As it turns out, I did not complete the dance program. I had my first back incident when I fell on stage and ruptured a disc. I needed surgery and when I returned to school, I found myself in the Art Department knowing I could never study anything, but the arts. I did not think of myself as a drawer or painter, I was a choreographer. I used line, form, time, and shape to develop a unified composition as tools to create dances. It was then that I discovered how similar the principles and elements were in creating a painting or a dance, except a dance is gone in a moment, a flash of a camera’s shutter remains with videos only seen by relatives. A painting can last a very long time, and may be appreciated by a much larger audience. I ended up staying in the Fine Arts Department creating a major that OSU did not yet have, an Arts Administration Degree. My father, of course, understood that.
I did return to dance. I went to Temple University and received a Master’s in Choreography. Once again, my father did not get what I would accomplish with that degree. But, I stayed on a steady course of performing and creating in the Philadelphia area for fifteen years. It all came together when I became the Director of The CEC (Community Education Center), and there I had access to the rehearsal studios. I was directing a non-profit arts center by day and dancing by night.
After being among artists, filmmakers, art teachers, and creators of all types at the CEC, I found myself wondering more and more if I had any ability to draw and paint. Once married and with children, and dance was no longer a part of my life, I started taking classes in all medium. I couldn’t get enough information fast enough. I found my kinetic style of learning needed to be toned down as teachers professed, “in order to really see.” Eventually, I drew confidently, and accurate “enough” with a diligence that caught my next to be mentor’s eye. A teacher, who finally said, “Paint what you know, and tell the truth in your painting.” My inspiration had always been about movement and the subject of my expression had become very clear: motion to evoke emotion.
I took the dancer within me and challenged myself to draw into the paint. I use fabrics to collage into a painting to provide a sense of place for my figures. I cut the canvas into long narrow pieces and paint figures moving in a tightly restricted space. I play with the random or incorrect lines left on a page, as Matisse might have done, in case I have a need for them, later. Most importantly, the urgency satisfies me. I want to express the frustration of no longer being a dancer, yet, not regretful, but resourceful.
I returned to school to receive a Master’s in Art Education. Of course, my dad loved that. But, I did not enjoy being in the typical classroom at all. I wanted to teach, but not with standards that were apparently no longer applicable or interesting to the students. But, I knew I had to teach. Teaching empowers people and I truly believe teaching inspires my work. I teach students who have never held a pencil to draw before, very much as I had started out.
I study figurative artists, such as the artists of the San Francisco Bay Movement, and teach Expressive Figurative Work-shops. I appreciate the action painting of both the De Koonings, and Pollacks. To me, they are dancing in paint.
I paint what I knew best. Isn’t that what an artist strives to do? I want it to be meaningful, not just pretty pictures, but the confusing emotions that reflect the discord in one’s life, such as, my sister dying of cancer, my mother alive surviving that loss. My occupation of wife and mother, the joy and pride that comes with the choices I made. My figures, as well as my landscapes, capture the very first essence of a pose or a place that I visit. I begin as I would a choreographer, with a line. The line makes a shape closely related, but not necessarily equal to what I see, the shape turns into form when I add color, more lines, more shapes- a continuous dance. My tools alternate in my limber fingers, as if I was caught in a dance with the brush, pencil, and pastel.
I think some of my best works, for example the two pieces that have been chosen for the juried show, happened in less than two hours. I did not belabor it. I saw it, captured the expressiveness of the poses without consciousness of what I was making. I got on stage, felt prepared, did the dance, and got off. It is a very nice and humbling feeling to know that I have received applause by being chosen to participate in this show.
My next upcoming show is a solo exhibit of monoprints, pastel landscapes, and oil figures at MUSE Gallery, Wednesday, October 3-28th, 2012, First Friday, October 5th, 5-8 pm. I am a participant of POST (Philadelphia Open Studio Tours) Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 20, 21, at MUSE and refreshments and conversations from 2-6 pm will be held. Please visit MUSE at 52 N. 2nd St. Philadelphia, PA 19106, musegalleryphiladelphia.com or at my website nancyhalbertart.com.
by Nancy E. F. Halbert
Nancy's work is featured in Woodmere Art Museum's 71st Annual Juried Exhibition.
About Woodmere's 71st Annual Juried Exhibition:
Woodmere's 71st Annual Juried Exhibition, juried by artist Alex Kanevsky, will feature works in a variety of media from 46 artists living within 50 miles of the Museum. Works were chosen to create a cohesive presentation that explores contemporary ideas within the arts of Philadelphia. In conjunction with the juried show, Kanevsky's own work will be on view in the exhibition Alex Kanevsky: Some Paintings and Drawings, and the artist has also selected some of Woodmere's works of art for display in Selections from the Collection.