Painting as a language

Nancee Jean Busse enjoys telling tales through her artwork

Nancee Jean Busse works on her painting about “how butterflies came to be,” one of several paintings she is currently creating. Another piece Busse is now working on captures a scene at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico that she saw while visiting the area about nine years ago. Going back to Bosque del Apache is on her bucket list, but for now Busse re-lives taking in the amazing sight of thousands of snow geese and sandhill cranes through her artwork.

“How Bison Got His Hump” by Nancee Jean Busse

“Coyote Spills the Stars” by Nancee Jean Busse

Nancee Jean Busse, shown in her studio, will have a number of her paintings featured during August in the exhibit “Native American Folklore Illustrated” at The Main Street Gallery, 412 Main St. A First Friday reception for the exhibit will be from 5–9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, at the gallery.


First Friday

A reception for “Native American Folklore Illustrated” will go from 5–9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, at The Main Street Gallery, 412 Main St.

For information about this and other art exhibits and receptions, go to Page 8

Nancee Jean Busse likes to paint in threes.

One non-representational painting.

One very representational painting.

And one painting that is illustrative in nature.

“With ease I can move back and forth and not get bored,” said Busse, sitting in her Grand Valley studio earlier this week.

On her easel is a more illustrative piece about “how butterflies came to be” and hanging on the wall is a triptych (a three-panel painting) in mid-production with sandhill cranes and snow geese in various stages of flight. It’s a scene from a visit to Bosque del Apache in New Mexico about nine years ago.

She just finished a more illustrative piece, and knew long before she was done what she would paint next: white peonies, and then another bird totem on a larger canvas.

She likes variety, which makes it difficult to gather a cohesive body of work for an exhibit, she said.

Fortunately, for the month of August and First Friday, Aug. 4, Busse’s paintings will align for “Native American Folklore Illustrated” at The Main Street Gallery, 412 Main St.

A First Friday reception for the exhibit will be from 5–9 p.m. Friday at the gallery, and Busse will be there to talk with patrons as they enjoy refreshments.

“Native American folklore really resonates strongly with me, and it resonates visually,” she said.

Since she enjoys reading, she also has accumulated a number of books about Native American folklore, she said.

The paintings for this exhibit are basically illustrations she has developed from the stories that resonated most, Busse said.

Hanging with each piece will be a short narrative written by Busse that gives the essence of the correlating tale.

Each of Busse’s paintings, no matter the style or exhibit, holds a story. In fact, “the style is the vehicle for the narrative,” she said.

One of her representational pieces shows a moment caught in a photo taken by her husband, Grady, and retold by Busse in acrylic. It’s a short story.

It shows a chipmunk at the moment it turned its head and found a hawk inches away, she said.

“I spent a lifetime as an illustrator. If I have no narrative to hang my art on, I feel a bit lost.”

Storytelling, art and illustrating captured Busse’s attention when she was a child, growing up in Illinois.

She was 5 when she put together her first book, some poems and drawings she titled “Summer Fun.”

“It was always what I wanted to do,” she said.

And she made it a career. She has illustrated children’s books and worked for many years in the publishing industry creating and providing everything from content to graphic design services and more.

She arrived in the Grand Valley in 1986 via Phoenix, where she had moved “on a whim” from Illinois. While she was in Arizona, it happened that nearly her entire family moved to the Grand Valley for various reasons and jobs. So she came, too. “I wanted be with my sister,” she said.

She met Grady when he sold her a Macintosh computer system at ComputerLand — he is currently the president of Action Publishing.

Now retired, Busse’s creativity is focused on her art and painting what she likes, not what a client needs. She even includes drawing in her personal journal, using “The Doodle Book” published by her husband’s company.

As an artist you can hide behind your art to the extent that you can create what sells but is no different than what anyone with good drawing skills couldn’t do, she said.

That kind of art doesn’t necessarily show the “light of life, the truth of being,” Busse said.

With retirement, “I stopped caring whether stuff sold or not,” she said.

Instead, a sale is icing on the cake, she said.

“I think it’s important for every artist to be true to their visual language,” Busse said. “Nothing else could be original.”

“For me, I want to say something visually, and it may take a different form each time,” Busse said.


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