Inside the Whimsical Mind of Modern Abstract Artist Niki Woehler
Modern abstract artist Niki Woehler didn’t want to paint still lifes.
By Robrt L. Pela | Photography by Chris Loomis
Niki Woehler used to hate making art. She hated it so much, she once climbed out of a window to get away from it.
“That was in high school,” the artist says, then laughs. “In art class, I’d ask to go to the ladies’ room and come back five minutes before class ended.”
Today, Woehler can’t wait to start on her next artwork. And her collectors can’t wait to get their hands on her large-scale, organic textural canvases and abstract high-gloss resin panels that resemble natural stone scattered with glittery minerals. Her work has shown across the country, from Colorado to Texas. In Arizona, she shows at Grace Renee Gallery in
Carefree, as well as at her eponymous downtown Scottsdale studio gallery.
“There are landscapes buried in Niki’s paintings,” says Grace Renee owner Shelly Spence. “But then I’ll look at one and see two people dancing, and someone will say to me, ‘Oh, no, I see the Arizona mountains.’”
Born in Toronto, Woehler moved to the Valley in 1993. “I came here to get married. We were together for 17 years.”
For a while, Woehler kept her passion for painting mostly to herself. Seven years ago, she stepped away from a successful career in marketing and declared herself “officially an artist” in a Facebook post. “When I think about all that’s happened in the seven years since that post,” she says, “my mind is blown. If I think about it a lot, I usually end up crying.”
Woehler likes to bring that kind of high emotion to her work. “I always start every commission by asking the client how they want to feel when they look at their painting. I ask them for adjectives. Do they want to feel serene, bold, alive, magnetic, elegant?”
“I always start every commission by asking the client how they want to feel when they look at their painting. I ask them for adjectives. Do they want to feel serene, bold, alive, magnetic, elegant?”
—Niki Woehler, artist
Once she has a list of words, she uses them as cues to the emotions that will inform her next creation. “I call it putting myself into a state of being,” Woehler explains. “We all vibrate, so I meditate and try to put myself into the vibration of the words the client chose. I can’t be in a crazy, exuberant mood and try to create something that’s peaceful.”
She’s learned not to work on days when she isn’t feeling great, to set aside a painting project if the mood’s not right. “Life happens,” says the mother of three, “and not every day is a good day. I’m human, and sometimes I can’t get to a space where I can paint. On those days, I end up creating garbage.”
Most of the time, though, Woehler creates evocative, large-format artwork that her fans find far removed from “garbage.” “Our Niki Woehler piece is the point of pride in our office,” says Kristina Konen of “Unleashed,” a 54-foot-long, 8-foot-high, 81-panel resin installation of Woehler’s. The piece covers an entire wall of the reception area of CBRE’s commercial real estate office at the Esplanade, where Konen is the senior training specialist.
“Niki’s use of color and the depth of emotion she puts into each piece reach out to everyone who walks in,” Konen says. “‘Unleashed’ pops and sparkles, but there’s also a lot of warmth in it. I don’t know what inspires Niki, but she makes the most of it.”
Mostly, Woehler says, she’s inspired by Mother Nature. Shrubbery, sunlight and water sometimes look to her like they’re posing for a portrait. People have told her they see geodes or twisted trees in her work.
Other times, poetry sends her to her paintbox. “I did a series I called my Story People, based on the poet Brian Andreas’s Storypeople poems,” she says. “They’re made up of all geometric shapes, but you can sometimes make out a person or a mountain. Sometimes I read a poem and I can’t wait to start painting.”
She hasn’t forgotten that she once hated to paint. “In school they wanted me to paint fruit in bowls. It was just this tedious, awful thing. I’d be saying, ‘I don’t want to paint a pear.’ I thought it meant I wasn’t good at art, and I would never be able to do it.”
She felt that way well into her 20s.“But then one day I was driving home from my friend Michael’s funeral,” recalls Woehler, who was 27 at the time. “I looked at the sky and said, ‘Michael, you dumbass, it’s a beautiful sunny day and you should be here with me.’ And I heard a voice whisper in my ear, ‘Turn in here.’”
She did—into the parking lot of a Michael’s art supply store. She took it as a sign. “I went in and bought paints, brushes and canvases. I went home and made my first painting.”
She’s painted nearly every day since, devoting her life full-time to art. “I have to,” she says. “The paintings are somewhere inside me, and they need to come out. It’s crazy to think I spent all those years not connected to this part of myself. It’s taken me 51 years to figure out I shouldn’t swim upstream. I should just let go.”
Niki Woehler, Scottsdale, nikiwoehler.com