Painter Nancy Guzik sprinkles fairy dust and beauty into her art
By Gussie Fauntleroy
This story was featured in the September 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art September 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
Sitting in the kitchen of her tiny rented coach house in a town just west of Chicago, Nancy Guzik was drawing, as usual, when someone knocked on the door. Just out of high school and working in a grocery store, she filled her free time sketching and painting as she pondered her next step in the world. While she’d been good at both art and math in high school and her teachers encouraged her to go into math, art was her true love. Yet all through school she’d been led to believe there was no career opportunity in fine art. In fact, she had the impression there were no great living masters left in art. But recently she’d heard about a program for learning animation and was considering checking it out.
She got up to answer the door. It was her landlord, Mr. Somersaulter, paying a courtesy visit to his new tenant. When he saw that she’d been drawing—and was good at it—he asked what she planned to do with her talent. “I love to create and was thinking about animation,” she replied. “Ah!” Her landlord smiled. Turns out he and Mrs. Somersaulter had an animation business based in their basement. He offered Nancy a job.
As she thinks back over that time now, Guzik is struck by the full-circle nature of her art career to this point. In her early 20s her creative efforts involved giving lively personalities and action to characters like the Gingerbread Man, Cap’n Crunch (for cereal commercials), spunky animals, and beloved figures from fairy tales. She giggled and smiled with the characters she drew, remembering and re-creating their magical spell and imagining the joy that children would get from watching them. Today the award-winning painter still laughs and smiles as she creates magic with kids, but now the children are her models. And Guzik’s widely acclaimed talent, combined with the delightful sparkle of her own enthusiasm, has recently produced such paintings as WHERE FAIRY TALES COME ALIVE.
In the image, three young pajama-clad girls are snuggled in various poses of sleepy attention as they listen to an older girl read to them. The idea behind it emerged from a painting weekend with fellow artists and friends Carol Arnold and Andrea Scheidler, during which they planned to paint Arnold’s youngest daughter, Grace. “When I found out Grace’s two sisters, Rachel and Sarah, along with their friend Paige, were also coming, I thought, hmm. Let’s create a pajama party and paint!” Guzik recalls.
The weekend turned into a celebration of imagination and fun. Fifteen- to 20-minute poses alternated with five-minute breaks, with coloring, drawing, yoga, dancing, and other activities during the breaks. At one point the four girls started dancing to a song to which they all knew the words, and Guzik grabbed her camera. The result was a short video about the making of the painting, viewable on her website. In it one sees both the girls’ exuberance and their focused attention as they quietly return to the difficult pose. “There was great energy in that room, and it electrified our paintings, ourselves, and our models,” Guzik remembers, adding that her husband, renowned painter Richard Schmid, was impressed with his wife’s success at painting several lively children at once. “[John Singer] Sargent would probably be in a closet, swearing,” if he tried to paint four children, she says, laughing.
Throughout her own childhood near Chicago, Guzik often expressed her creative energy in drawing and paint-by-numbers. Just as often, she found herself absorbed in simply watching people. “I could fit in anywhere because I did so much observing—I was kind of invisible. I didn’t have much need to talk; it was fascinating just to listen,” she says. She had little opportunity to visit art museums, but she was drawn to the work of great illustrators in books, which she now believes laid the foundation for trusting her imagination and for high standards in art. “I think I pushed myself even further than I might have, never questioning whether I could do it. I had no limits on ideas or inspiration,” she reflects.
After working for the Somersaulters for about three years, Guzik moved to Chicago and found jobs in animation there, at one point producing the “in- between” drawings that create the illusion of movement between one key frame and the next. “Only a trained animator can see the drawings that create movement in animation,” she says. Later she drew on that experience in infusing her paintings with a subtle sense of movement, even in something as seemingly motionless as a still life.
Guzik enjoyed animation, but she loved painting even more. So when a former Disney employee with whom she worked for a time encouraged her to apply to art school, she took his advice. She graduated from the American Academy of Art in Chicago and later studied at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts in Connecticut. It was while studying art in Chicago that a pivotal event changed her life. One day her beloved art instructor, Bill Parks, showed her a still-life painting. It completely blew her away. “I was about to faint, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen,” she remembers. After years of believing all the great masters were relegated to the pages of art-history books, she stared at the painting and realized: “This is by Richard Schmid, and he’s alive!”
Better yet, Schmid gave painting demonstrations at Chicago’s Palette & Chisel Academy of Fine Arts. Guzik, Scott Burdick, and Rose Frantzen became three of his most intensely dedicated students, painting two or three nights each week with a model in a three-hour pose and a five-hour pose every Saturday. Soon Schmid was mentoring Guzik, and the two were spending time together as painting buddies. Then romance bloomed. After marrying in 1998, they settled in New England, where they lived for many years in a circa-1789 house in Vermont. Not long ago the couple moved across the river to a six-acre woodsy parcel in southern New Hampshire.
Standing in her studio on a gorgeous summer day, Guzik scans the scene out windows facing almost every direction, toward gardens, bird feeders, a small pond, and a hayfield where deer congregate. Her enthusiasm is infectious. “Summertime is an ever- changing parade of butterflies and birds, wild turkeys, lilies, roses, and blooming peonies!” she says, smiling. Around her on the studio walls, paintings by fellow artists and dear friends including Daniel Gerhartz, Susan Lyon, and Rose Frantzen provide inspiration and memories. Near the studio door hangs a collage of drawings by children Guzik has painted, along with creative cartoons and notes she and Schmid have drawn and written to each other over the years. That’s how they often communicate when they’re in their separate studios, each intensely tuned in to the “art zone,” as Guzik calls it. She adds, “One thing that keeps us both very happy is an imaginary boundary line outside our studio doors.”
For Guzik, a critical step precedes even the first touch of paint on the brush. Whether for a still life, a figurative painting, or a landscape, she first takes in the subject, and then waits. “I wait for that inspiration—the lighting, or color, or whatever it is—and I know I can’t start until I see it,” she explains. “That’s what the magic is; something clicks inside. It’s a beautiful mystery, and even through whatever problems come up in the painting, I want to grasp and hold that inspiration to the end.”
Like the fairy tales she once animated and those enjoyed by the young girls in her painting, Guzik sees each new work as an exciting, sometimes scary road she has never traveled before. Each one calls on overlapping layers of artistic experience and knowledge to reach the level of mastery she and Schmid refer to as The Grand Manner style. Quoting her husband, Guzik describes Grand Manner as “the highly dramatic use of virtuosity, resulting in a work of elegant sophistication and intense emotional expression.” These and other aspects of painting are discussed in a newly released book, Alla Prima II Companion: Richard Schmid’s Materials, Tools and Techniques by artist Katie Swatland, to which Guzik contributed insights on the importance of the painting surface. She is currently at work on two new books of her own, which she plans to have published in 2016.
Among many honors over the years, this spring Guzik received the Au Coeur Academy’s inaugural Beauty in Culture Award, which recognizes her “for exemplifying beauty’s essential qualities and making exceptional cultural contributions.” It’s an appropriate tribute for someone who radiates continual gratitude for her life, for the beauty around her, and for the opportunity to express through painting what she feels and sees. “It seems each morning I wake up as if in a fairy tale, excited and grateful knowing how fortunate I am to have another day with my Prince Charming, Richard, and the opportunity to inspire through my art,” she says. “Once Upon a Time is here now.”
West Wind Fine Art, Wellesley, MA.
Featured in the September 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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