Saturday, April 13, 2024

The paths of an artist, transmitted by her works of art.

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By Itzel Barragán García | Art critic and contributer to ‘Orígenes’. Alejandra Saldaña – Translator.

Only three years after the passing away of the Dutch Mexican painter Nancy van Overveldt and as a homage to her extraordinary career as an artist, the exhibition “Paths of a Life: between Mexico and Holland” was shown between April 5th to May 31st at the Embassy of Mexico in The Netherlands.

In this exhibition, we saw a choice of the first paintings the artist created in Mexico and also of the ones she painted 25 years later in The Netherlands. The exhibition also included drawings she made during her youth, that show a less known period of her life.

The central concept of “Paths of a Life: between Mexico and Holland”, centred around the context of the artists lifes, and the influence of their surroundings and circumstances, to their creative process, like it was the case for Nancy. While creating artistic work, many artists, depending on the themes they choose to work within their artistic creations, ideas, figures, and colours, in relationship to their circumstances and their experiences in life. And it also reflected Nancy, who observed her surroundings and created not only according to what she witnessed, but continuously tried to capture colours, forms, feelings, and experiences that she encountered. 

Places and experiences as source of inspiration. 

Nancy van Overveldt painted not only what she saw, but was an observer; 

Our actions and the way we view the world are intimately related to our own world which we sometimes do not give too much attention. Due to her sensibility, Nancy succeeded in capturing this intimate relation with her surroundings and reflected those sensations and experiences in her paintings. 

In some of her paintings, we see at times brilliant colours, or sometimes shaded, influenced and depending on the places we are situated, the climate or landscape we are in. But maybe also the tone of brilliance and shades can be related to the experiences that we have, and the people we share them with.

Nancy Scheffer van Overveldt, was born February 2nd, 1930 in The Hague, where she later studied at the Royal Academy of Art. At the age of eighteen, Nancy was sent to a reconstruction project in France, but due to a tendon injury, she had to return home. During this voyage, she met her future husband, Reinhard Ruge, with whom she travelled and walked in a pilgrimage to Rome, to meet the Pope. One year later, Nancy arrived in Paris to study at the ‘Academié André L’Hôte’ in Montparnasse, where she experimented with different techniques of colouration, and influenced by Cubism and the Cobra movement, Nancy Scheffer further developed her own style.

It is at this time, that Nancy chose her mother’s last name as her professional painter’s name, changing from Nancy Scheffer to Nancy van Overveldt. In 1951, at the age of 21, Nancy travelled to the country where Reinhard had lived from the age of five; Mexico. After marrying Reinhard, her first daughter, Tiahoga, was born. It was in Mexico where, inspired by this new world, so different to her own, where colours were so vibrant, her professional life as a painter started.

The first path of Nancy: Mexico a world of colour and passion. 

Motivated by a deep desire to discover a world so different to her own, Nancy van Overveldt was fascinated by the brightness and colours of nature and was inspired by the way people lived their lives in the villages, full of traditions, mysticism, music, colours and festivities.

Also, Mexican art and architecture as well as the Mexican artistic world, captured her interest. Eager to discover, Nancy travelled throughout the country in local buses, participating and witnessing multiple festivals, dances, rhythms, music, and hiking over mountains to remote communities, sharing life with the people she met along this way. In this way, Nancy united profoundly with Mexican life, later transforming her experiences into drawings, portraits and especially paintings, that appeared on the canvas through an organic process where colours and forms merged out of pure feelings and of rhythm, without being preconceived, as also with time, would develop a unique style. 

In the majority of the artworks shown at the exhibition: “Paths of a Life: between Mexico and Holland”, inspired by Nancy’s experiences through Mexico, we see a colourful pallet of ingenious realism, compositions of the absurd and impressionistic figures in scenes of purely Mexican parties. A remarkable period in her artistic career, full of colour and artistic production, always inspired by a country full of brilliant light and incredible dimensions where people live intimately connected with cosmic forces. A profound and contrasting Mexico, as are her art.

