Nell Blaine (1922 - 1996)
Rooftops, 94th Street, New York, n.d.
Oil on canvas
17 x 21 inches
Initialed at lower left:: N. B.
Blaine was raised in the Richmond, Virginia, where she grew to hate the prevalent racial discrimination and left home at an early age. In high school, she was skilled enough to begin selling her artwork, which was mostly posters and portraits. She attended the Richmond School of Art, now Virginia Commonwealth University, between 1939 and 1942 but left its classical realist curriculum when one of the instructors introduced her to modern art.
She was a painter of still lifes and landscapes in brilliant colors, and created abstract work that gave the appearance of being done in a carefree, totally lighthearted manner but in fact is the result of years of disciplined study. It is also an effect achieved after rehabilitation from polio, which nearly took her life.
Suffering a paralyzed right hand, she taught herself to paint with her left hand, and she devoted much time to applying colors, some times as many as fifty varieties. She attributed her fascination with color with its discovery when she was two years old and corrective eye surgery allowed her to see color for the first time.
She used money she had earned from commercial art and went to New York and studied with Hans Hofmann, teacher of Abstract Expressionism. Shortly after, she married a jazz musician and immersed herself in the world of jazz, beating drums and improvising expressive dances, and associating with Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, and Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac. Her paintings of that time reflect her strong developing sense of relationship between jazz and abstract art.
In 1944 at age twenty-two, she became the youngest member of the American Abstract Artists and exhibited hard-edged geometric paintings, mostly black and white with accents of bright colors. She joined a cooperative of abstract artists and worked so hard at organizing shows that some referred to it as the Blaine Street Gallery.
She was a strong personality who had special influence on Larry Rivers and Jane Freilicher and appeared to thrive in the New York art scene of the 1940s. However, she decided that her lifestyle was unhealthy, and she left the city, had a period of seclusion, and then went to France where she admired the work of Gustave Courbet, Jean Antoine Watteau, Eugene Delacroix, and Nicholas Poussin and took up figurative art in an abstract style.
She became known as a "painterly realist," and added landscapes and interiors to her subject matter. She earned fellowships to Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony and began spending at least half the year in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She also traveled in Mexico.
In 1959 on the island of Mykonos, Greece, she developed polio. Her New York art friends in an exhibition of seventy-one artists raised money for extensive treatment at Mount Sinai Hospital. After recovery, she settled in a studio on Riverside Drive, spent her summers in Gloucester, and painted from her wheelchair. She died in 1996.