Dances with lines
February 26, 2008
Though Nancy Towne-Shultz waited for her children to become adults before returning to her easel, she paints a universe of youthful exuberance.
New to Park City’s Phoenix Gallery, the California artist exhibits her first show, "Cultural Abstractions" in Park City this month, her multi-media paintings glowing through the brick building’s windows in hot pinks, sunshine yellows and electric purple-blues. Her paintings, large in size and scope, combine abstract shapes and creatures hugged by lines that proceed past their bodies, unraveling across the canvas. The lines serve to connect seemingly disparate imagery, painted and found, joining a circle with a strand of squares or sometimes wiring a hand brushed-form with a pasted portion of an article from a newspaper, a corner of a copy of the Declaration of Independence or a fancy grid of Asian pictograms.
In "Cultural Abstractions," a piece titled, "Yellowbird," includes a yellowed scrap from the Wall Street Journal. The clipping bears the headline "Talk Is Cheap, AOL’s Buddy Lists Spark Race to Harness True Power of Persona." The stark black type from a printing press is legible, cemented on with an acrylic varnish, sitting in the midst of a dance of whimsical forms and black lines. The text begins to explain how Microsoft, Yahoo and other companies are seeking to exploit the ability to know who’s online.
Some viewers might be tempted to dwell on the dense text of "Yellowbird" or other pieces that include legible sentences, thinking, perhaps, that they can glean the meaning of the piece. Yet when Towne-Shultz comments on her large collages, she insists she’s strictly an up-beat abstract artist, serious about her process and aesthetics. It’s the color, form and composition that drive her to make art, she says, not politics.
"I’m really not a political painter I don’t like to mix that with my work," she says. "I’m not trying to give anybody ideas sometimes I just like an article or piece of paper I find it interesting — and I just put it on there, but it’s not because I want to give anybody that thought."
Instead, Towne-Shultz likes the viewer to dream up their own meanings. "I like to let them develop their own ideas about my work," she says. "I hope it makes them feel happy and I want them to have a sense of being able to interpret it themselves I’m serious about my work and the actual mechanics of it, but I want people to feel good about it. I want it to be light and happy and uplifting. When you have something that you live with every day, and that you look at every day, it would be a little depressing if it wasn’t a happy piece."
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Towne-Shultz considers her Los Angeles studio her laboratory a place to experiment and evolve her work. She says she begins her pieces with gestural charcoal drawings that determine the composition, then she fills it in with color to "inspire drama and emotion." Her last step is to sift through her collection of patterned papers some of which she collects, others she is given to highlight her piece with a small treasure of pasted calligraphic items, many of which are in a foreign language which she cannot translate, but finds beautiful. The title comes to her at any point in the process and often is inspired by her lesser, but cherished passions of cooking and the music of film director Woody Allen, who is also an accomplished clarinetist. One of her pieces, for instance, is entitled "Blueberry Muffin."
Towne-Shultz’s work hangs in the permanent collection of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and has hung at the Modern Masters Fine Art Gallery, but it took time for her to realize her potential. She trained in realism before arriving at abstraction, taking classes throughout her childhood at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, then at Ohio Northern University and later apprenticing for artists. "I started out doing photorealism and I did all the stuff you really don’t like to do, just to learn how shapes and forms are developed and how colors are developed and how lights and darks come into play," she says.
Above all else, she says she aims for freedom of expression in her work in the way of American abstract expressionists, who orchestrated an organized kind of chaos and emphasized play. Among her influences, Towne-Shultz cites Vincent Van Gogh, who studied Asian artist’s brushstrokes, Robert Milton Ernest Rauschenberg, who combined painting and sculpture, photography, printmaking and papermaking in the mid-20th century and neo-expressionist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose 1980s paintings often incorporated graffiti, stick figures and writing. She likes the challenge of the sparse guidelines, she says, and the questions the work poses.
"It seems simplistic, but really it’s extraordinary — there’s more to this than just plopping it on the canvas," Towne-Shultz says. "I mean, anyone can set a pot on a table, sketch it, paint it, draw it, color it, whatever. Good, bad or otherwise, it gives you a sense of instruction. But this you have to dream this up in your head and it’s hard. It’s really hard to do that — You have to develop that creativity over time, you know, that extreme mental thing as you go along Abstract expressionism is what I waited to do and what I really wanted to do, because it’s more free and it’s got this emotional charge to it that has a big impact on people and the way they feel."
Who: Artist Nancy Towne-Schultz, Where: The Phoenix Gallery, 508 Main Street, Park City For more information: Call (435) 649-1006 or visit phoenixgallery.com.
Also coming up at the Phoenix Gallery: Artist opening Friday, Feb. 29 from 6-9 p.m. for "Contemporary Planes" Michelle Muldrow and Kevin Box, a two-person show featuring suburban sprawl architectural landscapes by Muldrow and colorful bronze sculptures by Kevin Box.