Dutch Mexican painter Nancy van Overveldt. Swan lake / El lago de los cisnes. Oil on canvas / Óleo sobre tela. Foto: Michelle Porro. Cortesía de Embamex.

Nancy resided 25 years in Mexico, and during this time met important Mexican artists, like Rufino Tamayo, Remedios Varo, Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, Diego Rivera among others, and sculptors like Angela Gurria with whom she became very close friends. Also, she met Mathias Goeritz, with whom she worked in the late fifties in an active participation in the designing of the Towers of Satélite. Her work was exhibited in prestigious institutes such as: Palacio de Bellas Artes, Galería Antonio Souza, el Museo de Arte Moderno, la Galería de Chapultepec, which positioned her in the Mexican artistic world, and participating as a member for more than 40 years in the Mexican artistic community, represented by the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana.

Besides her pictorial artwork, Nancy van Overveldt was also as a gifted writer and under the pseudonym “Dolores Cienfuegos”, she projected her experiences into words, in a book of stories, called “Vivencias Mexicanas”. 

“The Repose”

“I was so tired of so many celebrations and of so much rum that I decided to slip off to the countryside hoping to be able to liberate myself of the heavy clouds that inhabited my head. Half asleep, I got into a bus, and watched through the windows how we passed little towns and villages untill it became dark, but soon I fell in to a deep sleep. When I awoke, we had already arrived to the last destination of the bus, Pátzcuaro. It was early in the morning and the sky was clear blue.

On the streets and in the main plaza a deep serenity reigned under the sunlight. It was like being in a different world. I walked in the direction of the lake. In the silver water I could see the reflection of the sun, and in the distance, I could see fishermen and large and narrow canoes with nets like butterflies. The Tarascan people who live in the villages around the lake, know like no other that the serenity of the lake can suddenly change without notice; they know the currents and the unpredictable wind that blows over the lake. I walked along the lake till I arrived at Erongarícuaro.” As quoted by Jose Iturriaga de la Fuente in his book “Foreign travellers through Michoacan”, about Nancy van Overveldt’s life and work.

After divorcing her first husband, Nancy married a Mexican intellectual, Valentin Saldaña, with whom she conceived her second daughter, Alejandra. Despite the fusion Nancy made with Mexican life, she never lost her Dutch roots.  When the bicycle was still a rarity in the Mexican streets, Nancy would  take her daughters on the bicycle as means of transport, which for her, was the most natural thing to do. She became well known on the streets of Mexico City, as the lady on the bicycle. Nancy was so deeply connected with Mexico that her work really became Mexican, in theme as in its softness of colours. Her pallet is reminiscent of Orozco and some artists originating from Oaxaca, especially in her bird figures and the change of her pallet to brilliant colours, as a way to capture the festive soul of Mexico. 

It is in her own words that Overveldt reflects about Mexico, during an interview taken by Katrien van den Berghe, in 2014, one year before her passing: 

 “In Mexico I had a heroic existence. Every day I did the impossible, and my feelings and passion for life are clearly noticeable in my paintings: varying from colourful forms, spheres of mysticism, ludic and frivolous ‘fiestas’, …passion is everywhere in Mexico. You can sense that. People are also more connected with cosmic forces.”

Back to the original path

After 25 years in Mexico, experiencing a life full of passion, art and love, she returned in 1976 to the Netherlands, to a world of darker colours, still well known to her, were she discovers a new path. The impact her return to Netherlands had on her was notorious and could be seen in the paintings in the exposition “Paths of a Life; between Mexico and Holland”. Affected at the time by the changes in her life, she had to readjust her way of working, searching and introducing a new style, mostly influenced by the Dutch light and landscape.

The search for a new style began from “Transformations of Light and Water” to the style that would be present until the end of her life. The detail in her paintings and the management of light combined with elements of nature, are its principal characteristics. In the paintings named “Transformations”, van Overveldt expressed the movements of water, fire and air. These reflect in her canvases where colours create forms, that continuously merge with others.

