‘Vary’ appealing: Multiple art genres draw Nielsen’s interest


Before she could retire and become a full-time artist, Nannette Nielsen utilized her talents working in a variety of arts-related fields.

“I knew I would have to support myself, so I went into interior design,” says Nielsen, who hails from Denver and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Colorado State University.

Upon graduating she moved to New York City and found a job at China Seas, a textile and wallpaper firm that imported batik and exotic fabrics from Indonesia and China. The husband of the owner happened to be the chairman of Newsweek, which resulted in a high-society New York clientele, including Jackie Onassis, Babe Paley and Mica Ertegun.

Nielsen oversaw their domestic line and production, and eventually began designing fabrics for the company’s home furnishing line and for fashion house designers such as Mary McFadden and Donna Karan.

She says she was influenced by an art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art called “The Great Wave,” which featured Hokusai’s “Under the Wave off Kanagawa,” which is thought to have inspired works such as Debussy’s “La Mer” and Rilke’s “Der Berg.” The two schools of art were displayed side by side in the exhibition.

“It showed the influence of Japanese woodcuts on French prints. It combined my two biggest influences, French Impressionism and Asian art,” says Nielsen.

Missing the Colorado lifestyle, she moved back to Denver in 1975, where she continued to represent high-end fabric and furniture lines, including China Seas, calling on designers and architects, adding, “The contacts and experiences I gained in New York City were invaluable.”

She eventually worked for the luxury design firm Kneedler Fauchère, running their Denver showroom for 20 years.

“Kneedler and Fauchère were kind of the vanguards of the industry, helping all of those famous fabric houses like Angelo Donghia, Clarence House, and Jack Lenor Larsen, get started,” Nielsen says.

To satisfy her own creative juices, she took classes off hours at the Denver Botanical Gardens and, after eight years, became certified as a botanical illustrator.

Botanical illustrations, realistic and precise watercolors of flowers and plant life, are meant to depict perfectly drawn images of plant species against a blank background and without showing the artist’s hand. Her painstakingly detailed botanicals are worked in watercolor or graphite.

Nielsen says she finds it challenging, as it is often a race against time to capture the details of a specimen before it wilts or loses color. Since moving to Florida, the rich, natural flora has again piqued her interest in painting botanicals.

After retiring, Nielsen arrived in Vero Beach in 2018, joining her three sisters who had, one by one, moved to the Treasure Coast.

She began taking classes in abstract expressionism from Vickie Marsango at Vero Beach Museum of Art, the complete opposite from botanicals, and in 2019, a Renaissance art exhibit at the museum rekindled that interest.

“I had studied Renaissance art while going to summer school in Vienna, Austria, in 1971. The paintings in the exhibit mostly depicted deep jewel tone colors, with rich velvet and damask costumes and religious subjects, which influenced my abstract painting titled ‘Ascension,’” says Nielsen.

“Abstracts need to be more spontaneous, your feelings just come out. You just kind of let go. It’s scary; the painting goes through an ugly stage, but you just keep going and it usually works out,” she explains, adding that she doesn’t even let the paint dry, preferring to work on it to its completion.

“In abstract, it is more intuitive. If you think too much about composition, it looks too contrived. But at the same time you do have to have composition. It’s hard to explain, you have to just let yourself go.”

Nielsen also enjoys plein air painting, and has taken part in live and online conventions led by artist Eric Rhoads, publisher of Plein Air Magazine, who similarly hosts Watercolor Live, Pastel Live and Realism Live. She has also participated in a plein air retreat in Scotland.

She prefers to use oils for her more detailed plein air paintings, such as one called “Happy Retirement,” which won First Place at the Vero Beach Art Club’s Inspired Works exhibit. Depicting the former Seaside Grill, Nielsen painted it on the last day it was opened, when the owners retired after 30 years in business.

She finds inspiration for her creativity everywhere, with nature and the beauty of the environment topping the list.

“I will get overwhelmed sometimes, as I am interested in so many things,” says Nielsen.
Her varied styles include abstract expressionism, landscapes, local scenes, still life, botanical illustration and botanical art, and collages, meaning she regularly has a wealth of materials at hand, such as oils, acrylics, watercolors and pastels, cold wax, crayons and pencils.

Whatever the style or medium, though, what stands out is the quality of her work.

Nielsen is a member of the American Society of Botanical Artists, Laguna Plein Air Painters, Vero Beach Art Club, and Vero Beach Art Club Plein Air Painters. Her paintings can be viewed at the Vero Beach Art Club Gallery, and at the Gallery 14 Crystal Jubilee, its 15-year anniversary exhibit.

Photos by Joshua Kodis

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