Nancy Graves, Areol, 1978
64 x 88 in.
Nancy Graves (1939-1995) was an American sculptor, painter, and printmaker. Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, her father was an accountant at the Berkshire Museum of Art and he fostered her interest in art, nature, and anthropology. Graves attended Vassar College where she studied literature, then studied art at Yale. After graduating she received a Fulbright Scholarship to study painting in Paris. She also traveled extensively during this time, particularly spending time in Florence. Her first piece to make an impression on the New York art scene was her realistic sculpture of Camels (1968) that seemed to belong in a natural history museum, as much as an art museum. In 1969 Graves became the first woman to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum. Her next series involved sculpting and arranging camel bones of both modern and Pleistocene specimens. Graves began doing significant work in painting in the mid seventies, creating abstract and highly colorful pieces. She also made a significant number of aerial landscapes, often based on maps of the moon. Areol is one such piece, the title being a pun on aerial and areola (which can also refer to any small circular area) after the purple section. This painting struck me because of the intense balance of haphazard energy and tight control. The swirling lines and colors appear chaotic but are arranged quite orderly. The sparing use of color speaks to this control, because Graves used only the exact amount of color she needed, leaving significant portions of the canvas uncovered. Throughout the 1980s she continued to explore new types of work, using unusual materials in her sculpture and furthering the bounds of her art. Graves made her final works in April of 1995 at the Walla Walla Foundry. The next month she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and she died that October. Since her death, a number of major exhibitions and retrospectives have been held for her, and she continues to be one of the most interesting and respected artists of recent decades.