Nationally acclaimed, award-winning artist Nancy Boren captures the essence of motion, light and drama with bold strokes and strong values
Sitting in her dad’s studio, watching him work, was a feast for the senses – the smell of linseed oil, the physical action of mixing of the paints, creating a palette of colors, the rustle of sketching paper and all the while seeing him transform a blank canvas to an exquisite work of art. This fecund environment fed her own creative mind, inspiring her to follow in her dad’s footsteps, but with a style of her own.
Having the famous artist of the American West James Boren as a father had its perks. Before becoming a nationally-acclaimed and award-winning artist herself, Nancy Boren hung around his studio, drawing and crafting. He taught her a lot just by listening to him talk about art, about the basics like value, color temperature, design and drawing, inspiring her to study art. And setting the bar high.
Recognized as one of America’s leading female artists, Boren was selected to serve as judge for the 10th anniversary edition of the Bosque Museum Wildflower Show and Sale. Originally scheduled to open May 9, the Wildflower Show and Sale was postponed until July 11 because of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 mitigation measures, then ultimately cancelled due to the prevailing pandemic.
But that has not slowed down Nancy Boren as two of her pieces were selected for prestigious shows this month – Backstage in the Black Dragon was accepted for the Oil Painters of America Salon Virtual show Aug. 13-Oct. 3. and Red Kimono was accepted for the 2020 American Impressionist Society show opening Oct. 22. In addition, a self-portrait was entered in the Portrait Society Self Portrait Competition. Voting begins online July 25, as the piece with the most votes wins and raises money for a good cause.
Boren’s creativity first found outlet in drawing, making quilts, origami, knitting and crochet before taking to painting in water color. At Christian University in Abilene, Boren studied Fine Arts giving her a solid academic and intellectual base to her innate creativity, receiving a Bachelor’s in 1977. And straight away she started painting as her profession.
Since then she has become a print maker and an award-winning oil painter, most recently winning the Artists’ Choice and the Bronze Medal at the 2016 Oil Painters of America show, Second Place Plein Air Salon 2017, and Second Place with the National Oil and Acrylic Painters’ Society Fall Online International show. Nancy was featured in the September/October 2017 issue of Art of the West. Her painting Aloft in the Western Sky is part of the permanent collection of the Booth Museum of Western Art in Cartersville, GA.
“My job is to be the best Nancy Boren I can be,” nationally acclaimed Boren said. “And it needs to be 100 percent me.”
Even though both Borens like to paint the Western life in a representational way, her dad tended to stick to larger scenes with horses and livestock set in breathtaking vistas with work-weary ranch homesteads. Boren established her own identity by concentrating on painting figures – cow girls, cow boys and the like, with a broader stroke and more impressionistic style. The dress, the cowboy attributes like lassos, saddles, blankets, chaps and hats were an added bonus Boren liked to play with. Showing the different focus of both artists, a joint exhibit in 2012 at the Bosque Arts Center was aptly titled Faces and Places.
A picture or drawing is like a poem, when the poet starts, he had no more and no different words to work with than you have. A work of art is made by his choice – selection and combination of ordinary material. Each man sees a subject differently and selects different things in it to emphasize.
FRANK BENSON, American Impressionist Painter
Being a very eclectic person – her own words – Boren never paints the same subject over and over again or uses the same color scheme, even though she does have a couple of favorites she likes to come back to. She likes to change it up. Besides depicting the Western lifestyle, she loves painting coastal life and landscapes, especially the Maine coast. And as handwriting changes over the years, so have her paintings evolved. Subjects might have changed, color schemes might have come and gone, but silhouette, color and contrast are always important in her work, as are strong values.
Balancing values – the lightness and darkness of a color – is most crucial to Boren and undeniably the hardest thing to learn. But once mastered, that is what gives a painting strength and power. Boren tries to stick to three or four values to create the tension and interest she seeks.
And over the years, experience and further studies gave Boren extensive knowledge of her métier.
Like her father, she enjoys talking about art, technique, the basics with her students. At a figure painting workshop at the Bosque Arts Center in the fall of 2017, she used lots of references and showed examples of other painters, telling the back story on how some of the works were created – often with patience, perseverance and an unwavering commitment to put their vision on the canvas. And this is what she stressed to her students, that figure painting is not easy, and if the first strokes or set up are not up to their vision, she encouraged them to make a decision, wipe the canvas clean and start over.
“Starting over is just part of it,” Boren said to her students. “It is quality control. Do not start down grading. Stick to your vision.”
At the BAC workshop, as the students honing their skills in figure painting looking at negative space, body proportions and strong values, Boren explained how one of her own award winning plein air paintings Wildflower Field came to be.
She and a friend were driving from Fredricksburg one day when Boren saw the field of wild flowers.
“I got lucky,” Boren said. “The field in the painting is exactly what it looked like.”
But when the canvas was done, it didn’t seem quite finished; something needed to pull the viewer’s attention beyond the lush field of Indian blanket, thistle, blue stem prickly poppy and what looks like Engelman daisies. So, what to add? A rabbit, a bird, a bi-plane? It became the hot air balloon, – not in kaleidoscope colors, but white – just right.
Boren herself enjoys attending workshops of fellow artists, always looking for inspiration, speaking the language of paint together, sharing ideas back and forth, learning along the way. They supply energy.
A general philosophy in Boren’s life, is “When you have an idea you are passionate about, do whatever it takes to achieve it,” translates into her profession. She is also convinced that if you commit yourself, the universe will help you.
When she has an idea on what to paint, she goes to great lengths to make it happen – like driving out into the boonies and putting models on top of windmills. Or borrowing this person’s dog, that person’s wife and that antique motorcycle to put them together with a mountain range she’s been eager to paint for a while.
