I Knit Socks for Adrienne, 2021
Published online in March 2021 issue of Hoosac Journal 7.
Last year of 2020 was a once in a lifetime for me—probably for you, too, though you’ll probably be around in this world longer than I. Such upheaval! so much death and suffering, and in the nationwide, worldwide demonstrations against racist violence and White supremacy, for me, hope. All of this piled up together over the course of the year changed my art. Some of it became more political and talky, as in American Whiteness Since Trump made in February-March, and From Slavery to Freedom made in June. Even with the hopefulness, I was so exhausted that by the end of 2020, my art came out in a new way. Still with drawings, still with text. But newly confessional.
I Knit Socks for Adrienne is the most personally declarative piece of art I have ever made, more personal, even, than self-portraits, precisely because it is personally declarative in words that wrench the artist Nell Painter out of the closet as a knitter. For a long time I stayed closeted as a knitter. I thought, Let you see me as an artist, as an historian, as an artist who uses history, not let you see me as a knitter: a crafts-woman, an old lady sitting around with her needles and yarn. That mental image wasn’t one I had been able to expose.
But 2020 opened my closet door to reveal me knitting to hold myself together. There was all the death, searing painful deaths by the hundreds of thousands, especially of Black people. There was economic want. There was hunger. There was hope, in the hundreds of thousands of Americans in the streets calling down racism, denouncing White supremacy, declaring Black Lives Matter, roughing up, tearing down monuments to the Confederacy. The dead scared me. The demonstrators made me feel safer in the USA than ever before.
Even so, by Thanksgiving I had been away from home, away from Newark, for more than eight months, a coronavirus refugee in the far North Country of New York State, and missing my Newark people as I knitted—yes, to hold myself together. I knit socks for my husband; I knit socks for myself, and reaching across the miles to touch my friend in Newark, I knit socks for my Newark friend Adrienne. This piece in three panels shows self-portraits and, in the third, Adrienne’s mural on McCarter Highway in Newark.
American Whiteness Since Trump, 2020
Nell's artist book American Whiteness Since Trump is on display at James Fuentes Online gallery. This series of 28 pieces (ink, graphite, and collage on paper) was created while Painter was in residence at the Bogliasco Foundation, Italy in February–March 2020.
From Slavery to Freedom, 2020
This is a series of 15 drawings, each 8.5" x 5.5", commissioned by Emma Wilcox for Aferro Gallery in Newark. (View larger images here.)
The piece is on the Aferro Gallery website here: https://aferro.org/nell-painter/
2020 Art Events and Writings
A profile on Nell by Sammy Gibbons for northjersey.com (part of the USA Today network), “It's never too late: Why this successful NJ historian changed career paths in her late 60s” Published Dec. 14, 2020.
Nell is interviewed by Lauren O'Neill-Butler for the on-line publication November, “Nell Painter—In conversation with Lauren O'Neill-Butler,” November Magazine, No. 5. The interview took place September 2020. (novembermag.com is a publication of interviews with thinkers about art, politics, media, architecture, and philosophy).
My Coronavirus Occupation—Nell's essay on making art and writing during the coronavirus.
"Coronavirus came to occupy my art in Fondazione Bogliasco’s villa above the Ligurian Sea where I was in an artist’s residency between mid-February and mid-March of this year. My husband Glenn accompanied me in this Italian world contrasting so sharply with the dense woods of land-locked rural New Hampshire that I savor at MacDowell.
My project was an artist’s book, a visualization of my research on the history of white people in the U.S. today. When I started drawing Trump, I was in a sumptuous library beside floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of leather-bound complete editions of classic French authors. Gentle portraits of Bogliasco founders on the library’s walls encouraged and surveilled me as I revisited the shock of Trump’s campaign and the ugly white nationalist rhetoric that made him a sensation." [read more on macdowellcolony.org] [pdf]
MacDowell—Nell Painter Appointed Chair of MacDowell Colony Board of Directors, January 2020. Nell is the MacDowell’s new chairman of the board (here is the McDowell news release).
MacDowell is located in Peterborough, NH, and is one the nation’s leading contemporary arts organizations. MacDowell’s mission to nurture the arts by offering creative individuals of the highest talent an inspiring environment in which they can produce enduring works of the imagination.
“The challenge of following the singular eloquence of Michael Chabon as MacDowell chairman gives me pause. But as the first ‘madam chairman’ I relish the prospect of representing MacDowell and its far-flung Fellows,” Painter said. “I want to thank the board and staff for their support and trust as I step into this role, and, as a recent Fellow, I want also to thank them for creating a space where I could not only do my work in peace, but also slough off the burden of tokenism. I look forward to helping advance the MacDowell mission in an effort to provide this same gift for many more artists in the years to come.”
“Nell Painter has formidable gifts, and one of the most remarkable minds on the American scene,” said Chabon. “She is a powerhouse, and all of us at MacDowell feel fortunate and grateful to have her in our community.”
MacDowell awards more than 300 competitive Fellowships to artists working in seven disciplines each year. While at MacDowell, Fellows are provided a private studio, accommodations, and three meals a day for a period of up to eight weeks. Nell is a two-time MacDowell Fellow (2016, 2019). Here is a link to Nell's Artist page at MacDowell’s website. Also on MacDowell’s website, here is Nell's essay “At MacDowell with James Baldwin, to Stop and Do Nothing In Order to Start Anew.”
(Since Nell's appointment, MacDowell dropped the word "colony" from its name to continue efforts to eliminate barriers to participation.)
2019 Art Events
Nell is interviewed in the Boston Review: "The Historian’s Art", Jonathan M. Square, Walter Johnson, Nell Painter. Jonathan M. Square, the curator of Nell's 2 recent exhibits at Harvard University, introduces the conversation between Nell and Walter Johnson (Harvard historian and Nell’s former student) that took place at the opening of the exhibitions. (posted January 6, 2020)
Nell Painter's solo art exhibits at Harvard University from October through November 2019: “Freedom from Truth – Self-Portraits of Nell Painter”, was held in the Arts Wing of the Smith Center; and “Odalisque Atlas: White History as Told Through Art” was a satellite show at the Center for Government and International Studies, and focused on her cartographic work. Both exhibits of her art were curated by History and Literature Lecturer Jonathan Square.
Freedom from Truth – Self-Portraits of Nell Painter, solo show at Harvard University October-November 2019
Odalisque Atlas – White History as Told Through Art. Nell Painter solo show at Harvard University October-November 2019
In The Nation, Nell Painter reviews Mary Schmidt Campbell's book on the radical times and life of Romare Bearden, An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden. “Constant Evolution – Romare Bearden’s art” by Nell Painter (The Nation, Books & Art, September 9-16, 2019 issue) (pdf download)
Black and White: A Visual Dialogue—Exhibit at The Box, Express Newark
Nell's art is at The Box: "Black and White: A Visual Dialogue", showing at The Box, Express Newark (an exhibition space by The Paul Robeson Galleries, Rutgers University) May 8—June 8, 2019. This 3-person show, in collaboration with Women in Media-Newark, includes works by Nell Painter, Dominique Duroseau, and Grace Lynne Haynes; curated by Gladys Barker Grauer and Adrienne Wheeler.
Process and Practice—Exhibit at Gallery Aferro
Nell's art is at Gallery Aferro: "Process and Practice", April 6—May 25, 2019. This group show, curated by Evonne M. Davis, honors the Aferro Studios Residency Program, bringing together past and current residents in this exhibition.
"You Say" Prints Exhibited at the Smith College Museum of Art
Paul Robeson Portrait Exhibit at Zimmerli Art Museum
2018 Art Events
Nell published an art review of “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” in the New York Review Daily, in two parts:
- Whose Nation? The Art of Black Power. Nell Irvin Painter, New York Review Daily, February 4, 2018.
- On the Gallery Walls: Black Power Art in Arkansas. Nell Irvin Painter, New York Review Daily, April 1, 2018
Brodsky Center Series Acquired by Additional Museum
“The History of White People” by Nell Painter, 2019
As I pack up to launch the French edition of my book The History of White People, my book is very much on my mind as a product of my own enunciation. This piece shows text from the English language edition of The History of White People and my mouth(s) as the speaker of those phrases.
Swampy Land by the River Don, 2018
August 2018: Time for me to sit down and finally make some art after two months on the road promoting my new book, Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over. Ah! A return to the simple enjoyment of making images. Let me go back to line and color and the joy of mark-making on paper.
Rummaging through my archive of images, I found an old map from my research at the Beinecke Library at Yale in 2012, when I was painting my Odalisque Atlas series. In 2018 I just liked the way it looked, this 18th-century map of a section of the Don River in Russia. It was the appearance of the thing that attracted me. I made a little 7" x 5" lino print and colored about a dozen by hand using ink, acrylic, and collage. I had a very good time.
After I colored my lino prints, I checked into the history just out of curiosity. I can never get very far from my love of history. And it turns out my prints have quite a back story with relevance beyond the Black Sea.
