Words :: Laura Newton // photos :: Diane Hannah.
fe·ral /ˈferəl,ˈfirəl/ adjective: (especially of an animal) in a wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication.
nif·ty /ˈniftē/ adjective: particularly good, skillful, or effective.
For many, the Coast Mountains represent vast opportunities to explore new ground, push personal boundaries, discover new realms of fear and exhilaration, and marvel at the astounding beauty of it all. For multi-discipline artist Feral Nifty, since her return to BC five years ago, life in Whistler has released her into a wild landscape of creative possibilities and offered her unfettered access to the awe-inspiring panoramas of her own artistic soul.
This exciting—and at times scary—adventure has been one that she’s convinced could have only unfolded in this place, in this community.
Joining Feral in the studio perched above her house, affectionately known as the Sky Parlour, provides an inspiring and quintessential Whistler view—the runs of Whistler and Blackcomb are laid open like a book out the window, flanked by Black Tusk in the distance to the south and Wedge, Rethel, Weart, and Armchair mountains to the north.
But the space within the studio offers a visual panoply all its own: a mannequin clothed in an apocalyptic costume à la Mad Max; guitars, keyboard, mic, and recording equipment; a wall of easels adorned with paintings in various stages of completion; bronzed sculptures of heart-wrenching human vulnerability; stacked notebooks and a dizzying array of art supplies; neatly hung costumes, strewn feathered boas, and an assortment of Muppet-like puppets and random Muppet-like-puppet body parts. “There is no method to the madness,” Feral jokes. “Only madness.” However, while the creative energy of the studio truly frenetic, there is calculation to the chaos.
Feral Nifty—a name bestowed upon her by her daughter (via an autocorrect that snowballed)—may indeed be feral when it comes to the creative process, but her art is created with the care and attention of a skilled surgeon. Her wide-ranging projects—sculpture, painting, a jazz band, solo music, writing, spoken word, and anything else that may whet her artistic appetite—arise from a singular focus: to nurture an environment of creative self-expression, for herself and for others.
Feral Nifty—a name bestowed upon her by her daughter (via an autocorrect that snowballed)—may indeed be feral when it comes to the creative process, but her art is created with the care and attention of a skilled surgeon.
Growing up on Vancouver Island, Feral thrived when able to explore creatively. In her late teens, she moved to Vancouver to train as a makeup artist at renowned beauty school Blanche Macdonald, followed by a stint in special effects makeup in the film industry before Feral found a passion for teaching at her alma mater. Around the same time, she discovered a strong connection with the medium of sculpture. “From the moment I sat down and started sculpting, I felt like…it was innate for me.”
While in Vancouver, she also met her husband, John. The two got married, moved to Malaysia, had two children, and grew a business together over the next three years before relocating to Oregon. “Everything (art-wise) was on hold, really.”
It was during the final few years of the family’s nine-year stint in Oregon that Feral was able to find some shared studio space. “As soon as I had that, I couldn’t go back. I don’t think anyone around me could handle me again without space to create either,” Feral says of having the freedom to sculpt again.
However, something was still missing artistically. A totality. A raw openness. A literal and figurative space with which to really explore the outer ranges of her creative potential. The return home to BC and move to Whistler marked a seismic shift.
“It is one of the best things that has happened to me creatively,” she says. “I feel like I found myself here, though it aligned with a lot of other changes.” While the move came at a time when—with her children growing older—she had found more time for herself, the move also supplied Feral a studio space of her very own and the network of the like-minded, passion-driven people this area attracts.
Related content from ML:
“It’s been such an open and welcoming community,” Feral explains. “I’ve not come across much in the way of arrogance, it’s inclusive, caring, and supportive. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of.”
From participating in community art projects and shows, teaching through the Learning to See art program, and presenting her solo exhibit Back in a Moment at the Maury Young Arts Centre in 2021, to being awarded first place in Vancouver’s Federation Gallery Shape and Form exhibit for her sculpture, “Veneer of Shelter,” a third-place and an honourable mention for two of her paintings, as well as best in show in the On the Edge exhibit for the sculpture “Expectations,” Feral has been busy.
But perhaps most exciting for Feral has been her formal foray into music, writing her own songs, singing in the jazz trio Birdsong, and even releasing her first solo project on Spotify.
“I think my attitude toward myself changed since I’ve been here,” she explains. “You know, rather than that self-judgment. I’ve come to realize that it’s really about sharing. And as soon as I started making that shift, I felt peoples’ response to me shift as well.”
“When it comes down to it, I seek sharing. I seek connection,” says Feral. “That’s what it’s about for me.”
Check out Feral’s work at feralnifty.com
Check the ML Podcast!