That last scenario ended up as the Fast Track to Mustang Ridge painting – the 1957 Cushman motorcycle was on loan from the Clifton Classic Chassis, the dog Willie was from fellow Bosque County artist Betty Graham, and the model Amy was a Clifton merchant’s wife.
She loves painting figures; puts them large on the canvas, and more often than not, they exude happiness, or contentment, accentuated by often vibrant colors chosen for that particular painting, an overall sense of ease. A literal lightness – whether by lanterns, a fire casting a warm glow on the subjects or the capture of movement through broad strokes – is also something you will often find in Boren’s paintings, as well as scenes set in twilight is one of her favorite themes.
“Twilight is a magical time since for 30 minutes or so the sky is a velvety turquoise or blue violet,” Boren said. “It is dark enough for all the man-made lights to look bright but light enough to see color in the sky instead of blackness.”
A good example of this love of twilight can be seen in Paper Lights, Magic Nights. The painting took three evenings to complete – one for the initial set up, until the mosquitoes got too pesky, the second evening to finish the lights and then a two and a half week delay because of rain and conflicting schedules.
Sunlight on white is another thread through her work; a thread she and a friend discovered unexpectedly while going through several decades of paintings. Boren explains how they had this epiphany in “The Spirit Forges Ahead While the Brain Has to Figure It Out,” on the Oil Painters of America blog.
“A common abstract thread that made sense of my varied subjects: it wasn’t so much the crisp white sail boats moving over dark blue water, big puffy clouds in turquoise skies, or white houses surrounded by greenery, but rather it was large white objects in a colorful setting that I was painting over and over again,” Boren said. “Every piece I do does not feature white on a color field. But now when it happens, I smile to myself and recognize it as another chapter in my love affair with this combination.”
In her studio work, Boren uses her infinite imagination, her penchant for exotic and colorful things to stage her models in costume, with props – sometimes making them herself – backdrops and lighting.
At the BAC workshop, she added a feather and flower to her female model’s hair, tied a red frou-frou anklet on her left foot, transforming a girl in a short red gauze tutu into a carnavalesque figure ready to perform in the circus high top or take to the stage as a chorus girl in Vegas.
The next day, the backdrop was an array of colorful, primarily nautical flags, with a whimsical flag thrown in for good measure. The model, male this time, held a wooden oar over his shoulder, the light illuminating the right side of his physique, throwing some shadows – giving him depth, value, some swagger. He is not a young man out for a simple afternoon’s fishing anymore – the props and lights gave him the air like he was ready to take on the Royal Henley regatta.
Boren has said she loves a quote by Thomas Edison: “To be an inventor you need an imagination and a pile of junk.”
“My junk pile is composed of colors, shapes, outfits, people, weather, animals, stories and props,” Boren said. “I love treasure hunting on back roads, antique stores, on walks with my dog…everywhere. One fascinating object can give me a painting idea.”
Just recently, she saw a whole row of Dios de la Muerta skull decanters in a liquor store, inspired her to paint them, in her own unique way. The result was a painting called “Remembered,” which was featured at the Cowgirl Up – Art from the Other Half – Show at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, Ariz in 2018.
An active member and proponent of the American Women Artists organization, Boren was wearing an AWA 25 in 25 apron during the BAC workshop. A non-profit organization dedicated to the inspiration, celebration, and encouragement of women in the arts, AWA has worked diligently to bring women artists to the attention of the art world through museum shows, juried competitions in leading galleries around the country, symposiums, workshops and an international exchange.
Their goal is to increase the number of professional opportunities for women in the visual fine arts by creating the kinds of opportunities that lead to greater inclusion. AWA has a mission to have 25 women’s exhibits in 25 museums because work by women artists only makes up three-five percent of the permanent holdings in U.S. museums. In the AWA’s 2018 exhibition in the Museum Show at the Rockwell Museum, Corning, New York called Perspectives of the American Experience, Boren was featured with the painting, In the Land of the Yellow Sky.
In contrast to the staging and designing for her figurative paintings, for her plein air paintings, Boren looks to capture the adventure of the outdoors just as is, but with surprise, with interesting elements. She loves painting outdoors for the feeling it gives her, and the detail in color and light. And her landscapes, seascapes differ from her figurative painting, often showing a more subdued color palette.
It is the variety Boren loves, being able to change out things, which draws her to both plein air painting and figure painting. With a figure as the focus her preliminary work lies in planning and props; her preliminary work in plein air is driving and searching.
In spite of the totally different approaches to the two, there is a parity. In both, Boren puts her heart, mind and soul into to capturing the essence of the landscape, the emotion or movement, resulting in seemingly simple and vibrant beauty in her paintings. Although seemingly simple, nothing is simple about the process Boren undergoes to create a painting that connects with the viewer on different levels.
A master of her craft, which is all about skill, execution, techniques, composition and design, Boren creates breathtaking art – timeless, unique, engaging, enriching and inspiring.
“Having painted so many years now, it is the sense of satisfaction, that the end result came close to my vision,” Boren said, explaining what she enjoys most in her painting, her life – besides walks with her dogs, gardening, tinkering with craft projects and traveling to the coast for some plein air painting."
Born in Alaska, but spending her life in the western states of Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas, Fort Worth-based Boren and her husband Tim are regular visitors to Bosque County, spending many weekends and holidays in the rolling hills of Norse where her mother Mary Ellen lives.
“Life is really short, so you better enjoy it,” Boren said. “I feel like I’m creating something that people value, that they can connect with. Also, through my work I have some legacy, and I have left some of my spirit behind after I’m gone.
“Creative people are fortunate that way. They can speak to next generations.”
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS
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