My eyes and my hands come together to create visual expression. Therefore, I paint from what I see, feel and know. –Nancy Rourke
I started drawing and painting when I was seven because it was a way of communicating with my family. Raised in San Diego, my parents had no idea I was born Deaf until I was six. The doctor originally said I had a learning disability and speech impairment. Not quite so.
I was always creating new pieces, and exhibited my artwork—everything from painting rocks to canvases—at art fairs, in contests, and at galleries. I studied graphic design and painting at the National Technical Institute of the Deaf and Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and earned a master’s degree in computer graphic design and painting.
In 1979, I had my very first showing at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. I then was among 12 Deaf artists participating at the Heart, Eye, Hand exhibit held at the Los Angeles-based Ankrum Gallery. It was at this point in my life that I stopped painting. I didn’t have full confidence in my chances at success in the art community, so I chose to become a 9-to-5 employee.
I worked as a graphic designer for Xerox in San Diego. My next job was as a palette designer for 20th Century Fox, where I created color palettes to colorize classic black and white films such as Casablanca, King Kong, Sherlock Holmes, and numerous John Wayne films. In 1991, I moved to Seattle, where I worked as a graphic designer for Microsoft Corporation designing Windows icons. I unexpectedly got laid off.
Throughout my career, I had continued to long for painting. The layoff was the perfect opportunity for me to take workshops and courses in preparation for my return to painting. I knew I had revived my art career when I placed second in the Northern Colorado Regional Juried Show in the oil painting category. For eight years, I painted everything from portraits to landscapes and cityscapes to still life.
In 2010, I became involved in Deaf Art, and realized I had discovered my passion. Much to my delight, I received a Puffin Foundation Grant to study, through painting, Deafhood, Deaf culture, audism, Deaf history, Deaf politics, American Sign Language and bilingualism. I have been inspired to create new paintings on a weekly basis, which are posted on this website.
The Art Process
I am greatly influenced by the Fauvism Movement—specifically, Henri Matisse, Andre Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck. Another influence is the Neo-Expressionist Movement, including Jean-Michel Basquiat and Matt Sesow.
I tend to use bright and strident colors, especially the primary colors, although I use black and white pigments for saturated color areas. I like strong brushstrokes that are expressive, emotional and even at times disturbing. This helps me create simplified and abstract paintings.
I begin by scribbling notes and/or sketching at any time of the day or night. I then use oil paints to paint on stretched canvases, masonites, cardboard, canvas boards and bristol boards. My ultimate goal, aside from obviously expressing myself, is to show appreciation for the Deaf community and to convey my Deafhood journey and experiences. I also stay on top of Deaf politics and cultural issues so that my paintings can show support when needed, and to show anger or frustration when audism emerges. Other themes in my paintings include Deaf history, American Sign Language, and Deaf culture.
Nancy Rourke joined Fine Art America on June 3rd, 2007.