Nell Blaine’s (1922-1996) life is an inspiring story of action and indomitable spirit. Her life and art was a triumph over the greatest difficulties. In 1942, at age 19, she left home in Virginia for New York City, ignoring her mother’s tears and threats to have her committed if she did. As a teenager Blaine was an academic realist but quickly evolved into an abstract painter in New York. She became a student of Hans Hofmann, showing up at his studio on her first day in the city with suitcase in hand directly from the bus station. Through his school she made important connections with avant-garde artists and dealers. She supported herself meagerly through sales of paintings and commercial design.
Her work was informed by jazz rhythm and improvisation. Learning to play drums influenced the way she held paint brushes and viscerally handled paint. She sought an inner rhythm for the act of painting. She painted all over at once and believed in not tampering with the painting after the fact. In the 1950s Blaine’s imagery returned to representation. The large scale and dynamic attack of her work was physically demanding to create.
At age 37, while painting in Greece, she contracted polio. She was restricted to a wheel chair and had limited strength in her arms. After long and difficult rehabilitation, she resumed painting. Dedicated friends assisted her for the rest of her life.
In “Nell Blaine, Her Art and Life”, Sawin observes that with the emergence of Pop Art in the 1960s, an expected consolidation of Abstract Expressionism and European tradition did not materialize. Instead there was “… a headlong rush into novelties…”. The art world has yet to change course. However, Nell Blaine achieved her own synthesis. She believed in showing pleasure in her paintings rather than the pain, anxiety, and financial stress she suffered. Nell Blaine’s art is a celebration of sight, color and form, and miracles of the commonplace in daily life.
ABOVE: Copy of Harbor and Green Cloth II by Nell Blaine, 1958, oil on canvas, 50 x 56 inches; gouache on Holbein multi-drawing book, 6.5″ x 9″ (16.51 x 22.86 cm), 2/21/08
Copy of Palm and Wheat by Nell Blaine, 1959, oil on canvas, 40 x 51 inches; gouache on Holbein multi-drawing book, 6.5″ x 9″ (16.51 x 22.86 cm), copyright Laraine Armenti 2/23/08
Copy of November Snow, 1987 by Nell Blaine, oil on canvas, 22 x 28 inches; gouache on Holbein multi-drawing book, 6.5″ x 9″ (16.51 x 22.86 cm), copyright Laraine Armenti 2/29/08
Note on Copies
My copies are done from printed reproductions that compress size, color, and physical properties of materials. The gouache incorporate all of the incongruities and imperfections that freehand work yields. Nell Blaine’s paintings are extremely difficult to copy with accuracy. The gestural energy of her marks applied all at once over the entire surface achieves a unity and pulse that is organically connected and defies matching. Additionally, Blaine’s color is built up spatially from back to front, layering interconnected zones of color. She used 38 oil colors plus white and two blacks to paint “Harbor and Green Cloth II”. I used a limited palette of red, yellow, two blues, black, white, and one brush size.
“Nell Blaine, Her Art and Life”, by Martica Sawin, 1998, Hudson Hills Press, Hudson, NY.