Throughout her career, Emily Nelligan’s primary muses consisted of the shoreline, sea, and sky of Maine’s Great Cranberry Island off Mount Desert. While many artists routinely draw as a preliminary process, Nelligan’s extensive oeuvre explores drawing as a fully realized medium with wide-ranging potential.
Part representational, part abstract, Nelligan’s process of manipulating materials and methods accentuates the visual depths of the environment and the recesses of imagination. The nocturnal landscapes by William Blake, Arthur B. Davies, Albert Pinkham Ryder come to mind, but like Ralph Albert Blacklock, Nelligan steadfastly avoided the diversion of figurative imagery. Given her preferred drawing instrument of vine charcoal, Nelligan’s expressive visions appear lighted by hand-held lanterns under the cloak of darkness. Each drawing is titled by date of execution, suggesting an inverse diurnal theme – the artist is the light from which the natural world is perceived.
Adding imagery, subtracting, and erasing – a process known as highlight rendering – places special attention on a range of surfaces, textures, tints, and shadows that might otherwise remain undiscovered. Her subtractive image-making was achieved by using kneaded erasers and special eraser pencils known as erasils on 7 x 10 inch sheets of laid writer’s paper.
The first major installation of Nelligan’s work since her passing in 2018, this memorial exhibition presents works on paper from the artist’s estate, institutional partners, and private collections. The exhibition is organized by the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.