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Barbara Nechis

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Watercolour
Calistoga, CA, USA

The art of Barbara Nechis reflects the rhythms of life in a manner both primal and sensitive. Her artistic vision, one that goes to the core of what creativity and being an artist true to oneself is, first struck a chord with the public when Watercolor The Creative Experience was published in 1979. By the time Watercolor From the Heart was published in 1993 she was well into her own personal artistic journey.

She has termed her style of painting “abstract realism,” but the actual essence and power of her work lies in her ability to reign over the chaos and mystery that watercolor itself, as a substance, likes to create while taking the evolving image to it’s logical or illogical completion.

As teacher and author, Barbara encourages her students to trust in their instincts, and quells their fears about the process of finding one’s own creative voice through watercolor painting. A true believer in “follow your bliss,” it eventually led her 3000 miles from the bustle of the city to land gently in the heart of California’s Napa Valley wine country where her studio rests amidst the rolling vineyards.

"Movement" Watercolor © Barbara Nechis
“Movement” Watercolor © Barbara Nechis

“My shapes are completely abstract and in combination make something realistic.”— Barbara Nechis

Although her studio rests in an idyllic setting, Barbara herself is busy painting and teaching, using the studio as the base of all her activities. Her own artistic interests started early. As a little girl growing up in Mt. Vernon, New York, Barbara enjoyed early support for her artistic endeavors. “My mother encouraged it (drawing and painting) and I had paints when I was about 4 years old.” she recalls.

A "Pre-Whitney" landscape (1963) © Barbara Nechis
A “Pre-Whitney” landscape (1963) © Barbara Nechis

By the time she was in 4th grade, she was the member of an after school oil painting club. “My elementary school art teacher was a serious artist with a studio. She was instrumental in creating a real studio (more like a loft than a classroom) in our school.”

With Manhattan 30 minutes away, she grew up with ready access to New York’s great museums where she experienced first hand the images and objects of history. In school she developed a strong interest in history, art, and photography.

Both her high school and college teachers were members of the American Watercolor Society. She remembers first being “seduced” by the magic of watercolor while watching a classmate flow a wet-in-wet wash onto the paper. It reminded her of the “softer world” she enjoyed seeing before getting glasses as a kid.

"Tons of Blue" Watercolor (1965 - influenced by Whitney) © Barbara Nechis
“Tons of Blue”
Watercolor (1965 – influenced by Whitney) © Barbara Nechis

“I never wanted to paint like Ed Whitney or Carl Molno although I studied with them for years.” — Barbara Nechis

After graduating with a BA in History and Fine Arts from the University of Rochester followed by an MS from Alfred University, she started teaching private art classes in 1966. When she “found three people who knew less than I did” she started teaching art classes while her 3 month old napped.

"Woods Interior" Watercolor (1973 - influenced by Whitney) © Barbara Nechis
“Woods Interior” Watercolor (1973 – influenced by Whitney) © Barbara Nechis

“It is easier to make your own statement.” — Barbara Nechis

In the late 60’s through the mid-70’s she took classes with the infamous Edgar Whitney, leading to her turning point in watercolor painting. A favorite story of that time concerns how in her impatience to get to painting, she tended to jump the gun in class and start painting immediately without always doing the customary preliminary sketching and value studies. Watching her one day, Mr. Whitney, realizing she really could draw, exclaimed, “You draw with your brush!”

"Yosemite Waterfalls" Watercolor © Barbara Nechis
“Yosemite Waterfalls”
Watercolor © Barbara Nechis

Barbara Nechis discovered how to use watercolor loosely and freely in the fresh light of creativity. She can coax images, hints, shadows and form from the creative process itself. To learn to do this she first took the time to learn the methods and processes that were working for her teachers.

Like most artists in training she learned to design, compose, make value sketches, and finally put paint to paper with a finished goal in mind. But she quickly grew weary of painting to a specific predetermined payoff. She likes to relay the artistic truism, “Goals are for football players.”

The turning point in her artistic career occurred when Barbara “began to experience form instead of things” and “chose to try to paint the landscape so that it would clearly evoke real images in the viewer without the distraction of extraneous detail.”

As far as watercolor’s attraction, Barbara says “I was always attracted to its ethereal look,” and the physical working properties of the medium are key to her philosophy and her success. “I work mostly in watercolor because it insists upon creativity. I do not have to think of anything first, just begin and it creates problems that need solving.”

"Majeska Falls" Watercolor © Barbara Nechis
“Majeska Falls” Watercolor © Barbara Nechis

As for her influences, Gustav Klimt comes up as a personal favorite “for his use of small shapes to add up to bigger shapes”, and she thanks her teacher/friend Carl Molno for introducing her to the works of the likes of Milton Avery and Arthur Dove for the way they used color and shape.

Teaching has always been a large part of her life. Barbara became a faculty member of the Parsons School of Design in 1982, teaching there for 12 years before her career led her to northern California. She seems to get as much out of teaching as she gives. For herself “teaching helps me clarify my thought process,” and as an empathetic teacher, “I also love to recognize an “early me” in hungry students, recognize their process and hopefully help them save time by avoiding some of the pits I fell into.”

"Yosemite" Watercolor © Barbara Nechis
“Yosemite” Watercolor © Barbara Nechis

“I allow myself to respond to the entire experience of nature.”— Barbara Nechis

Her work appears in Watercolor Energies (North Light Books, 1983) and Strengthen Your Paintings with Dynamic Composition (North Light Books, 1994,) by Frank Webb. Her paintings are also found in books by Ron Ranson, Richard McDaniel, and Nita Leland; and in Splash 2: Watercolor Breakthroughs (North Light Books, 1993). Barbara has frequently been featured in American Artist, The Palette, and Watercolor Magic magazines. Watercolor from Within: Transparent Layering (Creative Catalyst Productions,2009) is her latest DVD.

"Village I" Watercolor (1979 - influenced by Whitney) © Barbara Nechis
“Village I” Watercolor (1979 – influenced by Whitney) © Barbara Nechis

“Question everything you have been taught.” — Barbara Nechi

You can find the paintings of Barbara Nechis in museums and collections worldwide including the Butler Institute of American Art; Banco de Crefisul; IBM; the Slater Memorial Museum; CBS;Margrit Biever Mondavi, Napa Valley, CA; and The Napa Valley Heritage Foundation. She continues to be a popular juror and has juried shows for the American Watercolor Society, National Watercolor Society, Transparent Watercolor Society of America, Watercolor West, New England Watercolor Society, and Oregon Watercolor Society.

In 2010 Barbara will be holding workshops in Mexico, California, Michigan, and South Carolina. Her full workshop schedule including supply lists and pricing is available on her website barbaranechis.com. You can order copies of her books Watercolor The Creative Experience or Watercolor From the Heart, find the DVD release of Barbara Nechis, Watercolor Artist (Artists’ Video Productions, 1986) and read more about the new Watercolor from Within: Transparent Layering with Barbara Nechis (Creative Catalyst Productions, DVD 2009).

Visit The Artist’s Website