We had the good fortune of connecting with Nancy Kay Turner and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nancy Kay, work balance. How has your balance changed over time? And How do you think about balance.
In art historical lore, the artist is a solitary figure (okay except for Monet!) an obsessed, narcissistic loner, often not only on the verge of poverty but also insanity. This unflattering image did not appeal to me and, thankfully California, the state I adopted, had a solid tradition of teaching artists.
In 1979, I scored a coup. I applied for and got two jobs and the fabulous two- story carriage house/studio that had been Peter Alexander’s. One job was an adjunct painting position at Glendale College and the other was at Loyola High School.
Arlene Raven, who was a founder of The Woman’s Building and a fabulous art critic, lived in the front house. We became fast friends and she curated me into some excellent shows and introduced me to many terrific artists. I shortly married and had a child (now a painter himself) and the work balance issue became more acute. By then I had moved and could make my studio in my own detached double garage. I worked in little bite size increments. I was lucky my husband, as a self -employed writer, had flexible hours whereas as a teacher I did not.
At the same time, I was writing for ARTWEEK, along with Betty Brown, Pierre Picot, Suvan Geer and Peter Clothier. And running Glendale College’s art gallery as well! Ah, youth – I don’t think I could do all that now. Not unexpectedly, I was burned out by 1990 and took a year off to return to school. I met Yolande McKay whose unique mixed–media works (she used soap scum!) inspired me to leave painting behind. I was then doing photographically derived paintings of my two-year old son, neck deep in water. One couldn’t tell if he was having fun or drowning. Clearly, a new parent’s high anxiety on view.
My mantra was to always have a studio and a gym membership, even though sometimes I was too busy or tired to use either. Over the years, I think my sense of balance has stayed the same. I value as role models artists such as Roland Reiss who just passed away. He was a beloved teacher, a venerated artist, a warm friend, a loving husband and a generous mentor. He was the antithesis of the selfish, Romantic notion of an artist. He demonstrated how to have a life making authentic art, while enjoying life. This is what I aspire to. Our challenge as artists in the era of social media, and blogs, is to – in the parlance of the wistful sixties- “ to stop and smell the flowers.”
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I was always an artist even from elementary school onward. I had early recognition. Out of 1500 seniors in high school I won the art award. I was a finalist in a New York City wide art contest juried by gallerist Sydney Janis and I won a scholarship to the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture between my Junior and Senior year in college as a nineteen year old. Elmer Bischoff was the one Skowhegan faculty member who liked my work and so I followed him to The University of California at Berkeley, where I graduated with an M.A. in Painting and Drawing (my first loves.)
Shortly after that I left California for New York, where I taught at IS 52 in the South Bronx, then considered the worst neighborhood in the country. I did make sure that I had a studio (on West 4th Street no less). Eventually life took me to San Diego, where I explored ceramics at San Diego State. Then a fortuitous set of circumstance landed me in Los Angeles, which I immediately loved. Judith Hoffberg offered me a show (my work was very “book-like”) in her Bookworks gallery and that was that. I was launched. I have worked as an Adjunct Professor of Painting/LIfe Drawing/2 D Design and taught at Loyola High School for 36 years (painting, drawing, hand-built ceramics and AP Studio Art), while writing for ARTSCENE, ARTWEEK and now for Art and Cake and Riot Material.
Making my work has always been important and I wanted to be a teaching artist. For me, the business side of art has always been and continues to be a challenge. I still take workshops, and courses to hone my skills in that area. I consider myself lucky that I am still making art, showing, writing about art, doing studio visits and, before the pandemic, meeting continuously with my art friends. There is so much attrition in the arts, that it is an accomplishment to hang in there and contribute to the community. I have had the pleasure of watching people look at my work, most recently in January 2020 at Yavaipai College.
People seem drawn to the combination of text and image and spend quite a long time looking over the pieces and discussing the work with their companions. That and mentoring so many students is what I am most proud of. I’m an accidental alchemist who has elements of re-incarnation in my mixed media works. A gleaner, I gather abandoned and unmoored objects and ephemera weathered by time and circumstances and juxtapose them creating new poetic relationships and meanings. My work is about the reconciliation of opposites;lost/found, remembering/forgetting, absence/presence. I court the elements of surprise and transfiguration.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My studio is in DTLA on Factory Place, and I recently had a longtime pal come by. We did a studio visit first. Then we walked over to Zinc (definitely pre-pandemic.) My studio used to be off the art map of LA but now is in the hot molten center (again pre-pandemic) especially with Hauser and Wirth nearby with Manuela and its urban garden. We would go to both The Broad and MOCA, while having tea at Chado in The Japanese American museum. For my foodie friends we’d stop by Grand Central Market. I am definitely an East Side girl, and Chinese food at San Gabriel Valley and Newport Seafood would be on the list, along with some street Tacos in Highland Park.
Music or dance at The Coburn School of Music could also be in the mix. Then a quick ride up to Pasadena for The Huntington Museum (stopping at The Huntington Collection for high end thrift items). Like many artists, thrift stores are the beating heart of my art practice as I use abandoned, lost and bereft objects in my work. The Norton Simon Museum and Artcenter’s gallery are worth a visit while we are still in Pasadena. Then some shopping at Ritz Retail, and Bougie Boutique. If you like to hike, we can go up Lake Ave and there are many trails up the mountain. I love LA and it grabbed me the minute I got up here.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are many people I would like to dedicate this shout out to. I want to honor Kristine Schomaker and Chris Hassett, the editors of Art and Cake, and Riot Material respectively, two wonderful online magazines that I write for. I want to shout out to Hana Kark, the art collective I founded with Margaret Lazzari, Luke Reichle, Caryl St. Ama, Carlyn Clark, S. Portico Bowman, Johnny Fox and Chris Russell. They are my partners in crime. A special shout out to Margaret Lazzarri for making my dream of a Quarantine Opus Book facsimile a reality. A shout out to Shelley Heffler for her generosity and the entire tireless SCWCA team. And I am excited to join the Kipaipai group in January and work with Andi Campognone and her dream team of artists and mentors.
Instagram: IG: nancykayturner
Facebook: Nancy Kay Turner
photo credit: Blue Fire (Transport Gallery) David Roberts (American Jewish University, Nancy Turner. (Yavaipai College)