Soothing The Soul: Nella Lush

"Tranquillita," oil, mixed media, 48”x 48”.

by Beth Neville

Nella Lush paints in a style I will call, “Romantic Abstract Expressionism.”

Mentor, group organizer and supporter of women’s careers, Lush is one of those extraordinary people who cares deeply about others. In addition, she is a fine painter who will be exhibiting in a number of galleries this spring and summer in Nantucket, Provincetown, Gloucester and her Boston studio. Born in Italy, she speaks with a lilting accent about her love of painting, her seven grandchildren and her women students. Lush was a founding member and president of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Women Artists. She has taught women artists who, together, have founded a group called “Art from the Soul.” They are currently exhibiting at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck in Gloucester. (See review p. 31.)

“Romantic Abstract Expressionism” is my term to describe the style used by Lush, her students, and many other painters working today. The term “Romanticism” (Europe, ca. 1800-1850) denotes the cultural movement that stressed personal emotion, free play of imagination and freedom from rules. Romanticism also stressed the glorification of nature. “Abstract Expressionism” (America, 1940s to today) depicts the world from a subjective perspective, distorting it for personal effect to evoke moods or ideas. Abstract Expressionism includes artists who analyzed various “parts” of the painting process — such as line (Jackson Pollock), color (Barnett Newman), shape (Ellsworth Kelly), subject (Andy Warhol) or humor (Claes Oldenburg) — and other reductionist artists.

Many painters working today, including Lush, are picking up parts of both movements: Romanticism and Abstract Expressionism. They emphasize the “freedom from rules” and the “self-expression” aspects of the movements — that is the “soul.” But “glorification of nature” is also a major element in their work. Technically, these artists are able to make use of new art materials: bronze and metallic pigments, acrylics that hold sand, string and other lightweight materials, more elastic gesso and stronger canvas. The paints become dense and thick, capable of being layered one on top of the other without cracking, peeling, flaking or falling off the canvas or board. Lush also uses a cold-wax process to make the surface more three-dimensional. Combining the principles of the two older styles with the new materials creates a new style: “Romantic Abstract Expressionism.” Another aspect of this style is that it creates feelings of equanimity in the viewer. It is neither political nor adversarial, and the paintings are generally soothing and calming.

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