Cultural Quarterly
Spring/Summer 2009
Volume XXII, Number 2
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Nancy Spielman
‘Doggedly’ Pursuing Her Art
By Rachel Galvin

“I am not an intense women’s libber (although I do care a great deal about equality), I am spiritual but not very religious. I don’t talk about war. It’s just not me. I paint what is familiar.” 
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Close scrutiny of an oversized painting created by South Florida Cultural Consortium Fellowship recipient Nancy Spielman reveals detailed brushstrokes. But stepping back, the details merge in large chromatic grays and blues revealing a nose, eyes, ears and mouth - the happy face of her loyal dog Charlie.

Charlie hanging out
Charlie Hanging Out

Charlie has been the subject of many of Spielman’s paintings, but other mutts have worked themselves into the mix. Since she started capturing the essence of the canine, a drive in her car has never been the same. A glance in the rear view mirror becomes inspirational as a furry four-legged one sticks his head out the window of a neighboring car. “Quick, take that,” she says to whichever daughter might be riding in the car. Her daughter will snap a picture to be used as fodder for mom’s next creative moment.

For this Parkland resident, the domesticated dog is a metaphor for family. After all, when she went to look at pictures of her family to paint, she noticed Charlie in every shot. This beloved pet also symbolizes unconditional love, always there in good times and in bad. Plus, she noted, “people love dogs.” Her creative work statement reads: “Transforming a routine or mundane moment to a powerful image that radiates pleasure and contentment is the inspiration for this body of work. The domestic dog is a superlative subject for me.”

Her human family has also shown up in her paintings as she has sought to portray the familiar, including daughters, now aged 20 and 17. “When I was in grad school, I used to paint about the concerns of a parent of teenage girls and the psychology of it. Now, I would prefer not to paint my family very often. I enjoy painting children, something that creates a feeling of happiness when you look on it. I just did some children at a Halloween parade and also some children on the beach. I am back into doing figures.”

This Chicago-born painter achieved her B.S. in graphic design with a minor in fine arts from Southern Illinois University, graduating in 1980, and worked in utilizing her graphic design skills within audio and visual production. She relocated to South Florida in 1989 and it wasn’t until the late ’90s that she decided to become a painter. She received her master’s degree in fine arts in 2006. In addition to being a professional painter, today she also teaches drawing, color fundamentals and two-dimensional design at FAU. 

charlie in the Window
Charlie in the Mirror

Spielman was influenced in fine art early on and it has run in the family, it seems. “I watched my grandfather do sign painting since a young age, hand lettering on parchment and also painting office doors. I have an aunt who is a photographer and professional artist who got an M.A. in sculpture and went to school for fashion design. I have another aunt in New York who is a painter. My parents would send me there when they went on trips. I saw her studio and I thought it was the coolest thing,” she said.

Spielman just secured her own studio space in Miami’s Wynwood District at Cat-a-lyst Studio Artists Gallery. Sharing with other artists - all of completely diverse genres - she feels at home. Not only can she spread out and have space for her larger canvases, but she also works among kindred souls. She looks forward to exploring the energy of the neighborhood, saying although she lives in the suburbs, she is a city girl at heart.

But this creative sort is not about professing a deep message. “I am not an intense women’s libber (although I do care a great deal about equality), I am spiritual but not very religious,” she said.  “I don’t talk about war. It’s just not me. I paint what is familiar.” 

Her medium also has no frills. Although she loves the smoothness of gouache, she prefers to use oil in her paintings. “I have always liked to draw a lot. I took oil painting when I was 10 years old and I know I took printmaking, too. I love gouache, but use oil. I did dabble in colored pencil for awhile. I took a paper marbleizing workshop. That interested me. There are certain things I save, have fetishes for, like little jewelry boxes (like from Tiffany) and I save tags from clothes. Someday, I will do something with those,” she added.

Charlie at Park
Charlie at the Park

Spielman does some commissioned work. One of her large paintings will be hanging in the Lee Wagener Art Gallery within the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. She has also been shown at the Coral Springs Museum of Art and the Cornell Museum in Delray Beach, the Ritter and Schmidt Art Galleries at Florida Atlantic University as well as the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach and Gallery Camino Real in Boca Raton, among others. She also sells paintings online through an inspirational networking site she discovered called “It brings me extra income. It is also good discipline to paint daily. I used to think I had to take 40 hours to do a work, now it could be two or three stokes and, if it is successful, then it is done.” She said that some artists have received gallery representation through this online site in addition to exposure.

She loves analyzing others’ work, whether it is on this site, or in a museum or gallery. “I am very formulistic. I look at the basics - texture, color, line, shape, values, composition. It is very inspiring.”

Many painters have influenced her work, including Lucian Freud, Alice Neel, Jenny Saville and Karen Jurik, but she said it was Carol Prusa, who was in charge of her graduation committee, who was her biggest mentor. “She has an incredible work ethic. From her, I learned to have discipline and follow-up, to take yourself-seriously as an artist, to pretend this is a real job.  It is. She would guide us, advise us and also expose us to all different types of artists.”

Charlie in the Pool
Charlie in the Pool

Besides relishing her new studio space, Spielman plans on working next on a large canvas of a group of children - bookworms with large rounded glasses and bright green shirts. “Maybe some library may be in need of that...” she wondered.

The South Florida Cultural Consortium will award her $15,000, the largest prize amount available, which she plans to use for renting space, buying postcards, frames, materials and supplies to continue her work. She plans on spending as much time as possible continuing her craft at the Cat-a-lyst Artist Studios. Located at 584 B NW 27th St., Miami, the space features a wide range of artists and often has special events.