The historian and artist names some contemporary masters whose work deserves wider recognition.
Question: Which artists inspire you most?
Nell Irvin Painter: Absolutely. I can tell you two or three artists whose work I admire. I think someone who has been with me for sometime is Robert Colescott, who died a couple of years ago. Colescott was an African-American artist who was deeply engaged in the history, of art history and so his work did have a lot of cultural meaning and historical meaning and also he was really a riotous painter with a great sense of color and kind of… I hate to use the word riotous again, but his compositions also were like that, that he would pull together images that would seem not to fit together, images that were uncomfortable, but I found them very satisfying, so Robert Colescott has been someone who inspires me and has inspired me. At the moment I am very inspired by Maira Kalman who does the blogs in The New York Times, has done books. Kalman began as an illustrator. She wrote 12 children’s books. She is still writing children’s books. She did two very well regarded books. One she illustrated, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the other it was Principles of Uncertainty, which came out of her New York Times blog. What I really like about Maira Kalman is that she uses text. She uses text. She used drawings, paintings and she uses photographs together, so for me that is very inspiring. I am nowhere near her abilities, her skill, her imagination and her humor, but to see what she does with these three different kinds of representations is very illuminating. And then somebody like Charline von Heyl, who is actually an abstract painter, but I like her work very much. Denyse Thomasos is also an abstract painter, an African-American… a Canadian painter actually, who does architectural compositions with a great sense of energy, and so even though her work is abstract you can see a kind of sense, not of figuration because she doesn’t put figures in, but of representation. So these are just four artists, but there are many others whose work I like very much.