A conversation with artist Nancy Gruskin: Her Path, Her Painting

• Saturday, January 27, 2018 •

Norma:  You have a very unusual route that led you to your current vocation of being a full-time painter. As a young girl, you attended museum art classes for youth, your college years steered you to a Ph.D. in art history, then you followed a familial trail to becoming a lawyer. Can you talk about how these intersections on your path have, and are, informing your current work?

Nancy:  Painting has always been in the background, since I was a kid.  It wasn’t until about four or five years ago that I decided it was time to move it to the foreground.  I think it was one of those mid-life moments where you stop and think, what is it that I truly love to do?  I also think that the twisted path I took getting to that moment shaped me as a painter.  As an art historian, I developed a pretty good eye for color and composition and my life experience definitely affected my choice of subject matter.  I’m not sure what I would have chosen to paint as a twenty-something, but having a family—and the joys and the mundane responsibilities that come with it—is a treasure trove for me as an artist.    

Norma:  Since you have a Ph.D. in art history I am certain you have a few “heroes on your shelf” -  those that you honor and whom you feel you are in conversation with when you approach your painting. I have some suspicions, but would love to know your premier influences – those you revere and whose aesthetics you honor in your own painting.

Nancy:   It’s a long list!  From a subject matter perspective, I’m definitely drawn to painters whose work tends to be autobiographical—painters like Pierre Bonnard, Fairfield Porter, Joan Brown, and Alex Katz.  Bonnard’s compositions and Porter’s palette floor me every time.  Matisse, for his color sense, love of decorative pattern, and the seeming effortlessness of his work.  I also love the work of Richard Diebenkorn, Elizabeth Blackadder and Janice Biala.  I could go on and on!   

Norma:  I love the direct, decisive brush work in your painting, combined with very intriguing compositions. Your subjects may be pushed almost out of the picture plane. I am also pulled into your world when I see common objects – the take out Chinese food box, the kitchen table strewn with the cereal box and empty bowl, your son nearby tying his shoe, part of what appears to be your husband reading the paper, and the black dog splayed out on the floor – It makes me want to be on the couch in the living room reading a book while this warm everyday drama in your home plays out. How did this autobiographic way of working come about for you?

Nancy:  I think it’s a little like when people tell writers to write what they know—this is my life and it’s what I know best.  It also has a lot to do with the fact that my studio is in my house.  I’m often dragging my easel around different rooms.

Norma:  I know you have taught on many levels – classes, workshop, university, etc. You will be teaching a 3-dayworkshop with Cullowhee Arts in Snow Hill, Maryland, starting with your slide talk the night before the workshop begins -  March 8 – 11. What can students expect to take away from their time with you?

Nancy:  I think they can expect to take away some very concrete tools—for example, how to simplify, abstract and edit form and how to mix a wide range of colors with a limited palette.  Conceptually, we’ll be exploring how to combine direct observation with painting from memory and invention.  There is a take-away for me too—my love of painting is reinvigorated by the ideas and practices of my fellow artists.  Painting can be such a solitary activity.  Being in a studio for a few days with other people who share your passion is a win-win! I think it’s going to be a really energizing weekend! 

The Workshop:

March 8 - 11, 2018
Medium:  Drawing, Painting
Tuition:  $575  | Lab Fee: $75 (includes model fee)

Nancy Gruskin lives and works in Concord, MA.  She holds B.A. in Art History and Studio Art from Connecticut College and a Ph.D. in Art History from Boston University, where she was the recipient of the Angela J. and James J. Rallis Memorial Scholarship.  After teaching art and architectural history at Harvard University, Tufts University and Connecticut College, she now devotes herself to painting full-time.  Her work is in private collections in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, and has been exhibited in numerous galleries, including Galatea Fine Art in Boston and Prince Street Gallery in New York City.  She teaches painting at the Concord Center for the Visual Arts.