The Hippo


Jun 4, 2020








“Cercis Spring” by Nancy Simonds. Courtesy image.

Nancy Simonds: “Shape Shifting & Radiant Chroma”

Where: McGowan Fine Art, 10 Hills Ave., Concord
When: On view Sept. 6 through Oct. 7; reception Friday, Sept. 9, from 5 to 7 p.m.
Contact: 225-2515,,

“Shape Shift & Radiant Chroma” at McGowan

By Kelly Sennott

 Peace, order, serenity — these are the feelings Boston artist Nancy Simonds tries to invoke in her work, and to do this, she fills her gouache paintings and collages with simple shapes, hues and compositions.

Examples of these “anti-chaos” images hang at McGowan Fine Art in her 21-piece exhibition called “Shape Shift & Radiant Chroma,” on display from Sept. 6 through Oct. 7.
The show contains two-dimensional pieces ranging in size from 5 to 90 inches, with a variety of shapes and color combinations against white backdrops. Some depict stacked rainbow blocks, inspired by the doors, windows and skylines of the city, while others contain more organic shapes, almost like pebbles, which stem from her New England road trips to see mountains, beaches and woods. There are paintings with carefully placed strips of color, and pieces that resemble mandalas.
Creating this art un-clutters her life and keeps her sane, she said.
“When you’re an artist, you’re an artist because it’s something you have to do. Most artists are artists because they just can’t not make art,” Simonds said via phone last week. “[Painting] gives me this place where I can go and get away from the overall chaos in the world.”
But some of her clients have also experienced remarkable responses just looking at her work — which is perhaps why it’s displayed in hospitals, offices and homes across the country.
“I think people find it calming and organized on some level. I know one woman who bought my work once who works for the New York Times,” Simonds said. “She looks at it and does some kind of deep breathing, and it helps her refocus.”
Another woman, a doctor, wrote Simonds a note about how she’d been on the brink of a mental breakdown, contemplating whether to leave her family because she just couldn’t handle it all.
“But then she saw my work and it calmed her down and she was able to engage with her life instead of throwing it out the window,” Simonds said.
It seems like an intense response, but McGowan Fine Art Director Sarah Chaffee also said gallery clients were responding well to Simonds’ art, which is why she felt it was time to let the artist shine in a one-person show at the Concord gallery.
“We’ve always loved her work. It’s very appealing, even for people who don’t necessarily like abstract art, because the colors are just so yummy,” Chaffee said. “She’s clearly a good artist, but it’s also a very joyous presentation.”
Simonds has been painting this kind of work for about 25 years, but she studied the classics, not fine art, in college, and spent a semester in Rome. Initially she thought she might be an art conservator but decided not to pursue that degree in grad school.
“I knew I just wanted to make art. I didn’t want to work on other people’s art,” Simonds said.
Her technical training came from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. But her undergraduate studies still influence a lot of work today.
“I’ve always admired ancient Roman and Greek architecture and sculpture. They’re just sort of classic and long-lasting, simple but elaborate at the same time,” Simonds said.
Simonds’ abstract paintings might not appear complex, but each requires a great deal of time and contemplation, about the tensions and relationships between shapes and colors.
“There are so many little decisions I make when I’m making a piece,” she said.
Simonds has constructed public art displays — the Cambridge Arts Council commissioned “Beacon of Color” in Cambridge five years ago — but mostly she works with gouache. She likes the rich, textured colors it produces. It doesn’t result in a sheen afterward, as with oil paintings, or go on translucent, as watercolors often do. But there’s no painting over it. Each stroke must be purposeful. 
“There’s certain planning involved, but there are also a lot of good accidents happening,” she said. “The work references itself and grows out of itself. Every time I do a piece, I see something I could do in another piece.”

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