Nancy’s work was reviewed dozens of times and featured in numerous catalogs. She also wrote extensively in her journals and in published statements. Below is a small sampling of these writings. They are arranged chronologically from 1975 to 2017, and they become more complex over the years – as does her art.
My particular humor stems from a kind of fetishism. Certain objects become for me recurrent obsessions over a period of time – such as animal forms…I enjoy the paradox of the ordinary as exotic, the incongruity of plastic flamingos on Midwestern lawns, the inherent sensuality of a Holstein cow taken out of context, a French poodle presented as humanesque [sic] portraiture. Objects associated with local yard ornamentation are perhaps most indicative of my pleasure – brightly colored lawn chairs, Mexican burros, plaster swans, frankly gaudy reflective gloves, inflatable pools – all smack of faraway places in their absurd fakery, yet no farther away than the back yard.
I find the challenge of presenting the fantastic as believable, fact as fiction, central to and inseparable from the somewhat perverse sense of humor essential to my work.
-MFA Thesis by Nancy Hild
This painting is intended as an epic homage to all those who have lived and died seeking high ground.
-Humor in Art, ARC Gallery, Chicago
Nancy Hild’s description of her painting, North Avenue Disaster
[Some of my mother’s humor] has crashed into my paintings. Artists dealing in humor are taking some real risks…Abstraction is always taken seriously. Who could ever doubt a square?
Excerpt from artist’s statement, Nancy Hild, in 1981
[Hild] makes good use of bad taste…
-A Fine Figure of a Show
The Milwaukee Journal, Page 4, Part 5
April 4, 1982 (author unknown)
If kitsch and pop art portrayed mass-produced objects that were somehow empty of meaning…Nancy Hild’s paintings have always explored an opposite potential…that facile ideas about inauthenticity and kitsch need to be reconsidered.
-All the World is Available to Us in Facsimile by Janina A. Ciezaldo
Publication unknown but copyright dated 1990
The subjects Hild portrays have been trivialized and gendered in our culture by their relegation to the domain of women. They represent not domestic objects, but objects and animals that traditionally have been in the care of women and are associated with women’s emphatic and maternal natures. Both the dire seriousness and the attendant irony of bunnies, hens, dolls, the female dog (bitch), and objects in the paintings can be linked with gender, nurturance, and life itself.
…Hild’s humor is of the variety that erupts when the subconscious and the conscious suddenly collide.
-Nancy Hild at Artemisia by Janina A. Ciezaldo
Chicago Women’s Caucus for Art, Reviews
Humor has been an integral part of my life/art for as long as I can remember. I think women, in particular, have used humor to great effect in illuminating complex ideas and grave issues through wit and humor – not unlike the way certain birds and animals employ disarming antics and camouflage in the serious business of the survival of the species.
Humor disarms. It creates an inviting opening for thought. I share author Rita Mae Brown’s sentiment that humor is always dangerous – it is, after all, the comedian who tells us that the emperor has no clothes.
-Nancy Hild Artist’s Statement
Tongue in Cheek, Mars Fine Art, Chicago
…Hild’s paintings stand out – they catch one’s attention – are pleasing to the eye, yet somehow disconcerting
to the soul.
- Erin Heiser North Park College News Sept 23, 1994
Hild’s current show…is populated by mysterious domestic animals and objects painted with enigmatic verisimilitude against dark backgrounds. Chicks, hens, bunnies, baby dolls, and a dog gaze quietly out of (or into) a dark world. Musing, one begins to realize that all these creatures are linked with female identity and sexuality. They are not the domestic objects of conventional 17th century nature morte paintings which depicted the hunter’s spoils, but creatures traditionally in the care of and associated with women. With dire seriousness and a carefully refined, eclectic sense of irony, Hild drains the traditional female diminutives (“bunny,” “chick,” “hen”) and invective (“bitch”) of their trivializing or pejorative functions, co-opting them as powerful and mysterious signs in a feminine language, an iconography of gender just coming into being.
…The painter’s technique is superb, almost magical, and the stillness and isolation of her subjects intensify the eeriness of her enterprise. Verisimilitude, particularly practiced with so much concentration and method, carries with it a set of philosophical questions? Why make it so real? What authority does Hild invoke? The darkness and mystery of the paintings seem to tell us that we can’t know.
…Hild’s highly worked surfaces, in the modern medium of acrylic recall a preindustrial past, when painters had the time to slowly work up an illusory world, always in some way curious parallel to this one.
…Despite the seriousness of her project, Hild also reveals a sly sense of humor in the titles and in some of the pieces. Juggle, the most colorful of the paintings, shows a woman’s hands juggling three brightly colored beanbag frogs, amusing, humorous toys. Yet when one thinks about it, frogs are womblike and genital, androgynous, slippery. Women juggle their sexuality, their fecundity (like frogs, beans are a traditional symbol of fertility in some cultures), and their control over their reproductive systems. The juggling is a kind of playing with one’s life. The painting plays with ideas, and playing (an idea repeated in this exhibit by the baby doll) is one of the ways in which we create ourselves. Humor keeps the imagery in direct connection with the unconsciousness but prevents it from becoming too self-important and theoretical.
-New Signs of the Feminine by Janina A. Ciezaldo
Section 1, Page 31
September 9, 1994
…Simple composition, rich text and exceptional technique create a most unusual presentation of contemporary issues. The menagerie of images in the paintings illustrate the artist’s sense of irony and humor underscored by extraordinary illumination and technique worthy of a master.
