by Len Lear
Lafayette Hill resident Nancy Neill, a former corporate executive who gave up a highly successful corporate career to become a full-time artist, will have an exhibit of her award-winning abstract paintings, “The Urban Landscape Reimagined,” on display at the Muse Gallery, 52 N. 2nd St., Nov. 5 to 30, with a First Friday opening on Nov. 7, 5-7 p.m., and an Artist Reception on Sunday, Nov. 16, 2-4 p.m.
Neill’s body of work at Muse was inspired by the factories, old buildings and warehouses of the country’s rustbelt, particular where she grew up, in the Rubber Capital of the world, Akron, Ohio. Her abstract paintings capture the feeling of empty and abandoned industrial places, man-made structures accented by light coming in against darkness.
For these paintings, Neill uses Mylar, a reflective material that provides a fluid surface for the ink and paint and other media she uses. The industrial material is well suited to paintings based on the man-made urban landscape.
“I grew up in the rustbelt,” said Nancy, 56. “In the summers of my later high school and college years, I would go with my dad to work. We would pass all the other rubber companies and factories with smokestacks before arriving at the large Goodyear clock tower and pulling into the underground garage. The faint smell of rubber filled the air, and from the few factories still producing tires, a light grey-colored smoke billowed from their smokestacks.
“I was not permitted to work beyond 5 p.m. (so as not to collect overtime), but most evenings my dad would work late, and I would park myself in a chair outside his office and chat with his secretary until she left for the day. Some nights we would be there so late that it was getting dark when we left. I liked riding through the city at night, seeing the factories and buildings with sharp contrasts of the light coming from inside the dark structure.
“I learned a lot about the structure of things those summers, and a lot about how things flowed from the factory floor to the warehouse, and what went on in offices. I saw what blue collar people did for their wages and how differently low-level workers were treated versus managers and executives.”
Many years later Nancy, who earned a B.S. degree from Miami University of Ohio and a masters degree in business at the University of Chicago, eventually became Chief Financial Officer for two pharmaceutical firms, NanoSystems and Elan Pharmaceuticals. She helped start NanoSystems with a group of scientists, and she helped to sell that business in conjunction with the CEO and investment bankers. Elan Pharmaceuticals was sold a few years ago, which freed up Nancy to transform her painting from an after-hours pursuit to a full-time career.
Neill has now been painting for more than 15 years, and her work has been in numerous shows throughout the region. She has won several awards and has been featured in a number of publications. During those 15 years, Nancy has been married to Chris Cox, 63, who is also a former corporate executive as co-owner and creative director of an advertising agency. Remarkably, Cox also gave up her corporate career five years ago to become a full-time painter.
Nancy’s exhibit, “Urban Landscape Reimagined,” will have about 25 paintings. She has also been asked to be part of the Anniversary show at the Muse Gallery, which will be up for the month of February, 2015. In addition, she was part of the Navigation Puzzle Exhibition at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, which just closed after being up since June.
An interesting fact about Nancy’s paintings is that they are all untitled. Why? “My paintings are abstract,” Nancy explained, “and don’t directly depict something, and I want the viewer to see what he or she sees in the work, which is why I don’t give them a title … The imagery in each painting suggests a structure of some kind, but it has a sense of mystery because you can’t really tell exactly what it is. I want to preserve that sense of mystery.”
Nancy paints with brushes and cloths but also sharp instruments to scratch into the paint and give energy to the surface. When she started painting, she “studied with various teachers and learned a lot of techniques and how to paint in a representational manner. But after a while I felt the desire to paint from my memory and to make art that was more abstract and emotional for me.”
Finally, we asked Nancy if she ever misses the corporate world. Her brief response: “No.”