Nancy Graves


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Sculptor, painter, printmaker, and filmmaker. In 1968 she created a stir with furry, life-size camels that seemed at the time perilously close to the limits of art. Spurred by long-standing interests in natural history and archeology, through the 1970s she drew on such sources as animal anatomy, paleontology, prehistoric artifacts, and scientific documents while working in several media. Later she combined constructivist methods with allusive, even surrealistic imagery taken from natural and man-made sources to create colorful, idiosyncratic sculptures. Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Nancy Stevenson Graves studied English literature at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. After receiving a BA in 1961, she earned an MFA from Yale University in 1964. For the next two years she lived in Europe, first in Paris and then in Florence, but also traveled in North Africa and the Near East. From 1965 until 1970 she was married to Richard Serra. Her fascination with the camel as a subject for art began abroad and continued after she settled in New York in 1966. Challenging the literalism of current minimalism and the intellectualism of conceptual art, her ungainly animals seem to essentialize “camelness,” drawing into play questions of illusion, perception, and the purity of art. After 1972, for several years she worked primarily on two-dimensional projects and on films before mastering the lost wax process that facilitated production of her later sculptures. For these, she cast all manner of perishable natural and artificial objects, such as leaves, fish, seedpods, potato chips, and rope, producing replicas that she combined into welded assemblages, along with kitchen tools, farm implements, and other metal items. She generally painted parts of these works in bright, unnaturalistic colors, and toward the end of her life incorporated glass elements. Indebted to David Smith's precedents, her sculptures nevertheless achieved an entirely personal flavor. In 1991 she married Dr. Avery Smith. At the time of her death in Manhattan, she also maintained a home in Kingston, in the Hudson River Valley.

Subjects: Art.

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