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Gladys Nilsson at Parker Gallery


Gladys Nilsson (b. 1940) was an iconic member of the Hairy Who, a group of artists that banded together in Chicago in the 1960s to exhibit their wildly idiosyncratic work. The group of six, which included Jim Nutt and Karl Wirsum, privileged graphic and bold figuration that was playful and imaginative as much as it was irreverent.

Nilsson’s solo exhibition, “Old Lady Drawings” at Parker Gallery assembles three decades of the artist’s output, with several works that were created this year. While works included from the 1990s and early 2000s feature Nilsson’s signature watercolor style, each drawing is an imagined world populated by colorful figures that bend and contort, often with a brigade of tiny people milling about the central figure’s ankles or shoulders.

Across the work are pictures within pictures — as in 1988’s “Front Moving Thru,” in which cameras are strung around figure’s necks as others hold photographs or small paintings, like windows into other realities. The newer work made this year takes on a less fluid painting style, privileging instead collage and muted color application where Nilsson’s figures congregate with photos clipped from art historical paintings and sculptures. Overall, the selection of work feels very much about perception; how each of our realities are shaped by the people, places, and images we surround ourselves with.

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Photo: Gladys Nilsson, “Front Moving Thru” (1998). Watercolor and collage on paper. 22 x 30 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Parker, Los Angeles. Photos by Paul Salveson.