In respect to this new style, in the same interview with Katrien van den Berghe in 2014,  Nancy said: “The new style is an opportunity for a broad development, an opportunity to bring more structure into my life, in the time I returned to the Netherlands. Destruction is present in everything, also in nature. Later I noticed that even the waves in the sea stream regularly towards the horizon and the same happens with birds; organized and in even distance, they fly towards spaces. I had never before noticed that. It is this new way of ‘seeing’, that is reflected in my work.”

From 1980 onwards, van Overveldt added a new element to her pictorial work: The Horizon. In it, departing from a central point, round and sharp pointed patterns emerging as explosions, rotating in a spiral to the edge of the canvas, creating a harmony from authentic forms, elements, that seem in constant movement. Nancy said: “Everything that comes together at one point in yourself, in the silence, is what I wanted to show in my paintings before 1980: forms that, becoming every time smaller and smaller, move to a brilliant point on the canvas and repeat themselves in reflection. From 1980 onwards, that changed. The process has now reversed: the horizon becomes a fountain.” 

When living in Lelystad, a northern province of The Netherlands, her work was influenced by the ‘polder landscapes’; van Overveldt reflected fields, wind and sun rays starting from geometrical figures for which she looked for symmetry. That is to say, it was a search to reflect rhythm and music, parting from what she observed, because every painting, represented a journey to the unknown.  

Nancy van Overveldt painted every day of her life. In her last paintings, her work became more and more mathematical, an abstract harmony in forms and rhythm, that keep returning, again and again. They again, like the early paintings, take you to the central point of light in the horizon, with openings to other spaces. Nancy van Overveldt passed away on the 7th of June 2015, leaving us a legacy of great artistic quality.

The birth of an artist

In her childhood, van Overveldt showed a great ability and talent for drawing and writing, in spite of her timidity. She succeeded in great expressions through these media, for which she received several prizes throughout her primary school period. In her drawings, even at this young age, she recreated everyday scenes, because her context had influence on her artistic expressions. Examples of these drawings, shown for the first in the exhibition ‘Paths of a Life; between Mexico and Holland”, show part of the childhood and life experiences of the young van Overveldt, that were mostly unknown. 

The majority of the drawings unfortunately don’t have a date or reference, but observing the style and scenes as the main thread, they originated between 1943 and 1946, when she was 13 to 16 years of age, and living with her parents and her sister Wendela Scheffer in Wassenaar, The Netherlands. The drawings shown in the exhibition “Paths of a Life; between Mexico and Holland”, are unique. They tell us about her interests and personal life of the young Nancy Scheffer, long before she became a professional painter. Some of the drawings are signed with her paternal name: “Scheffer”. Later, after becoming a professional artist, she used her mother’s last name as her artistic name: “Van Overveldt”.

Always inspired by her context, some of the drawings express the atmosphere and the experiences of her surroundings in World War II, in The Netherlands. The quality of the drawings is evident, because they harbour interesting compositions, correct and real dimensions. An interesting element in some of her drawings are the dark-haired figures with a Mediterranean expression, a reference to the world that Nancy, without knowing it, would encounter in her journey to Mexico. For more than 65 years, Nancy van Overveldt produced a vast quantity of pieces of art, that were exhibited in Mexico, New York, The Netherlands and London. 

These artworks, drawings, sketches, paintings, portraits, and written stories, transmit and disclose, through colours and forms, the feelings, emotions and experiences, she lived in the two different worlds, Mexico and The Netherlands. 

And now, they still open the possibility for you to share her experiences throughout her Life and her authentic and splendid artistic creations. 

Main image: Nancy van Overveldt. Musicians in México / Músicos en México. Oil on canvas / Óleo sobre tela. 81 x 106 cm. Foto: Michelle Porro. 1969. Cortesía de Embamex

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