Nicolas Coleman’s paintings of Morocco celebrate the beauty of travel while probing the ethics of tourism
After travelling around Marrakech and Tangier, the American artist created a beautiful and thematically layered collection of paintings.
- Olivia Hingley
- 18 May 2023
In the Spring of 2022, Nicolas Coleman visited Morocco for the first time. It was a place he had always been drawn to both for its visual culture and its unique history. “Both the country’s ancient and recent past are defined by this cultural exchange and melange among Arab, European and sub-Saharan African peoples,” the artist begins. “The result is one of the most beautiful and complex places on earth.”
Nicolas recalls being “overwhelmed” by the beauty and artistry of the country. “There is an incredible commitment to the beautification of nearly every physical space – from palaces to small rural homes,” he details. The artist also enjoyed speaking to locals and learning about their lived experiences. At the same time, however, Nicolas says he “tried to be aware of how the country’s reliance on tourism necessarily shaped many of the interactions I had”. He continues: “I felt an intense desire to be a part of the culture while being aware that I was experiencing it as both an outsider and a customer.” With this in mind Nicolas set himself on creating a body of work that “celebrated” the beauty of Morocco, all the while integrating the “discomfort” of tourism.
The series marks both a continuation and departure from the artist’s typical approach. Since childhood he’s been immersed in the arts, surrounded by artists including his dressmaker and macrame artist grandmother. Always drawing and making things, Nicolas found himself gravitating to self-portraiture, now the foundation of his practice and a prominent feature in A Stranger in Morocco. However, Nicolas also paints backgrounds, bringing to life the kaleidoscopic mosaics, textiles and architecture of the places he found himself in – to “elevate the physical spaces to an equal level as the subjects”.
This dual focus coalesces brilliantly in the piece Mint Tea South of Marrakech, the painting which Nicolas sees as best capturing the “spirit of the whole series”. Nicolas explains that it shows a Berber man in traditional clothing preparing mint tea, a couple sat in the background. It's visually arresting, and earthy tones are paired with vibrant striped materials. But what Nicolas most enjoys is the sense of discomfort conveyed within the subjects. “I tried to capture the moment (one that repeated itself during my time there) of being served another round of tea, perhaps one more than you would want but knowing that you cannot refuse it,” Nicolas outlines. He achieved this through attention to lines of sight and body language; the couple are seated on the couch, the woman looks at the man’s task at hand, while the man locks eyes with the viewer.
On the series as a whole, Nicolas hopes that people are initially drawn to it for its richness and beauty. “I believe the first responsibility of an artist is to create something that works on an aesthetic level and only then for the message or idea to come through,” he says. “Ultimately, I hope that people perceive and in some way relate to the feeling I was trying to capture of being a visitor or stranger in a new place,” Nicolas concludes.
GalleryNicolas Coleman: A Stranger in Morocco (Copyright © Nicolas Coleman, 2023)
Nicolas Coleman: A Stranger in Morocco (Copyright © Nicolas Coleman, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.