Nancy Gifford

"I paint because I cannot sing, painting is the refuge of the failed poet." says Nancy Gifford. This former model and actress was inspired by her time spent in all the great art galleries and museums of Europe. Seeing first-hand what her friends back home read about in textbooks. Her body of work comprises of inner-reflections, life experiences and politics. We talk about the current political atmosphere in her home country and how this has ignited her political and environmental narrative.

Could you tell us a bit more about the time you spent in Europe and Morocco? Did it have any impact on you as an artist?

I left university in the late sixties to model and travel.  It was my ticket off the Ohio farm.  I was fortunate to be able to visit all the great museums and galleries of Europe and see in-person what my classmates were reading about. It changed my life and focus. I met renowned film-makers, musicians, artists and writers which pointed a direction for my life to take in the arts.  

How has technology changed the tools that an artist has the disposal to in your opinion?

Technology has changed everything.  It is impossible for me to say where I think it is all heading.  I do feel a sense of nostalgia for craftsmanship though I see in my work a moving away from all my handy skills into more technology and computer generated creations.  I cannot resist the internet.  

Your long-term project “Not My Mothers Quilt”, is certainly taking on a bit of scale. When do you think this project will be completed? And are you documenting the process?

I grew up on a farm in Ohio. Our house was in the middle of acres of grain fields spreading in all directions so my first 18 years were spent inside a visual grid and row pattern which changed colour and shape with the seasons. It has infected my artistic expression, and I am always on a quest for a "breaking through the grid"

What was the inspiration behind that project?

My "Quilt" series began as an ode to my mother and auntie who taught me to sew when I was just five years old, the great winter quilting projects for our little church fundraisers.  I must have cut thousands of squares for their projects.  My "quilts" are a contemporary version set into CD covers and attached with fibreglass which gives them a flexibility so they can be folded and shipped in smaller containers.  That series now has morphed into my new "accretion" work.  LAMENT was my first major accretion, 32 feet long by 10 feet tall, which is a layering of objects and images upon each other instead of the strict grids of the quilts.  So the series has already moved beyond the quilts though I have a fondness and nostalgia for them.

There's a certain three-dimensionality with some of your pieces, would you classify them as paintings or sculptures?

Much of my work has a 3-dimensional quality. I spent ten years in Los Angeles working on wood constructions that mostly hung on the walls but were 3-dimensional. I created a lot of wood construction and did all of my building at the time. I can no longer work around the saw dust and fumes so my work changes with my physical stamina. I worked with a chemist at Golden Paints and now had some Acrylic Resin products that I have developed to create Sculptural Paintings.

With reference to your piece “ State of the Union”, how do you feel about the political changes in the United States?

I am devastated by the tone that is developing in my country. It is very difficult for me and my artist friends to comprehend what is happening. We are becoming activated. I have often had a political or environmental narrative in my work in the past. It is now resurfacing. It will be impossible to constrain for we are brimming with angst about the future of our country and the planet. I am reviving two old projects that still have relevance; The War Room and Nasty Women.

In today’s world of instant fame, people often glorify the world of modelling and acting, yet the real life experience is far from it, What are your thoughts on that?

For me modelling was a one-way ticket off the farm and propelled me into worlds I could never have entered. But the downside is that it is not very satisfactory being in a room just based on your looks. So it takes a lot of energy to develop other qualities that people often do not want to acknowledge because they can be "blinded by the light" so to speak.  After a decade I was exhausted and became determined to develop other talents. I was so burned out that for a year I did not look in a mirror and stopped wearing makeup etc. I locked myself in a garage and worked on my first major series called "The Downwind Series" in 1980. The series went on to be included in many museum shows, garnered a review in the LA Times and kick-started my trajectory.  It was useful since I was coming late to the game having spent a decade travelling and also did not have the coveted art degrees which are now indispensable to success for emerging artists.  Also, I was fortunate to have a renowned curator in Los Angeles, Henry T. Hopkins, who championed my work in the early days and included me in many museum shows.  He was instrumental in my progress.

What are your goals for this year?

I always work in several directions at once to keep myself interested.
I have started a broad series titled Crazy Times. It will be a diverse array of styles and subjects from White Collar Crime, the Debt Ceiling, the banking industry - Follow the Money and the Drought and other such concerns. I am doing a series on Graphite that I am producing for an exhibition in June. I am just finishing a large accretion commission titled" Conjuring Clouds...  which as luckily brought us some big rains in California the last month. I am also working on some "reverse accretions" which I am calling "Heaps of Trouble."
Looking forward to those. I also want to create some "beautiful" pieces...  we will need some beauty in the coming year.

What in your opinion is the key to being a successful artist? 

Don't measure your success by how much money you make on your art, measure it by how much you grow as an artist from each project. Measure it by how much your work moves other people; to tears,  to despair, to action, to inspiration, If you as an artist are not moved by your work, and others are not moved by it,  then is seems one must dig deeper.

And also, the most important thing, in this world of so much derivative art ALWAYS DO YOUR WORK. Build upon the past but forge your future, speak with your voice.

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