The canvas with its own life and interests and its otherworldliness carries me with it, making strange and unequivocal demands.

Nell Blaine

Nell Blaine

Born in Richmond, Virginia in 1922, Nell Blaine’s childhood was adverse. Described as a sickly, cross-eyed child, Blaine was raised in a modest, cramped home in the Depression-era south. Terribly near-sighted, her parents had her fitted with glasses at the age of two, literally changing her perspective on life and enabling her to truly see the world for the first time. At the age of five, Blaine told her mother that she wanted to make art, and from there, her path was set. After several successful surgeries to correct her crossed eyes, Blaine's drawing skills improved exponentially. As a young woman, she attended the Richmond School of Art and later moved to New York City to study under Hans Hoffmann. Although restrained financially, Blaine flourished in the big city, like “a bird out of a cage”. Inspired by Piet Mondrian and Fernand Léger, her artistic style transformed from strict realism to abstraction and in 1944, Blaine joined the American Abstract Artists Group—the youngest member ever inducted. She held her first solo exhibition at Jane Street Gallery in Greenwich Village—a collective that she helped to found—and became an integral member of the Second Generation of New York School Painters, a group that included Larry Rivers and Jane Freilicher. From the mid-1940s on, Blaine’s work reached considerable acclaim, garnering attention and praise from Clement Greenberg and Peggy Guggenheim, the latter named her painting Great White Creature “best in the show” at the exhibition of the American Abstract Artists in 1945.

In 1959, Blaine contracted bulbar-spinal polio while visiting Greece, paralyzing the artist and confining her to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. After intensive therapy—and an impressive display of iron will—Blaine was able to regain movement in her hands and began painting in oils with her left, and sketching and using watercolors with her right. When asked how her art changed after the diagnosis, she remarked, “What I did afterward represents me, myself, free and detached.” Despite her health, Blaine continued to travel widely and paint constantly. She saw painting as a means of celebrating life, and remarked that her pallet had every color represented. Throughout her lengthy career, Blaine had over sixty solo-shows and her work can be found in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles among many others.

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