by Bob Doerschuk
You look at a person and you start to draw conclusions about his or her character, rightly or wrongly. Maybe it’s how contrived the smile, how direct the eye contact, the posture—all elements that artists use to bring out their subjects’ inner qualities.
But what do you see when you look at, say, a horse? How many see beyond its surface? Or do most of us see, at best, the enigma behind its chestnut eyes?
Growing up in Nashville, Carrie Nygren always knew that every horse and dog was unique. She inherited her insight from her father, Tom Griscom, who combined a successful executive career at Opryland, TNN, CMT, and the Grand Ole Opry with a love for painting and then sculpting wildlife.
“My dad painted ducks and wildfowl in our playroom. To keep me entertained, he gave me some paints and oils—basically, so I would leave him alone,” she recalls with a laugh.
Encouraged by her father and by family friend Paul Harmon, Carrie “went the art route” during high school at Harpeth Hall and afterwards at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where she would earn her MFA. Coming home to Nashville, she found work with the advertising agency Eric Ericson & Associates, did freelance work drawing storyboards for Nashville directors and production companies, and began painting. She and her dad even had a show together at the University Club.
Then life took a different turn—marriage, children, and eventually a job as VP, creative director, and senior producer at Laughlin Constable in Milwaukee. With that, her artwork went on hold for thirty years, until a year ago, with the kids off on their own and a little more free time in her schedule.
“I had no idea if I could even paint anymore,” Nygren admits. “Being a realist painter, trained in the old atelier techniques going back to the Renaissance and egg tempera painting, I had to remember everything from color theory to layers and glazing and try to get to where I felt comfortable again with control of the paint so I could concentrate on capturing the character without focusing too much on the technique. I had to dig up all my college notes and books. It was a little intimidating at first, but it’s been fun and challenging at the same time.”
Apparently the layoff did nothing to dim Nygren’s capabilities. She has produced several large-scale oil works on canvas, each one settling any argument over whether one can discern individual traits in horse or other animal images. Recognition has already come her way, with It’s Just the Wind taking second place, animal category, and Paris on the Rise making the finals in the Art Renewal Center International Salon.
Both works exemplify Nygren’s use of light to illuminate the essence as well as the external aspects of each animal. She photographed Braveheart, the subject of It’s Just the Wind, just as a gust of wind hit him.
“That’s why he’s in a very hard side light, as he pulled his head up really hard,” she says. “He was one of the strongest horses I’ve ever been around—a jumper, an event horse. Paris was a jumper as well, but she was completely different, out there on her own and very proud. She was standing midday with the sun directly over her when she had just finished a workout, so she’s kind of veiny and sweaty. She kept turning her head with that trace of independence that she had.
“Horses’ eyes are kind of like those of humans—the entry to their soul,” she continues. “Being flight animals, they’re skittish. A wind blowing in a tree can catch their attention and they’ll go crazy. Dogs are looking for trust and energy because they’re so much closer to humans than horses are. Both animals have very distinct personalities.”
Despite her relocation up north, Nygren assures that Nashville remains essential to her as an artist. “My heart is still in Nashville,” she insists. “My sister and my aunt are still there, so I’ll keep coming back. I don’t ever want to lose my roots there.”
For more information about Carrie Nygren please visit www.cnygrenart.com.