Nayana Glazier has played an entire cast of rolls in her life — cancer survivor, mother, waiter, factory worker, gallery manager, and more. Some acts short and matter-of-fact, others long and painful. At her core and impervious to life’s daggers and graces, however, Nayana has always been, and always will be, an artist.
I couldn’t not create if I tried, I haven’t had the easiest life and art is a release. I put myself into everything I make. They are a part of me just as my hand or leg is.
I sometimes think we take the title, “artist,” too lightly. We shouldn’t — we should be in awe. How many of us have something that so distinctly and confidently describes who they are? Nayana’s journey perfectly illustrates the power of an artist, as not only a maker of beautiful things, but also as a human being with the ultimate emotional outlet and stage on which she may paint, persevere, and progress.
V: How did you get your start as an artist?
N: From the moment I was given crayons I can remember spending all of my time drawing and creating. I made a doll house with furniture out of cardboard, I dug clay and built a city in my yard. I did whatever it took to create from a very young age.
V: Were people around you always supportive of a career as an artist?
N: Yes absolutely. I grew up in a poor home and so the one thing we always could afford was pencils and paper. As I got older I would attend college art classes with my dad instead of junior high school and had a truancy officer after me. Art was always encouraged.
V: In what ways did studying art in school help you, in what ways did it hinder?
N: I took every art class available in grade school up till high school graduation. Everything from photography to ceramics and printmaking etc. In college I studied fine art and photography and was told I wasn’t a painter because I also studied photography. Even though I focused on fine art photography at Mass Art painting was my passion so when I left school I focused on painting. The most useful college courses were 2 dimensional design and color. Even though I paint predominantly in black and white I found spending an entire semester mixing the perfect color wheel to be very helpful later.
V: We hear about the “starving artist” idea a lot, what were your experiences like after graduating?
N: I’ve spent a lot of time as a “starving artist”. Survived on ramen noodles etc. I joke sometimes that I paint in black and white because its cheaper to buy two tubes of paint. I find its more important to make art that I feel is right and expresses something then to make art just to sell it. As a result I have gone through busy and slow sales times. I have as a result and also out of a desire to expand what I do gotten into curating. I’ve also owned and operated a restaurant, a record company and a myriad of other projects. I also worked as a graphic designer. Waiter, receptionist, gallery manager, cashier, personal care assistant, factory worker and so much more. But the constant has been art and specifically painting. I’ve always been producing work even when I worked three jobs to pay the bills.
I’ve spent a lot of time as a “starving artist”. Survived on ramen noodles etc. I joke sometimes that I paint in black and white because its cheaper to buy two tubes of paint. I find it’s more important to make art that I feel is right and expresses something then to make art just to sell it.
V: Describe a time when inspiration hit you unexpectedly…what happens next?
N: This happens all the time. I might be driving or sleeping or watching tv or making dinner or doing laundry or grocery shopping and something will pop into my head. I used to carry a small note pad where I would sketch an idea and write notes to remind myself. Now a days with smart phones I have a sketch app for the same purpose. But not all ideas make it into reality. Maybe 1 in 10.
V: What moment in your life has been most influential to your art?
N: That’s a tough question. My art is always influenced by life experiences. I had a rough and unusual childhood and quite frankly adulthood as well. I have always used art as an escape and also something to channel those experiences and the feelings that go with them. I usually work in series and each series comes from a life experience. I did one series about people feeling alone in a group, that came from struggling to survive living in Boston for art school.
Another series was about Native Americans in the city, that stemmed from being a significant portion native and always feeling out of place. It had colorful native dancers juxtaposed by black and white cityscapes. Out of place.
Every single piece I do is influenced by a life experience. Recently I spent 2 years in the hospital having and recovering from a bone marrow transplant for leukemia. I’ve only been home less than a year and out of the wheelchair for 6 months. I’m working on pieces based on that life altering experience now.
V: What does painting a piece like ‘Stop’ help you accomplish or feel?
N: Stop was right after I was diagnosed with leukemia. It helped me express how isolated I felt with the whiteness of the background but also as if I could explode from the inside out with the raised cubes. Fractured and broken feeling from the inside out. Painting it helped me to get some of that feeling out of me. Like therapy I left some of it on the canvas.
V: Why is your work predominantly in black and white (or grays)?
N: As I said above I joke that its that way because then I only have to buy two tubes of paint, black and white. But it has more to do with a comfort zone. I studied black and white fine art photography and when I decided to focus on painting I found I missed seeing the world in black and white.
When I looked through the lens my brain almost automatically broke things down into tones instead of colors and when I started doing that in paint it felt right. Over time it became about the certain feeling you get when you see a black and white image. The instant nostalgia. I also find color can be distracting from the other elements of an image like composition and content. Only using black, white and shades of grey tends to focus the brain on the subject more. At least my brain works that way.
V: Are the girls in your paintings you, or reflections of yourself?
N: They are definitely reflections of self. It kind of goes back to the days of art school where every assignment was in some way a self portrait. The women and girls are usually in some way a reflection of me. After I became a mother some of the young girls became reflections of my daughter or ideas and feelings I had toward other young children because I was now a mother. Rebirth and cold are both specifically reflections of me though.
Cold is from the series I mentioned above about feeling alone in the city surrounded by people and life. And rebirth is about coming back to life after being taken apart and put back together again. I painted it just before my bone marrow transplant as a kind of hope for rebirth. I’m fortunate enough to say I got the rebirth I hoped for. Most of the others I know in my situation did not.
V: Tell us a little about your process, from conception of an idea or scene, and the execution…
N: My process is usually the same. I will have an idea, usually seemingly random throughout my day and I jot it down for later. Then later when I have time I might sketch it out with the basic elements. Because I have a photography background I then will go and shoot or look through my images for an image that fits an element in the piece that I sketched out. Sometimes Its a picture I took of a child running or a landscape and then the other elements I make up. Trilogy for example I took the image of the girl running and the man with the hands over the eyes but I made up the woman and the landscape.
Once I have the photos I need I will print the reference photos I took and keep them next to me while painting. I sketch the composition on the canvas but I usually already have it in mind from the initial sketch. Once its all sketched I typically start with the dark tones, the pure blacks. I put down an undercoating of pure black and about 2 or 3 deviations of dark grey to map it out and then build layer upon layer of lighter shades of grey until I get to white where it is needed. I might do anywhere from 10 to 100 layers on a painting. Usually getting thinner to a more water consistency as I get closer to pure white. I also sometimes use a color glazes or washes with watered down acrylic. I prefer Artelier Interactive Acrylic paint because they have a series of mediums with them. You can slow or speed up the drying process as well as alter the opacity etc.
V: How do you work best?
N: At home on my couch or in a comfortable chair with either music or television on.
V: Many pieces seem to feature some sort of unspoken tension — what makes you want to highlight these types of moments?
N: A life of difficult moments, I suppose. A need to get those tense experiences out of me and onto the canvas.
V: How do you want viewers to interact with your work? Is there a message you’re trying to convey?
N: No message specifically to convey. I want people to feel something, anything, positive or negative as long as they feel something.
There is certainly no lack of feeling in Nayana’s work. All pieces are now available on Vango. And, be sure to follow Nayana Glazier to see when she adds new work.
Also published on Medium.