Cancer survivor focuses on the things that go unnoticed

by Len Lear
Posted 10/16/20

“My work often focuses on the things that I presume go unnoticed in the world: the tiny veins of a decaying leaf, the pattern of light bouncing off a flowing stream, the millions of cracks and …

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Cancer survivor focuses on the things that go unnoticed


“My work often focuses on the things that I presume go unnoticed in the world: the tiny veins of a decaying leaf, the pattern of light bouncing off a flowing stream, the millions of cracks and slivers in a broken piece of glass. In the process of making art, I attempt to expose and redefine those unnoticed fragments from life.

“The movement of water has been a recurring subject in my work for quite some time. It began as an exploration of light, depth, color and translucency. The initial works investigating water consisted of a series of small paintings on Mylar. The smooth material allowed me to manipulate the manner in which the watery pigments flowed across the surface. These paintings, entitled 'Arroyo Hondo,' are part of an extended group of images that focused on the depth and flow of water along the Wissahickon Creek.”

Germantown artist Nancy Agati, who explained her artistic philosophy above, was supposed to have a solo exhibit of her work in March of this year at Allens Lane Art Center in West Mt. Airy, but it was postponed because of the pandemic. However, the center invited Agati to participate in “Art Show,” a live online interview and discussion about her work on Thursday evening, Oct. 8, which she did.

Agati, a native of Syracuse, NY, who asked that her age not be mentioned, earned a BFA degree in 1985 from the Alfred University School of Art & Design and an MFA in 2007 in Studio Art/Painting from the University of the Arts, She moved to Philadelphia in the late '80s and has lived in Mt. Airy/Germantown ever since, currently living in East Mt. Airy with her husband, Benjamin White, and their two cats, Piccolo and Vesuvius.

Agati's first solo exhibit was at Allens Lane Art Center in 2000. The show, entitled "Terra Toma," was her visual response to having and surviving cancer. The exhibit traveled to an exhibition at ARC Gallery in Chicago in 2001, thanks to a grant from The Leeway Foundation. “Having and beating cancer was the most difficult thing on so many levels that I have ever done,” Agati said last week.

Another stunning series of works by Agati were “Continuum,” mixed media works on paper and mounted to panel with ink, gouache, clay slip and polymer. The series began in 2014 during the Tending Space, Art and Meditation Fellowship awarded from the Hemera Foundation. The paintings that make up the series draw from a specific set of design elements, which were repeated, rotated and layered to form the image.

“My approach,” Agati explained, “was an attempt to embrace the Buddhist concept of not knowing or beginner's mind. Therefore, it was not surprising that the imagery shifts and transforms from one painting to the next. Each composition has become a meditative, loosely mathematical technique for exploring seemingly boundless visual possibilities.”

Regarding the effect of the pandemic on her life and work, Agati stated, “The reality of the pandemic has  made me question and re-evaluate my work as an artist almost weekly. I have thought a lot about beauty and whether beauty is relevant during such unsettling times. I have considered various ways to be political with my work. I have been collecting data, graphs, charts and statistics that infiltrate through the daily news feeds to be used as elements in my work.

“I am shocked and saddened by our nation's response to this crisis. On a personal note, I miss seeing my friends, going out to a movie or having dinner in a restaurant. I wish that this time of pause would slow us down as a society and open up means for reflection, especially in regard to the environment.”

When asked about the best advice she ever received, Agati quickly replied, “My professor at UArts, Gerard Brown, once said, 'When in doubt, sweep the studio.' I don't know if this was the best advice ever given, but it is one that I go to often.”

Agati and her husband have two adult daughters, Nicola and Alfia. Nicola is a high school English teacher at Building 21 in Philadelphia, and Alfia is an architect with the firm Cooper Robertson in Manhattan.

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