A centuries old, major commercial route, the Don River in Russia ends at the port of Azov (also called Tana) on the northern part of the Black Sea known as the Sea of Azov. For many centuries before 1900, the principal export through the port of Azov was live merchandise supplied by Cossacks.
Cossacks captured their live merchandise by harvesting the steppe. Harvesting the steppe? This was raiding the peasants of the steppe between Poland, Ukraine, and Russia for people to sell to the rich eastern Mediterranean, especially to the Ottomans. But it wasn’t just Cossacks in this kind of business.
If you know anything about the Atlantic slave trade, you’ll recognize this business model. Harvesting the steppe for live merchandise was exactly the kind of raiding that delivered millions of hapless African peasants into the Atlantic slave trade, where ports along the west coast of Africa played the part of Azov/Tana with the Atlantic Ocean as the Black Sea.
Année Infâme, 2018
Motherwell Series, 2016
Read about Nell's Art Events
Including Articles and Interviews (by year)
View Nell's Art (by year produced)
CRC images, 2013, digital images, dimensions vary
Beloveds, 2013, digital collages on paper, each 5-1/2" x 5-1/2”
Art History Volume XXVII by Nell Painter, Ancestral Arts, 2013.
Artist’s book, “Staples Edition,” 8 x 9-1/2” each page. Larger format T/K.
Fall 2011 Art
Plantains Series, 2010
Self-portrait Series, 2010
Brooklyn Photographs Series, 2008
In November-December 2008 Nell Painter created a series of paintings inspired by Brooklyn photographs by Lucille Fornasieri-Gold in the Brooklyn Historical Society. Here are four from that series, ink and gouache on paper, all 22" x 30".
Read about Nell's Art Events
Including Articles and Interviews (by Year)
2017 Art Events
Nell's interview in Art in Print: Nell Painter: Working In The Year 2017
Video of Nell's interview with Carol Jenkins on CUNY Television's Black America series on April 26, 2017, "Black America - Through a Painter's Eye with Nell Painter": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_b6qwX9f0c&t=6s
2014 Art Events
The French group Les Amis de Beauford Delaney protect the memory of the great American painter who lived and died in France. They discovered that Nell Painter had made work inspired by Beauford Delaney.
Les Amis de Beauford Delaney: Nell Painter on Beauford
NJTV video interviews include Nell Painter and shows her work. NJTV visits Emerge 11, an exhibit of 21 artists at Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art, in downtown Newark, New Jersey. Emerge is a group art show and also a professional development program for artists. NJTV spoke with the founding directior and five of the Emerge 11 artists, including Nell Painter. (Published on Oct 23, 2014)
Nell's interview is from 4:52 to 6:17 in the video.
Nell Painter is mentioned in a review of the Emerge 11 group show in the Star-Ledger newspaper (Art Review: Emerge 11 at Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art, in Newark). Here is an excerpt from that review, discussing Nell's work:
"I think there's a lot of heart in this show," says Jorge Rojas, the independent curator who organized "Emerge 11," though he didn't choose the artists. The show is one of the rewards for acceptance into the program. "There's a lot of handwork. Most of the artists are younger than I am, but there's also Nell Painter. She had a distinguished career as a historian at Princeton University, concentrating in 19th century Southern American history, and then she decided to pursue a career in art, and went through the Rhode Island School of Design. And now she's showing these hypnotic abstractions based on an archival photograph of a dog fight in Brooklyn in the 1970s. You can still see the dogs, but they're like a memory buried in the picture."
The entire Star-Ledger review can be read here:
Art Review: Emerge 11 at Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art, in Newark
Nell was on a panel discussion on poetic process, cultural translation, and aesthetic collaboration at The Center for the Humanities, CUNY, Mar 5, 2014: "Birthplace with Buried Stones."
2013 Art Events
Nell in her studio with some of her artwork on the Newark Arts website: by Colleen Gutwein, Newark Arts Photo Documentary Project, https://www.newarkartsphotodoc.com/dr-nell-painter.
2012 Art Events
In spring 2012 Nell was artist-and-scholar in residence in the Department of African American Studies at Yale University. Her new art project was Odalisque Atlas (beauty + sex + slavery): http://afamstudies.yale.edu/news/nell-irvin-painter-2012-visiting-fellow-afam-studies
2011 Art Events
2009 Art Events
Nell received a BFA degree in painting from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers-the State University of New Jersey in May 2009 (while she was actually serving as a visiting professor at the University of Rome Tre). As the Virtual Artist in Residence of the Creative Research Center of Montclair State University in New Jersey, her work can be seen at http://www.montclair.edu/creativeresearch/index.html.