Nan Rae is fond of saying that like all mothers, hers was quick to pronounce her daughter an artist. She’s not quite sure if she was precocious but certainly prolific as painting after painting were done and usually tossed aside as she moved on to the next. One teacher retrieved this (painting on the right) out of the trash and it received a National Scholastic Award.
After that there was no turning back as Nan Rae was labeled ‘an artist’ by everyone. Summers spent at Interlochen’s National Music Camp then under the direction of the beloved Joseph Maddy cemented her path. Surrounded by musicians, dance majors and visual artists one only had to breathe in the atmosphere to be inspired.
At the time, her thinking was that all major art was Western in style and scope as she cranked out works such as these at Chicago’s Art Institute.
And so the journey continued, doing portrait work along with traditional painting and welcoming any commission that came her way.
“I suppose I could say my life changed the day I walked into Monet’s home in Giverny” she said. There, in the foyer was the most amazing collection of Japanese woodblock prints and something clicked. It had always been a factoid in the back of her mind that the Impressionists, Post Impressionists and all subsequent artists were enamored of Eastern art but it had no meaning until that day…..a true aahaaaaa moment! When she returned to the States there was a microbiologist of all things conducting workshops in Chinese Brush painting and as it was so close to her home she immediately signed up.
Nan Rae goes further, “I suppose you think I was an immediate success being an ‘artist’ but it was just the opposite as I arrogantly thought ‘Hey, I can do that’. Oh my goodness, I was utterly clueless and flogged about for almost a year wondering why I was continuing to torture myself. Then one day another eureka moment when I thought ‘Why not just paint’. Rather the Malcolm Gladwell idea of needing to put in 10,000 hours to reach a state of proficiency. And so I relaxed and hate to say it but the rest really is history.”
Nan Rae ventured out into the world with her work testing the markets reaction to this new medium at the Pasadena Showcase House….a yearly event that has vendors in the back of the estates selling their wares for a full month. She was astonished at the amount of work sold and there she was, back again as when a young artist just cranking them out. The next year Nan Rae was asked to do a poster for the event and she was thrilled to discover the world of multiples. This was so successful, Nan Rae was invited to produce a signed and numbered Limited Edition, Serigraph.
This is something that many in ‘Fine Art’ look down upon as being commercial but Nan Rae loved the idea of so many people encountering her work. Of course this led to many licensing agreements and no doubt you’ve seen her images on greeting cards both in the States and throughout Europe. Nan Rae views it as little miniature Nan Rae paintings as she continually hears people say they are framing them!
After being asked to exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris Nan Rae felt she was ready to venture forth to an Art Expo experience where you put up your ‘gallery’ for four or so days and buyers from all over the world pick and choose.
At the time, Cibachrome prints were in vogue and all of the original work was enlarged into large and quite bold statement pieces. Because this was quite a new and fresh idea potential buyers would walk past then spin around to give the work a second look. Keep in mind that most of the exhibitors were large galleries again from around the world. Here’s a peek at what the area looked like.
After that there was a two-year exhibition at all three of the California governor’s offices: L.A., Sacramento and San Francisco and prospective collectors were brought to the Los Angeles office. The exhibit then traveled to Woodbury University for another two years and where again collectors were able to view it.
During this time Nan Rae had been teaching and to date she feels privileged to have taught well over 3,000 people this wonderful art form. Along the way, Watson-Guptill (a subsidiary of Random House) approached her to do a book for them describing this art form and then authors requested her work to illustrate their books.
Normally this would be considered ‘commercial’ and not ‘fine art’ but she never ‘illustrated’ for any work, but rather allowed the use of original paintings to enhance the written words. The project dearest to her heart is and will always be SUMA THE ELEPHANT, a tale written as a child’s story but in actuality is a metaphor for inactivity because of the ‘strings’ one thinks are binding them. When Gary Shoup, the author, first approached she said no but a year later after much coaxing told him to forward the manuscript. Nan Rae loves saying “Just like in the movie, he had me at….’One day, deep in the jungle'….”
Shoup had gone to another artist who did art work that was literal, monkeys and elephants and such and later said that what he wanted was to have art work that would evoke the feelings in the book. It has touched countless lives and is currently being used in classrooms and for people with abuse or self esteem issues. The book won the Benjamin Franklin Award for Artwork.
Along the way, the San Francisco Symphony called on Nan Rae for their Chinese New Year's galla as well as the New York Philharmonic choosing her for their historic Asia 2008 tour to North Korea and China.
The ‘NAN RAE GALLERY’ at Woodbury University is a viable space for students to present their work.
Nan Rae continues to have her artwork enhance author’s books and her fine art greeting cards and images are now distributed throughout the world.
After leading a successful trip to China, most recently Nan Rae led a group of artists to Japan in the spring of 2014 to view the Cherry Blossoms and examine the cultural aspects of Japan. The trip was so successful that another is planned for the fall of 2015 to view the fall colors and have an in depth examination of the arts of the country focusing on Kyoto.