-Review of exhibition at Ann Nathan Gallery,
Art Now Gallery Guide, Chicago Midwest edition
March 1995 (author unknown)
As the eye plays across the simply composed, richly detailed images [of Conjunctions], associations begin to form; the juxtapositions giving rise to new meanings…for example, [t]he nubby texture of the [garden] glove and the chicken leg in Labor and Sustenance raise amusing, if peculiar associations…Each image depicts a pedestrian object of service, yet the titles elevate them, transforming servitude into nobility.
Hild’s dark humor is evident here. What are we to make of the cold, gray very dead chicken leg in Sustenance for example? Intellect, a severed brain encased in a plastic bag…These are funny conjunctions, but they are also discomforting. They require us to reconsider our assumptions about these basic qualities.
-Conjunctions Past Present Past by Liz Chilsen
Catalyst Arts, Belfast, Ireland
…Hild’s precise narrative style – two women, one black one white, united by an op art hen; their hands linked to form the central focus…speaks of age-old ritual and understanding. Its title, Grace, can be read on several levels: grace in acceptance of our fate, be we animal or human; grace as in hope and charity – or is this bird not destined for the pot, but actually a pet affectionately called Grace! [This painting] hints at the natural paradoxes of female life with all [its] strength and vulnerability.
-Once Seen Never Forgotten by Clare Henry (Art critic, The Herald, Glasgow, Scotland)
Illinois Women Artists: The New Millennium
…Elaborating on the sensation of containment and silence experienced in the actual museum, she captures a feeling of being overwhelmed and claustrophobic and simultaneously provides a muted send of wonder. Hild’s paintings offer a context for interaction between the human and the natural world, while overall the installation becomes a perfect embodiment of the still life sensibility of a bygone era.
-Birdroom, Chicago Cultural Center: Michigan Avenue Galleries Publication
August-October 2001 (author unknown)
This series of paintings originated from a middle-aged preoccupation with this most unruly and embarrassing of body parts, a ruthlessly expanding mid-section, inching inexorably outward with each passing year. In youth, a flat abdomen was a given, there were plenty of other things to worry about. Who needed exercise? Food and drink didn’t’ stick. Besides, in those days I regarded my entire body as nothing more than a shelf for my head.
Then I turned 50. Out of nowhere I discovered a big fat belly sitting on my shelf. I became alarmed. Then obsessed. What to do about this unwelcome knick-knack? Exercise was out of the question, too unseemly. Giving up wine and the occasional martini. Not an option. As so often results from my obsessions, there was left nothing more to do than look at it. Regard it frankly. In other words, make a painting out of it.
-Excerpts from Nancy’s statement on her Gut paintings and Tai Chi and me
I use animal imagery to discuss the incongruities and contradictions of a “modern” society that has so alienated itself from the natural world that most creatures exist for us primarily in terms of their flesh to eat, value as clothing, use as laboratory “tools,” suitability as pets, stuffed and mounted knickknacks, and even as linguistic stereotypes and symbols such as bunnies, bitches, chicks and the like…[These things] are reflections of humankind in terms of the “unnatural” and compartmentalized world we have created for ourselves.
-Nancy Hild Artist’s Statement
In 1996, Nancy completed a series that she considered one of her finest: Allegory of the Seven Sins. The works are masterfully painted, and Nancy’s signature approach towards specific areas of detail is evident. In Despair, it is in her rendering of the minute spikes of body hair and the furrowed skin on hands and neck. In Lust, it is in the complex pattern of the netting and floral lace on the evening top. In Covetousness it is her French bulldog’s teats and belly.
But it is the life and death of animals and insects in this series that sets it apart from the myriad other interpretations of the Seven Sins. Animals are preeminent in this series, and it is their traits and spirit that provoke the viewer most of all. One can feel the little claws of the green lizard in Envy, the pitter patter of the feet creating an itch that you can’t quite reach. The moths in Despair invisibly eat away - as they do on so many human things.
Her sense of play with the subject matter of the Sins is informed by historical study and critical reading. This should be taken into account when viewing the piece Injustice which Nancy substitutes for “Sloth.” In this image, she seems to be asking whether our quest for scientific knowledge excuses the suffering of the mice as she juxtaposes a wheel of unending and fruitless activity in the context of disciplined effort (scientific method). There is a complex layering in this image that requires both an empathy and careful thought.
Over all, the symbolism in these paintings is both obvious and hermetic, the latter quality quite apparent in Lust. In this painting, a woman is dressed in garb suggestive of 1940's glamour, and she elegantly holds a glass dome in which a raw chicken leg and thigh is placed. It is a fascinating and repellent image. We are provoked to ask: Is lusting for meat a sin? Is it even more sinful when culture melds meat and female sexuality? Is part of the sin a conceit in the display of meat? Undergirding all of this is the sense of rot and the ephemeral nature of what is inside that small glass dome which itself is evocative of housing for decorative clocks, a measure of both time passing and time eternal.
From Linda R. James
Excerpt on “The Allegory of the Seven Sins”
Proposal to DePaul University Art Museum, December 2017
….I am completely consumed by the contradictions of Nancy: the profane working man’s adoring daughter whose intellect was deep and complicated; the child so wounded and marginalized by Charlie’s death that she gravitated for all the days of her life to the vulnerable – animals dominated by other animals (4 legs good, 2 legs bad) or people on the fringes. God!! Her building when I took over was a veritable asylum! And so many of the weirdos and artists (yes artists) that she took in later plundered her good will and broke her heart all over again (or infuriated her to a point of hammer in hand confrontation). A creator of incredible sensitivity, she had a bawdy and irreverent sense of humor. I was humbled by the complexity, visual and contextual, of her artwork and tickled by her love of gich.
Text message from Mary F. McAuley (one of Nancy’s three “sisters”)
to Linda James, 2017