top of page

Nan Ring
These Almost Lost Pieces

BrassWorks Gallery, 105 Grove Street, Montclair, NJ 

by Patti Jordan, June 3, 2024
1 Self-Portrait in Veil.jpg

In These Almost Lost Pieces, Nan Ring harnesses her acclaimed skills as an artist, poet, and author honed over years of exploration and experimentation. Her works bestow a rich visual and textual lexicon encompassing poetry, prose, paintings, and drawings through myriad entry points, divulging an extensive perspective on the artist's innermost sensibilities. A comprehensive solo exhibition of sixty-eight pieces on view at New Jersey's BrassWorks Gallery, each discreetly placed in an explicit location, These Almost Lost Pieces reads as a site-specific installation. It is also about more than artmaking. Its title hints at Ring's scrutiny of forgotten or overlooked aspects of art and art histories, namely women's histories. Moreover, it underscores her deliberate adherence to bringing them to the forefront of consciousness. 


Guiding audiences through succinct thematic progressions from early to recent self-portraits, vignettes, and still-lifes, the show confronts social and gender issues by sensitively exploring identity and self-representation through paint. The narrative imagery intersects with odes to canonical artists and writers, including still-life artist Clara Peeters, Futurist Benedetta Cappa, photographer Vivian Maier, and others. This thoughtful placement of biographical information, poetic excerpts, and critical analyses amplifies correlations while evincing women's aesthetic achievements along vast historical trajectories. These calculated decisions indicate Ring's deep understanding and empathy for women's societal experiences and challenges, particularly in her delineating spaces of domesticity, making for a highly relevant exhibition.


Accordingly, the curation unfolds like a retrospective and pays homage to her creative practice spanning decades. Her psycho-spatial egresses challenge one to contend with the ontological — notably, the metaphysical nature of our realities in certain micro-moments — tender depictions of figures inside domestic interiors or intimate environmental settings and their relationship to them. Whether anonymous or close family members, classical muses, or self-portraits, the individuals appear to inhabit themselves or indirectly engage with the onlooker in an "experience." Occupying the gallery's front room is a series of works that carry the most psychological weight. Semi-veiled or intimating an avoidance of direct eye contact through an averted gaze, the visages tend to shroud the face or pivot the head or torso away from the viewer, accentuating the subjects' introspection. They additionally resonate with the known feminist idiom, “The personal is political,” motivating one to ponder the societal implications of personal spaces.

6 Max Emerging.jpg

Header image: Self-Portrait in Veil, 2024, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 20 inches Image above: Max Emerging, 2010, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches Images courtesy of the artist.

Much of the work oscillates between representation and abstraction in a decidedly sensual and gestural manner and is often formally bisected by inner or outer framing devices. An unmistakably fluent approach characterized by gossamer brushstrokes and translucent stains through finely layered applications of paint becomes a definitive signature. By employing a pictorial economy in figural and landscape compositions, Ring locates a discrete domain between the placement of color and tonal values that allows the overall visual expression to remain open; these intuitive strategies ensure that its gestalt aligns with her distinctive gesturalism, a propensity that is also a conscious stylistic choice to encourage greater audience contemplation. 


Precisely how she paints her subjects further reinforces how they might or might not be 'seen' in relation to other people, their given histories, and identities, fostering a kind of relative reciprocity: a combined involvement with and critical distancing toward the spectator. Imbued are levels of uncertainty that could be defined as a painterly casualism, an aesthetic model of the past ten years or so given to irresolution, applied here to semi-abstraction. 'Casualism' — the post-minimalist movement that formally debunks the overtly appealing, prioritizes mutability and impermanence, seeks the accidental over the predictable, and embraces incompleteness and imperfection, is a bit averse to visual closure. Similarly, Ring's semi-abstract portrayals summon attitudes and perceptions akin to the intangible. 


Coincidingly, the exhibition introduces the liminal through implied timeframes, focusing on the demarcation of short durations in conjunction with extensive timelines. These interspaces lend a visual overview of significant moments or events and perpetuate conversations between the past and present. As aforementioned, inspirational female antecedents dispersed throughout take shape like pauses between the lines. Guided by the artist's autobiographical passages, the intentions—whether narrative, thematic, or experiential — invite engagement on multivalent levels, inducing a reflective experience accentuated by the interplay of acutely sensitive handling of her materials and ensuing color schemes. Her open-ended messages and ascetic renditions provoke rumination long after initial viewership, emphasized by a single metric: 


"…where if I could look so closely, I might find just beyond the picture frame."


Ring plainly states that "all of these paintings are moments of my life" and that "every picture has a story." Minor focal points illumine microhistories throughout — endearing episodic moments, such as in the poignant renditions of her son, Max. She describes these sequences as seeing herself and her work move through time. The transformational tone in this characterization appears to caution women of the exigencies involved in overcoming historical boundaries by reframing all-too-familiar roles and scripts. In this way, the installation covertly reminds women to be mindful of the historical antecedents and art referents that they not only draw upon but regenerate in artmaking, notwithstanding their role as professional artists. Like a thought-provoking story or poetic verse, These Almost Lost Pieces offers no resounding conclusions. Rather, its replete unfolding is never fully revealed, inviting one to dive deep into the painted layers of meaning and perception. 

bottom of page