Artist of the Month December 2009


Nancy Calef

San Francisco, CA & New York, NY

Born and raised in the Bronx, Nancy learned about ethnic strife and managed to pick up a few survival tools.  At age 15, she was accelerated from Bronx High School of Science to the College of New Rochelle on a scholarship to study painting and sculpture.

In 1977 Calef moved to San Francisco, where she continues making new work and regularly exhibits in solo and group shows.  Nancy has also lived in Greece and Thailand, traveled throughout the U.S., Europe, Mexico, Central America, Southeast Asia, India and Nepal, painting in plein-air, which has served to develop her painting style and sharpen her understanding of the cultural and spiritual diversity of the world landscape.  She has come to realize that art is truly a universal language.

How and when did you start creating art?

By age nine, I was keeping stacks of my drawings and fashion designs stashed away under my bed. As a child model I was taught to concentrate on “how I look,” and I would escape that pressure by drawing how I saw.  Creating art has always led me to explore the mysterious and limitless realms of our internal makeup, helping to understand and break down my barriers so I can better relate to others.

What media and genres do you work in?

For many years I’ve been creating “Peoplescapes,” oil, sculptured characters and applied objects on canvas, addressing cultural, political and spiritual issues facing society.  By juxtaposing people in recognizable places and situations, each painting weaves together a story about contemporary life, filled with layers of detail, symbolism and humor.

"Plane slashing” is the latest progression of my 3D technique to build up the canvas; lately I’m tearing, cutting and manipulating the plane of an existing painting, while integrating it with one or more finished canvases that I've attached.  I paint into the entire deconstructed imagery, leaving various portions of the underlying picture(s) in tact.  I love taking the paintings from destruction and chaos to a cohesively transformed multi-dimensional piece.

I always maintain a relationship to plein-air painting, finding it meditative, instructive, and especially rewarding when traveling.

Who or what are your influences?

I am influenced by current events and my personal experience with people, places and circumstances.  Red Grooms, Jack Levine, Reginald Marsh, and Lucien Freud are the most influential painters in my life.  I’m excited by the energy of people, our humor and our unique yet universally common qualities, and I respect artists who take on those subjects.

"No Free Lunch?" -  As our economic culture is transforming and businesses are bracing for a darker hole, people continue their lives and they travel.  I see airports and airplanes as good barometers of our changing society, and how the population adapts to sometimes ridiculous conditions.  

The ironic consideration, “how bare will our stripped-down travel become?” is depicted here. Necessities, such as oxygen, water and, for some, toilet paper are for sale.  Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, Bernie Madoff sits next to a woman reading his book, Madoff Gate. The compromised overhead bin has turned into billboard advertisements offering acerbic liquidation and employment opportunities. Greed seems to have replaced the service orientation of the travel industry.

Describe your creative process?

The creative process teases, controls and absorbs me. It also has saved my life.  I treat it with great respect and honor its ebbs and flows.   Everyday, I take the brush to canvas and, although I am confronted with fear and insecurity, I also tap into a limitless source of imagery.  In those moments, time falls away and it seems that the work creates itself. 

After seeing an image in my mind’s eye, I paint feverishly to register the concept, and spend months manifesting the details.

What are you working on currently?

I’m creating a series of smaller 3D paintings, inspired by my recent travels to New York and the Florida coast.  I’ve also begun a dream series, capturing my latest vivid and intense dreams regarding liberation through surrender.  I was also struck by the Miami airport, and how it represents the American melting pot, along with the region’s notoriety for some of our most prominent issues: immigration, drugs, crime, poverty and global warming.  The painting is already developed in my mind.

What are your near/long term goals as an artist?

I hope to paint for the rest of my life, sharing my vision and humor to a wide audience.  Of course, artists all want museum retrospectives, but my goal is for people to appreciate my depiction of the uniqueness in all of us, while acknowledging our commonality.  I wish that my paintings speak a thousand words and that my body of work helps people think about our responsibility to make the world a more considerate place.

Where can people view/purchase your work (gallery, website, etc)?

My website:

"Art of the Crash" Group Exhibition
Fusion Arts Museum
57 Stanton Street, NY, NY 10002
October 1 - December 27, 2009

"Dramatic Characters" Group Exhibition
Expressions Gallery
2035 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, CA 94703
October 10 - December 4, 2009


"California Landscapes"
201 California Street Lobby, San Francisco, CA
Curated by ALC Designs
September 28 - December 28, 2009

Additional Information

Open Imagination

No Free Lunch

Open Imagination

Check, Please

Open Imagination


Open Imagination

Dream Sq.

Open Imagination

Metro Underground

Open Imagination

Millennium Models

Artist Website
All Images @ Nancy Calef
All Rights Reserved

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