When Nancy Oppenheimer is painting a bear, she begins by fleshing out its shape. As the image starts to take form, each stroke of the brush is in time with a rush of air, inhaled, exhaled. The rhythmical breathing and brushwork continue until Oppenheimer and the bear breathe the same breath. That’s when she knows the bear has come to life.
For Oppenheimer every animal she creates, for that matter every tree she creates, has its own unique personality. Her style, which reflects an early career in illustration, possesses a quiet energy, soft, resonant, fluid, yet powerful and compelling. Each bear is a composite of bears she has seen in the wild or in thousands of research photographs.
It takes years to be able to synthesize experience, memory, and reference into a new entity. Oppenheimer is more than up to the task, which is evidenced by a huge body of work created in a variety of mediums including pastels, graphite, oils and water media, though for the past four years she has exclusively worked in oils on linen canvas. And she does all this on location or in her cave, as she calls her studio. There she is the queen of her artistic domain, ever focused on truth, beauty, and love.
Her passion for life embraces the animals she portrays. But she wasn’t always fascinated with bears. In fact she found them intimidating. She says, “About 15 years ago I was asked to paint a black bear. I hesitated. I felt no kinship, no camaraderie. Then someone prodded me, saying, ‘You’d better learn to love them, if you are going to paint them.’ So I read ‘Among the Bears’ by Ben Kilham. After raising several orphaned cubs, Kilham wrote of his experience, revealing the plight of the black bear. Reading that book was a glorious epiphany for me.” Now bears are her passion. She is an avid bear advocate, supporting many organizations whose mission it is to protect them.
While bears are her focus these days, she also paints other beasts great and small. She often works on large canvases, which take months to complete. That explains why there is a waiting list for commissions. No wonder she is in demand. Her images are exquisitely executed, brimming with personality and vibrancy.
She shies away from spreading herself too thin, however. Still, she is attracted to all disciplines of self-expression: poetry, writing, piano playing, and singing. The following poem illustrates her collective love of the arts.
The Passion of Art
I am drawn with caresses
To a palm’s esoteric existence
Whose fingers motion
With magnetic insistence
To dispel all defenses
To cease resistance
To enter a respite
Far from this unanswerable dissidence.
I take leave of this world absurd
And await the amulet’s sweet word
And the word is a hand opening a door
Upon a land of what once shimmered before
Before I breathed a breath
Or knew a thought of death.
Here then unfold the hills of pure truth
Bathed by streams of beauty and love
Shone upon by the moon and sun above.
While below run the bear and fly the dove.
Here then to bring birth to the passion of art
Is to fully understand from the heart.
You can find her work at Mountain Mist Gallery in Cashiers or visit her website at www.nancyoppenheimer.com. for a wide-ranging gallery of her paintings. She looks forward to your inquiries and welcomes your interest.