The work of Southampton artist Nancy Wood


Vortex - Credit: Archant

With her reactive, molecular artwork, Southampton artist Nancy Wood manages to capture a moment in time

Nancy Wood

Nancy Wood - Credit: Archant

Here’s a medley you won’t be expecting: chemical reactions, witch’s brew and a macro lens. Don’t worry; you haven’t stumbled upon a quasi scientific paper. And I promise not to fill the next few pages with spells and photographic minutiae. As if I could.

Disparate these substances/objects may be, but thanks to an artist whose monumentally animated images are the equivalent of looking through a microscope to witness cell life, movement, and evolution even, they are as related as any artist’s paraphernalia you could name.

“I’m not a scientist,” insists Nancy Wood, ex shipping line employee and admirer of O’Keeffe’s flowers, “but I capture movement, evolving paint. My work is organic.”

Try to analyse the eye catching appeal of Nancy’s work and you’ll immediately find yourself in a dilemma. For a start their scale makes them a natural focal point in any room. At the same time vivacious colours pulsate with energy, each composition intriguingly tantalising. Their origins owe much to Nancy’s willingness to experiment.

“I had been producing paint effects in watercolour and knew that pigments interacted in different ways, probably to do with the weight of different molecules. I realised there was more to it and wanted to find the medium to make something of this alchemy.”

Watching a YouTube video of US artist Holton Rower pour hundreds of cups of paint to produce a tower painting not only mesmerised this Southampton based artist, the effects of where two colours met – “probably unnoticed by everyone” – gave her the impetus to explore this fluid medium. As a result, using a pallet knife, she started pushing pigments around sheets of acetate.

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For the next stage she took advice from Dante Leonelli, a retired Professor from the Royal College of Art.

“He became my mentor,” Nancy explains. “I started photographing my images. Typically my finished artwork (130cm x 90cm) come from pieces just a couple of inches big. I use a sophisticated macro lens which picks up effects I can’t even see with my naked eye. I let the formation of paint effects guide me; my compositions are intuitive.”

Bubbling Up

Bubbling Up - Credit: Archant

The process is both quick and complex. A colour is added to a 1mm layer of cream paint, the two sitting next to each other. Manipulating them manually, however, forces them to mix. Photographs are taken while the paint is moving.

“My camera is a work of art in itself. I don’t have time to take off my Marigold gloves before grabbing the camera because the paint effects are so fast.”

Nancy enthuses about the individual characteristics of colour. Red can be excitable, when mixed with other paints; producing an explosion of colour. On the other hand the slow, laid back qualities of blue enable her to make a cup of tea while waiting for a reaction. Black and white provide backdrops which allow other colours to glow, although the “bossy” nature of titanium white means it wants to take over.

“There is a science to this, it’s much deeper than I would have thought. It’s not just the weight or density of a pigment. I’m fascinated by how colours interact.”

Acrylic paints with the addition of pigment ink and dry pigment are mixed into a “witch’s brew” the previous night, with a stir before using. Compositions have a biological element, their sense of natural form prompting the onlooker’s desire to find reality in each picture, something Nancy avoids influencing.

“With my titles I try not to lead the viewer. Everyone is interested to know how they are made. Every day I receive emails asking how I do it; I’ve created a virus of thousands of people trying to do fluid acrylics. Cellular art describes the movement but other artists don’t do it the same way I do.

With customers across Europe, America and the Caribbean, Nancy is keen to acknowledge the support of Lumas, a German company with 40 galleries worldwide who found her work via the Internet. From a studio at the top floor of her home she produces around 30 images per year with originals sold for several thousand pounds.

Yet this artist initially pursued a business career.

White Lace

White Lace - Credit: Archant

“When I was 4-5 years old I drew visitors’ portraits. It was my natural reaction. I studied art to A Level but was then persuaded by my father to pursue a proper job. After taking a Business Studies Degree I worked for a shipping line. When the Iron Curtain came down I organised Western products to go into Moscow and Siberia.”

Insisting she has never been a “hobby painter” and so unwilling during this period to devote energy to painting, it was her husband who prompted a life change.

“He was a keen sailor and had yearned to sail across the Atlantic which required both of us giving up our jobs. We were half way across the Bay of Biscay when my husband received a job offer he couldn’t refuse. He flew back from Spain for the interview. Our deal was we converted the attic into a studio so I could paint; what I’d always wanted to do.”

As a result Nancy produced large, bold flowers. She joined and exhibited with the Floral Society and was soon offered a contract with DeMontfort Fine Art with whom she stayed for seven years, selling 14 limited editions and over 400 originals.

“To begin with I just painted but inevitably if you start to sell and are successful, you think, now what? I had no art training and went down the commercial route. We had a good relationship but eventually they said they’d sold as many as they could and asked me to go away and produce something else.”

During these productive years, her artwork featured in Grand Designs and on board Cunard’s Queen Victoria. Did she know about these choices in advance?

“I didn’t! I was sitting watching Grand Designs and said, Oh look! Then I saw five of my paintings while on a cruise. These were confidence boosters, making you believe you’re a professional.”

It was Nancy’s interest in experimentation which led to her current style. She is fascinated by texture and a chance meeting with Leonelli while in St Lucia helped forged a new direction.

“He was a good friend of Paul Jenkins who inspired me. Leonelli was intrigued by my work and has helped me to develop, stopping me from being too commercial. I have an expensive camera but it’s tough for someone who hasn’t used one before. A couple of past students from the Royal College have helped me with how to point a camera and how to set it.”

There’s a hypnotic element to Nancy Wood’s images. Yes, they do that iconic thing: capture a moment in time. Also, and excuse the cliché, you can’t help but feel part of the bigger picture that involves and binds you in the chemistry of life.

“All I do is put the right circumstance for paints to react. This is a lifelong experiment. I’m like a mad scientist, trying to find other ways of making pigments play.”

Mad? Definitely not. Passionate and infatuated with a technique which continues to bewitch this experimental artist, the art world and public? Absolutely.


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