This feature is part of a CN&R special report: Entrepreneurs 2022: Reinvention.
COVID-19—and the controversy around masking—inspired Nicole Coffield to create a collage, an image of a 1960s couple sharing beers and pizza while masked in front of a funky floral background.
As the pandemic progressed, Coffield experimented with more collages under the artistic moniker of Collage Graduate. While she is a firm believer in creating art for its own sake, Coffield, who has bipolar disorder, also found the process to be soothing.
“I love making collages because it’s a way of helping me tell stories and daydream (it’s also therapeutic as hell),” she wrote on her artist Instagram page.
Her works quickly drew people in. Coffield’s pieces are vibrant and surreal—often playful, often juxtaposing familiar images with new ideas to flip old assumptions on their head. Coffield’s work explores themes of mental health, gender and sexuality, politics and social commentary—like “Surfing on a rocket,” which features a woman gleefully riding a dildo, and “What I can’t speak, I Remember,” the primary subject being a man’s mouthless, shattered head, with an arm wielding a camera emerging from the rubble of his crown.
A recent college graduate, Coffield received her degree in mass communications and public relations, with a minor in web design and publishing. She always wanted to be “one of those cool graphic designers,” she told the CN&R. The pandemic put everything into perspective and motivated her to pursue that dream.
Since posting her first piece in June 2020, Collage Graduate has continued to grow. Coffield has sold her works at events and venues including Chico Pride Festival, Greenhouse Studio, Chico Print Party and Dog Days Pop-Up, and sells online as well.
“I’m sending art to people on other continents,” she said during an interview at Daycamp Coffee, where the works of her first solo exhibition, “Space-O-Rama,” hung on the walls around her. (The show closed at the end of January.) “It’s just mind boggling.”
Coffield remains humble and grateful for all the support she’s received from the community, her friends and her family. In particular, her mother, an artist and retired art teacher, has been an incredible resource.
Her work as Collage Graduate has helped her get through tough financial times, she said, and it’s led to other career opportunities for her. She now works as a graphic designer for California- and Nevada-based Coast to Mountain Media. (Coffield also does digital marketing for the Pageant Theatre.)
“The pandemic did make me realize … what I want,” she said, “and what life’s about.”