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New Artwork Looks Back At You

Artwork by Nina Chanel Abney, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas

Crystal Bridges is delighted to present a brand-new artwork created just for our museum by artist Nina Chanel Abney. Nina was onsite at the museum creating this artwork for the stairwell linking the 1940s to Now Gallery with Eleven.  The work is now complete and ready for you to enjoy on your next visit to the museum. The work will be on view through January, 2019.


Nina uses tape, stencils, and spray paint to create her bright, colorful artworks. She incorporates many simple symbols that are familiar to everyone, such as hearts, hands, and eyes, to evoke a personal response in each viewer.  Last week I had the opportunity to ask a few questions of Nina when she took a break from her work.  Here’s an excerpt from our interview:


African American artist Nina Chanel Abney stands on a ladder and reaches up to spray paint into a stencil she holds against the wall. She is surrounded by a large colorful mural of faces, symbols and shapes.

Artist Nina Chanel Abney creates an original artwork on the walls of a stairwell at Crystal Bridges.


I understand that you don’t do any sketches in planning for your works. Can you walk us through the process?


NCA: I come in, I take a look at the space, and then I just think about it overnight. Sometimes I’ll look at some other projects I’ve done, just to get an idea of how I might start. And then from there I just start blocking out different colors and keep layering on top of them.


I understand this is your first time to install an artwork in a stairwell, does that have an effect on how you approach the work?

NCA: Yeah, it’s different working in a space that kind of wraps around you. I like it. It has a different feel, for sure, than anything I’ve done so far because it kind of sucks you in, surrounding you completely.


So when you were mulling this project over before you started, what topics or themes came to mind?

NCA: [I wanted it to be like], I don’t know, a cave or something. [I want to] transform this area like it was kind of a hidden space.

I think for this one, I kind of want you to feel like maybe you went into an area you’re not supposed to be in. I’m going to try to have the figures staring at you when you come into the space.



Does it bother you that this will not be a permanent work?  I’m kind of sad that it won’t stay forever.

NCA: No. It almost kind of adds to it that you got a glimpse of it and then it’s gone.


I know you sometimes take your subject matter from current events. Have the events of the past year had any particular impact on your work?

NCA: Well, yeah for my two solo shows that are up right now, I think it definitely impacted the subject matter. That show was called Seize the Imagination; where I felt like the very thing that usually drives my work—the news—was making me not want to watch the news, you know? So I think that sparked the inspiration for my two shows.


For the wall pieces that I do, it’s a little looser than when I’m working on a gallery show. I wouldn’t say it’s more fun, but it’s just a little looser, where I’m just completely intuitive and not necessarily taking so much of the news into it.  When I’m doing the things on the wall, I think these become more of an experience. I think this allows for a little more interaction with whoever’s coming into the museum, which will build the content in itself.


Artwork by Nina Chanel Abney, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas

Detail of artwork by Nina Chanel Abney, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas


Do you listen to music when you’re working? This really looks like music to me.

NCA: Yeah, I always usually listen to music while I’m working. Then also it doesn’t hurt that I’m in the museum [at the same time as the] Stuart Davis exhibition, one of my big influences, so I’m definitely keeping that in mind.


What brought you to the use of stencils in your work?

NCA: I think over time I’ve been trying to create my own language and also simplify my work to symbols that are so simple that it’s a universal language. Where, no matter if you go to museums and galleries all the time or you don’t, you can still look at the work and use your own experience and come up with some meaning for it for yourself.



Please come visit Crystal Bridges soon and take in this colorful and lively artwork for yourself!