Honoring This Week’s Dan’s Papers Cover Artist: Nancy Abbe

DETAIL: Nancy Abbe's Dan's Papers Cover painting "Dawn on Montauk"
DETAIL: Nancy Abbe's Dan's Papers Cover painting "Dawn on Montauk"

This week’s cover, “Dawn on Montauk” by nancy Abbe is a view we’ve probably never seen no matter how familiar we are with the area.

The image seems both expressionistic and fantasy-like, similar to a scene from a romantic movie. Or a dream. It probably is a dream, according to the artist, who takes advantage of her penchant for “dream time” to paint settings combining the sea, sky and land. Unless we look carefully, all the elements appear to blend together, conveying a striking abstraction.

If we look again, we see a white swatch or band that divides the image into two parts: sky and sea. The sky section swirls in space; any minute the sky may break away and actually come down to earth. Conversely, the white band conveys calm and quiet. The entire painting gives the impression that something dangerous is about to happen, thus the work’s visual aspects are as impressive as its narrative elements.

You live in Scarsdale, not Montauk, but you have captured some sort of spiritual quality about Montauk.
I’m a romantic person and have a spiritual sense. Sometimes I do things that are unexpected. Although we don’t live in Montauk, we go there every year, in the winter. I love to walk on the beach, even when there’s snow on the sand. We’ve been going since 1993. But we didn’t go this winter.

How do you remember the images you see in Montauk if it’s been a while since you were there?
I  get up early and look out the window when we’re there. Everything changes minute to minute. I keep the image in my mind until I paint it.

Is this cover image typical of your other seascapes? Are the styles the same?
I don’t have one style. I know people like to identify things; their things have to have labels, like their pocketbooks. I don’t like labels.

I notice that there’s a consistency in some of your works, however: the use of rhythm and movement.
Yes. They are important to me.

Since you don’t have a signature style, where do your ideas come from?
One place is, I see designs in rocks and trees. I also remember I saw moisture collect when I would get out of a shower. It formed a pattern. I would use that as inspiration.

When did you start painting, and did you have training?
I’ve been painting for 40 years. I had a friend who painted, but I thought I could never do what she did. But I did. I took classes at the Y and at the Reilly League in White Plains, where we worked from the human figure. I would spend a total of 10 hours there a day, going back and forth to my home to make meals, take care of the children. It was 11 p.m. until I could wash the dishes.

Speaking of your children, are any of them artists? Do you think talent in art is inherited?
Yes, I feel it’s inherited, although you can learn competence. People say to me, “I can never paint.” I tell them, “Yes, you can.”

My son Leo is a good writer. He writes outrageously humorous things although he’s in the financial world. His youngest daughter is a marvelous artist. Another granddaughter, Talia, has a flair for sculpture. 

When you were younger, was anyone in your family an artist?
My grandfather was an artist, but he did it as a hobby; he was a chemist. I still have some of his art supplies and use his painting knife.

What does your future look like?
I’d like to get back to doing large pieces. And I will always gravitate toward the sea. I don’t have plans to move any place else. I don’t need excitement from other locales. You can reach into yourself and find what you are looking for.

You can see more work by Nancy Abbe on her website nancyabbe.com.

Nancy Abbe's Dan's Papers Cover painting "Dawn on Montauk"

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