Nella Lush grew up in the Puglia region of Southern Italy. When she moved to Massachusetts more than 30 years ago, the landscapes, buildings and spirit of the Adriatic moved with her. That identity rises to the surface of her abstract and mixed media paintings in which she incorporates a fresco technique using plaster and wax.
“That’s me, that’s where I come from. Everywhere you went there was a fresco in a house or a chapel,” she said.
Lush introduced this idea of bringing one’s authentic self to painting at Brooks during Winter Term. She spent three Wednesdays and several Fridays working with the All Things Italian class, painting and teaching Italian. Her own work was on view in the Lehman Art Center through February 1.
“My process is there’s no right or wrong,” she said. “Put all that away and be yourself. Art is an extension of yourself.”
The students caught on to the idea quickly, laughing while they created drawings using charcoal, plaster and acrylics.
Audrey Webb ’14 hadn’t taken an art class since her third-form year, but Lush taught her to see art as a verb rather than a noun — what is important is the process, she said, not the result.
“We did finger painting, the stuff you did as a kid. She brought that back,” Audrey said.
Lush was also enthusiastically supportive of the students.
“Just being able to go into the studio and have her say my painting was stunning, it made my day,” Audrey said.
Art teacher Amy Graham said beyond the value of getting to learn from a professional working artist, the class had fun with Lush.
“She and I share a lot of the same philosophy about what art is,” Graham said. “She stressed fun, which is great and so important for kids to hear.”
In that spirit, Lush brought treats for the students each time she came to class. One week she brought Italian chocolates, and another week she brought a song.
“We were singing it all day,” Audrey said.
Lush says her art is a reflection of her emotions; she gravitates toward one easel or another in her studio depending on how she’s feeling on a given day. She wanted to bring out this awareness in the students as well.
“One day we did an exercise where I gave them a piece of paper and black charcoal, and I put on some jazz music. I wanted them to close their eyes and let their hand move at the sound of the music. They turned the page around, and the following exercise was letting their hand move to classical music.”
These sorts of activities were designed to force students to put away the idea of technique or perfection.
“I’m a very unconventional artist,” Lush said. “You need to allow the inner self to come out in the artwork. You get the essence more than just the beautiful, well-executed painting. I think the students really got that.”
Lush’s exhibition at the Lehman Art Center incorporated it all: the beautiful, well-executed painting as well as raw emotion and a clear sense of self. The paintings transported the viewer to Lush’s native Italy, and also into her inner world.
“The idea is to allow the art to be part of who you are rather than what others want to see. The first thing we have is the fear of being accepted. Just be yourself, just do it because it’s pleasing you, and you’ll see people will connect with it.”
You can learn more about Nella Lush by visiting her website