Nancy Brandon began teaching herself how to paint in 1960. Now 93, the long-time Upper West Sider will soon be honored with her first-ever solo exhibition: “The Accidental Artist – Joy & Cohesion in Black Life.”
The opening night of the exhibition – part of Goddard Riverside’s annual W.H.A.M. Festival, a “month-long arts festival celebrating female artists and perspectives” – will take place at the non-profit’s Bernie Wohl Center at 647 Columbus Avenue (between 91st and 92nd streets) on Friday, March 1 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Since 1990, Brandon has lived at Saint Martin’s Tower on 91st Street and Columbus Avenue, where’s she’s transformed many of the community spaces (in addition to her own apartment). She can frequently be seen around the neighborhood with her “leopard-print cane, fashionable shades and daring new hair color,” reads a press release for the event.
Brandon studied harp at the School of Music and Art in Hamilton Heights. “Back then, women were disincentivized from pursuing careers,” Nancy said. She went to Hunter College and then became a teacher, starting with kindergarten and moving to junior high. “I realized I could not be ‘Mary Sunshine’ all day long,” she explains.
She married in 1955 to a dentist who was “somewhat of a mismatch, but it worked,” and retired from teaching in 1985, at which point she devoted her time towards her family and painting. “The merging of these two great passions is readily apparent in Nancy’s works which prominently feature Black American couples and families awash in brilliant tropical colors.”
Nancy’s subjects, in their pensive embraces, represent the gratitude she feels for the steadfast protection and love within the Black community in the face of turmoil caused by “ordinary racism.” One can easily trace the humor in Nancy’s oeuvre, which bears elements of folk/outsider art. Heavily influenced by Picasso, Matisse, Chagall and the various modern European art movements of the 21st century, Nancy channels their audacity of figurative expression and bold painterly style while flipping the script to center the Black female experience. Nancy attended the renowned Printmaking Workshop with founder and master printmaker Robert Blackburn, resulting in her print, “The Offering” being added to the Library of Congress. (Other notable students of Blackburn included Leonora Carrington, Romare Bearden, and Faith Ringgold.)
More details of the event can be viewed on Eventbrite.