"This is the rest of my life. I better start paying attention, start doing what I want to do." - Nancy Patrick Carney
by Norma Smith Olson
"Who hid the keys?"
"Who missed entering the debit amount in the checkbook?"
"Must have been Gloria."
Gloria - the pet name of Nancy Patrick Carney's alter ego - is also the subject of many of her paintings. Gloria is a carefree, redheaded, urban woman. She's kind of adventurous. "She's the one you want to be," says Carney. "She has the life you want to have. She's a little younger, thinner, her hair is redder. She does what she wants to do."
Carney has painted a series of "somewhat autobiographical" Gloria paintings - including "The Balcony," a watercolor with oil pastel enhancement, that's featured on this month's cover.
"I would love to have nothing to do but sit on my balcony, with a glass of wine and read my book. Once in a while I do have time for that," Carney says of the setting that depicts her former downtown Minneapolis residence that overlooked the Mississippi.
The "Gloria" paintings often include a man she calls "Franco." In other similarly stylized, whimsical paintings they go dancing and biking. In "The Balcony" you might notice there are two glasses of wine and a mystery figure in the background. "Franco's just come home, sees that Gloria is reading and he is going to join her there," Carney says of this scene.
"My art reflects in an imaginary way how you wish things looked. My hair is not red, but I wish I had the nerve to make it red," she says. "[These paintings were] the beginning of developing my own style."
Twists and turns
Like many young artistic women in the 1960s, Carney was encouraged to become a teacher, so while she majored in art at Miami University in Ohio, she was practical. She got a degree in education.
After graduating and moving to Chicago, she realized that being a teacher was not for her. "I wanted to be an artist," she says. Carney left the classroom and began working as a commercial artist, package designer and product illustrator. "It was back in the days before computers. You did everything by hand. The jobs were not about producing beautiful paintings or wonderful images, it was designing a package to the customer's specifications."
She married, had two children and became a stay-at-home mom while in Chicago - always keeping her hand in freelance work as a commercial artist. She moved with her family several times over the years, to North Carolina, to New Jersey and in 1990 to Minnesota. Moving to Minneapolis was an artistic turning point for her.
"That was the start of my fine art career," she says. "I started painting for fun." Carney began taking art classes and workshops on a path to develop her own style.
Personal health issues 20 years ago were another turning point that caused an epiphany: "This is the rest of my life. I better start paying attention, start doing what I want to do," she says.
Like Gloria, that meant focusing on what made her happy.
"I just started painting the way I wanted to paint," she says. That meant realizing that she didn't want to paint realistically anymore. She started working "out of her head," she says, painting from memories. People no longer had to look realistic, landscapes didn't have to look exactly as they appeared before her eyes. "I did not have to paint like Michelangelo."
Population of ideas
As Carney developed her personal style she began to paint in series. In addition to Gloria, she has painted a series of people waiting at bus stops and metro stops, bridges and currently, beaches, inspired by her recent move to South Carolina, near Hilton Head, where she and her husband Frank relocated in Spring 2016.
The possibilities expand after Carney lands on an idea for a series of paintings. "I can think of 25 more Gloria's or bus stops or bridges or beaches that I could do," she says.
She works from quick sketches, not photos. After years of work in commercial art and product illustration, Carney knows how to do "realistic," but that's no longer her style. "I want it to look imaginary. When I start from a sketch, I've already edited out the details and I've put in what is important to me - the gesture, the movement, not the details," she says. People in her paintings rarely have faces. "I don't want it to be a portrait of an individual, but more like an archetype."
In January, Carney will focus intensely on beaches, when she aims to create 30 paintings in 30 days. For a third year, she will join with other national artists in this ambitious challenge. "It about kills me, but it's a very good discipline," she says.
To be successful with one's artwork, "You have to be willing to put yourself out there, even if it doesn't feel right or realistic," Carney advises. "When I was beginning as a fine artist, I tried to make my work look like everyone else's. But it's when you go off-road ... that's what's important. Perhaps it comes with age. I'm 68. I feel like it's now or never. I've got to do what makes me happy, not what I think makes someone else happy."