The Conspicuous Talent of Nora Daniel
Of all the artists on the Brattleboro scene, one whose reputation generally precedes her is figurative painter Nora Daniel. Asking around, one finds that most circles of artists have seen her work and are generally impressed for the same two reasons: tremendous output and conspicuous talent. What is more impressive about this young artist, however, is her detachment from her accomplishments in favor of her singular focus on that which she is painting now, today, at this moment. That is the sign of an artist who is more concerned with the act of painting than in the material produced by that act. It could be the sign of one focused unconsciously on some great accomplishment in the future, as yet unrevealed. As if each artwork, or labor of love, was a mere steppingstone on the path to that work which will be her life's achievement.
If you don't think you've seen Nora's work, you may have. Since her arrival in the area as a Putney School student (1984-86), she has exhibited endlessly and in all the most unlikely venues. In the window of a music store, on a shelf in someone's garage, in an antique store, at the bar, in a parking lot, and inside the nearby cafe; in people's kitchens and in serious art collections, everywhere you go, her paintings seem to be knocking about. Still lifes, pictures of pets, figure studies and endless portraits, portraits, portraits. On napkins, beer coasters, scraps, you name it -- she never stops.
During her time in Brattleboro -- or Putney, where it is said she lives -- she has come and gone, disappearing on a moment's notice, her studies taking her to places like San Francisco, Venice (Italy), the Museum School in Boston, where she spent a year; every time discarding a load of paintings in various directions before she leaves, only to return with a new carload of work. And always the work improves. She paints all that passes by her but has an obvious fascination with the human figure.
Her figurative work is represented by drawings and in oil on canvas. She is not concerned with exploring new materials but is firmly satisfied with established traditional techniques. Her preference in artists follows similar tastes in that she esteems some of the old masters such as Titian and Rembrandt, and other figurative artists such as Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida and Anders Zorn, rather than more expressive or conceptual artists of recent centuries. Well, artists in general recognize their own sensibilities and gifts in those who have come before them. Nora's most obvious gift seems to be that which, before the age of photography, defined what an artist was: the ability, or the tendency, to look more closely than the average person and, without sentiment or reflection, to be able to convey accurately onto paper, with only the hand and a drawing tool, that which one can see. In previous centuries the ability to draw as such seemed almost as magic, and the rare individual who did it was seen as remarkable. Nowadays, as more artists are drawn to work conceptually or with technological media, the gifted entity who devotes a life to honing such talents is more rare than ever. In fact, art schools that teach traditional drawing and painting techniques have all but gone their way. The scarcity of such studies and the connection with the past for artists, through the study of tradition, implies a potential loss of information comparable to the forgotten studies of natural medicine or ancient astrology.
As an artist, Nora is a product of good upbringing. Her talent was recognized early on by her father, who was a dealer in folk art, and her grandmother, who had studied at the Art Students League in New York and with the abstractionist Sidney Gross. Nora was exposed to art as a child in the city and encouraged by her family. Lessons at the Art Students League began in early high school, and she has returned to the League off and on to concentrate on her work since. Her studies with Jacob Collins and Michael Grimaldi in New York City gave her the academic discipline of the French Academy, but she thinks of Nelson Shanks -- a student of Pietro Annigoni, Henry Hensche, and Robert Brackman -- as her main mentor in regard to dynamism, color, and composition.
This past winter, Nora broke new ground for Brattleboro's Gallery Walk by renting a store window as a public exhibition space. She listed her window in the Gallery Walk guide and thus became an instant art gallery, albeit through a glass, but open for a look 24 hours a day.
When asked why she loves painting, Nora responded, "It provides an opportunity to focus on things which I think are essential to the appreciation of life, such as beauty, balance, interest, dynamism, and soul." She went on to explain that, within the confines of the four-sided canvas, she finds the perfect realm within which to define what such things are. Nora wants her paintings to put the viewer "in the moment," as the act of painting does for her. She wants to "turn heads" with her work and for the pieces to do more than convey an aesthetic experience. She wants to "make one think."
To fulfill this goal, she continues to work prodigiously and hopes that her work will "lead to better work." She seeks exposure and must sell or barter her work to continue to make more work. You can imagine how busy she is! These days, the governments of most European countries provide funds to young, developing artists so that they might have the freedom to work and grow, but here in the U.S. they are on their own. Oftentimes, such an artist, unknown as yet, must give up all comforts simply to afford to continue working, studying and developing. But it is the continued sacrifice of such niceties and what seems the genetic predisposition to relentlessly pursue the exploration of such tendencies which make the artist such a soulful and curious entity.
And it is the presence of many such driven personalities which makes the Brattleboro art scene and the monthly first Friday Gallery Walk as vibrant and compelling as it is.
Copyright 2004, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont