the people who you only see when you have something to offer, be weary of. Some are important BUT be careful. It’s business with those relationships. And business has nothing to do with real friendship and there is a definite line in the art world that you have to be careful with.

Tattoo sketch on light table. Hands.

BA: Do you want the transition of being an artist full time from tattooing?

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely, great long term goal. And if that happens then great, but I’m a terrible business woman. I need to hire someone to sell me in the art world. I will never be successful if it was left to just me. I am ironically the least concerned about the most important parts.

BA: What role does arts funding have?

Nicole: It’s investment in a community. Art sparks creativity and beauty for the public; it gives opportunity to create work, literally jobs, and helps humanity push the boundaries of creativity. We need to invest on creativity; it’s how we do amazing things like land on the moon.

BA: What role does the artist have in society?

Nicole: We are the investigators of innovation. We experiment with thoughts and make it reality in form.

BA: If money wasn’t a problem what would you make?

Nicole: I would make art that would go into the poorest communities in the world that also establishes a place to make art in. In Puerto Rico there’s so much trash on the island as it is. And after the hurricane so much of it flew everywhere else. So I wanted to create a foundry on the island to recycle all the debris in to make art for the people who live there. Teaching people how to make art for incoming tourism and creating a more vibrant art district with the sincerity of a culture that lives on the island. I’m really interested in that kind of work. Yeah, I’d make my art but I’m more interested if there was the situation of creating a system that is more accessible to anybody. I don’t think my art is as important as teaching other people how to make art. That’s the kind of thing that exists longer than you do.

BA: Switching over to tattooing. What’s your favorite piece on your body?

Nicole: My whole right arm in general. I love it. It starts with my fingers, crescent moon, rejoice, reminding myself we’re all going to die and we should take in the little things. It’s from an Andrew Jackson Jihad song, it’s super dark and everyone is going to die and you better be happy through a few moments of it. Because life is suffering and gasps are happiness. I love it. And then I have my creepy voodoo tattoo and my lady holding the heart and it’s perfect in the sense of the embodiment of the goddess and her strength. But then the rest of my arm is super traditional and beautiful.

BA: Is there an artist that you want to tattoo you?

Nicole: I’m really proud of the partner I have at my shop SEFO Ink. I feel like his growth and where he is going now is so amazing. He’s from Samoa, and the things that I’ve seen him do where he’s cultivating his culture but also putting some really cool spins of black work and color work with geometric and new school design is fantastic. I’d want him to tattoo me next.

But there’s some amazing tattooers across the word that I would love to get tattooed by. Jeff Gogue is my biggest heavy hitter though. If I ever accrue 10 grand I’ll take the time to go see him.

BA: What would you get by him?

Nicole: Anything he wants to put on a blank canvas. I have the whole back of my leg to work on.

BA: What’s your favorite tattoo that you’ve done?

Nicole: Recently that I’m most proud and excited about is a Medusa. It’s on the inside of an arm. Done Neo-traditional with illustrative elements. I over-complicate my tattoos with line work and that’s my happy medium.

Color medusa head tattoo by Nicole Davy

To see more of Nicole’s work take a look at her website:

and follow her on Instagram: ndavy1