Checking in with Nancy Bass

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Tell us about your day job.
My husband and I are farmers, and he does most of the work. I paint a lot of farm animals, including our cattle, so that’s kind of my specialty. At this point I’m really a full-time artist, which is what I’ve always wanted to be since I was little. I think I could probably paint about 12 hours a day if I had nothing else to do. The time would just fly.

Nancy Bass is planning an autumn fundraiser, centered on her art, that will celebrate the rural life she shares with her husband. “I just really like capturing the innocence and the beauty of animals,” she says. “I’ve tried to take animal painting to a level that people aren’t used to seeing, combining it with abstraction and making people think about animals in a different way.”

What are you working on right now?
My husband and I have been farming here for 30 years, and even when we came here farmers were getting older and the workforce had been transitioning away from farming. This last year, though, I’ve been visiting some local farms and getting to meet the younger people who are coming back and doing the whole organic sustainable farming thing that is so big in Albemarle now. I thought, well, I’ve been very fortunate as an artist the last few years, so I should put on a fundraiser. I approached the Piedmont Environmental Council because they sponsor this “Buy Fresh Buy Local” program. I’m going to 12 local farms that practice sustainable agriculture and raise animals humanely and doing a painting for each farm. This fall there’s going to be a fundraiser followed by an October exhibit at Chroma [Projects Art Laboratory], and some of the farmers are going to come give talks.

What is your first artistic memory from childhood?
When I was 3 I wanted to have a dog in the worst way, but my parents didn’t want to get a dog because they had just moved into a house they were very proud of. And so I figured out how to draw a poodle, which is what I really wanted, and then I drew a pink poodle on a sheet of paper and was so excited that I made one in every color from the crayon box. I put them all around the room and pretended I had a pet store, which is funny, because here I am now with all these paintings of cows in different colors. I’ve come full circle.

Who is your favorite artist outside your medium?
I like architecture a lot. I like Frank Gehry, who did the Balboa Museum and the Guggenheim. I grew up in the midwest and there were some Frank Lloyd Wrights in my hometown, so whenever I’m traveling by one I always try and take the time to see it.

Item you’d splurge on?
I like art supplies, and I like good food. I go to Feast and the Main Street Market, and when I’m visiting these farms I buy food. Whenever I go on these visits my freezer just gets stocked up with all kinds of meat.

Which of your works are you most proud of?
I always like the latest work because I feel like there’s the most progression in it, and it’s more in tune with what I’m thinking at the moment. I think at this point in my life the work has more levels of meaning to it. There’s more symbolism.

Tell us about a recent concert, exhibit or show that has inspired you.
I had to meet my daughter in New York and we went to the Museum of Modern Art and the performance artist Marina Abramovic was there. Her piece was called “The Artist is Present.” She sat at a table and people took turns going up and sitting on the other side, and she would just sit and stare from the time the museum opened to the time it closed, and she wouldn’t get up, not even to go to the bathroom. She sat there all day for months, and just being in her presence was so captivating, to feel how mentally into it she was. She was in a long, red robe and she had dark black hair and very white skin, almost like a queen. Hearing about it, I would have just thought, “Oh yeah, whatever.” But to be there and to see it I had to revise my whole idea of what art was. 

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