American Art Collector
JENNIFER NEHRBASS Pioneer Woman
Inspired by Willa Cather’s 1913 novel O Pioneers!, Jennifer Nehrbass’ latest series dreamily combines the Old West, fashion and fabrication in a style best described as “magical realism”—as the artist herself puts it. Pioneer Project takes its pilgrimage to Julie Nester Gallery this March, bringing figures and landscapes along for the ride.
“Jennifer’s paintings have always resonated with our clients,” gallery owner Julie Nester says. She continues, “But the paintings in Pioneer Project have created a higher degree of interest and dialogue. The figurative paintings have especially been appreciated. Not only are they visually beautiful, but the fictional narrative of women as the explorers and documentarians has a relevancy that is powerful at this time in our society.”
Rather than directly re-creating a person, object, place or moment in time, Nehrbass employs a variety of fact and fiction to create her artwork, spawning from both what she’s experienced in real life and elements created entirely from her own imagination.
The landscapes in Pioneer Project, for example, are not meant to depict real places, nor are they meant to be interpretations.
“One of the reasons I really love doing the landscapes is they’re kind of like a dream postcard that I give to people,” she says. “But they’re not real.”
The women she depicts in the series— chic, bold and confident—fall into the same category. “There’s a lot of falseness in it, but it leans true when you first look at it,” Nehrbass notes.
Without knowing anything about her background, elements from fashion design are unavoidable upon first look of Nehrbass’ figures. So, it should come as no surprise that she spent 10 years working as a design director for Ralph Lauren before pursuing her art career full time.
“What I took from working at Ralph Lauren into my painting is using patterns, gestures and environments in my work and using fabrics and lighting to tell stories. The patterning is always really important. I was very intentional to make [Pioneer Project] not look so Western and mix textile design from different areas of history. It’s a very transcendental style of the patterns,” she says. “I think people will appreciate the differences between the realism and patterning. There’s a little bit of juxtaposition between beauty and tension.”
Antonia, Nehrbass’ favorite painting from the series, is a prime example of this. “She kind of has this forlorn look. She has a pioneer hat on…I think it shows this tension between what could have been as far as the West and what could be. That tension is really quite lovely,” she says.
The painting, which reminds Nehrbass of the Lone Ranger, is about as blatantly Western as Pioneer Project gets. “This is a mythical thing,” she says. “If you’ve ever walked into a Western art museum, it’s always from the men’s perspective and I thought it would be really interesting to show the story from a female protagonist’s perspective. It’s reinterpreting from a woman’s point of view what it would look [like] had it been different out West.”
Pioneer Project will be on view from March 1 through March 26.