Ramsey Library Exhibits

Metamorfosi - Nancy Herman

Metamorfosi is Italian for metamorphosis. I chose the word “metamorphosis” meaning change for a number of reasons. The work itself marks a change or departure for me. I have been primarily a potter for twenty some years and only recently began painting and doing relief sculpture in conjunction with my art classes at UNCA and summer study at Penland School of Crafts.

I chose to use that Italian name “metamorfosi” because the genesis of the body of work really began in Italy. In the spring of 1997, I spent three months in a tiny Tuscan town working in clay and painting in oils. Every weekend I visited yet another Italian town to look at the rich treasures of art and architecture. Here, at every turn, I wandered into small oases filled with ornately carved altarpieces, picture frames, church doors, or other frescoed alcoves and trompe l’oeil cathedral ceilings where one could not really tell if the painting was painted in grisaille or sculpted.

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There was just so much beauty everywhere – on the street as well as in the museums. I was particularly inspired by a room filled with fifteenth century altarpieces which I saw in La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena. Here paintings of the loftiest religious themes were woven together with lyrical snippets of nature painting and all were tied together with beautifully carved and painted frames. I kept thinking about these altarpieces long after I saw them. All that wonderful carved surface and rich painting made me want to try combining expressive clay and painting in my own “personal altarpieces”.

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The word “metamorphosis” has other significance for me as I enter middle age with all the change that involves – losing one’s parents, one’s youth, hopefully gaining in wisdom and grace. The themes of rot and decay are not only reminders of our mortality, but in some strange way forced me to notice the beauty of all stages of physicality. I am such a slow painter that the still lifes I set up for myself were decaying long before I was finished painting, but I discovered that the layer of mold on my beautiful bowl of strawberries was quite beautiful in its own way. And, of course, it is ironic that someone with a lifelong fear of insects has spent hours poring through books of insect identifications and illustrations and even hours inspecting a dead bumblebee from my studio floor under a microscope. Something about facing fear and one’s own mortality literally I guess. Another influence has been the early Northern Renaissance natura morte vanitas still lifes with their odd combinations of beautiful ripe fruit, insects, candles, skulls – again all reminders of the temporality of life
The format for this work – clay combined with oil painting is borne quite simply from a personal need to combine the two mediums I love the most. I have had my hands in clay for many years, and have always painted on fired clay with glazes and slips. More recently, I have begun painting on canvas. Combining these two mediums certainly has been challenging. Should the clay be simply a frame? How can I integrate three and two-dimensional images? Should the painting reinforce the sculptural images? These are all problems I wrestled with in making this work which I imagine I will continue to struggle with as the work evolves.

-Nancy Herman

Nancy Herman received her B.F.A. certificate from UNCA and is pursuing an M.F.A. from Vermont College.

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