Nancy Brandon’s Career Retrospective (1960- Present): “The Accidental Artist – Joy & Cohesion in Black Life”

Welcome to Goddard Riverside’s Community Arts Program’s Annual W.H.A.M. Festival! This year’s W.H.A.M. ART EXHIBIT 2024, we welcome you to visit the Bernie Wohl Center to enjoy the artwork of 93-year-old Nancy Brandon! This is her first solo gallery show despite having painted for 63 years.

Buyers can purchase and view the artwork from March 1st to April 15th at the Bernie Wohl Center. See open viewing days below.

The W.H.A.M. Festival serves as Goddard Riverside Community Arts Program’s annual charitable fundraising drive that jointly supports our presented artists and the future of our programming, where we ensure the arts are accessible to all, regardless of income.

A painting by Nancy Brandon of a woman and a man.
A painting that depicts a man and woman sanding behind a door looking at a woman hold her heart.
A painting by Nancy Brandon of a woman and a man.

Open Viewing Days

Stop by the Bernie Wohl Center on an open viewing day to enjoy the artwork!

Walk-ins are only accepted on an Open Viewing day.

  • Tues., Mar. 5th: 7:00 – 8:30 PM
  • Thurs., Mar. 7th: 4:30 – 8:30 PM
  • Wed., Mar. 13th: 1:30 – 5:00 PM
  • Thurs., Mar. 14th: 1:30 – 5:00 PM
  • Tues., Mar. 19th: 7:00 – 8:30 PM
  • Wed., Mar. 20th: 1:30 – 5:00 PM
  • Tues., Mar. 26th: 7:00 – 8:30 PM
  • Sat., Mar. 30th: 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM
  • Thurs. April 4th from 5:00 – 8:30 PM  
  • Sat. April 6th from 10:00 AM – 1:30 PM
  • Mon. April 8th from 5:00 – 8:30 PM
  • Tues. April 9th from 7:00 – 8:30 PM
  • Thurs. April 11th from 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM
  • Fri. April 12th from 12:00 – 5:00 PM

Goddard’s Bernie Wohl Center

647 Columbus Avenue

New York, NY 10025

About Nancy Brandon

93-year-old Nancy Brandon’s smile is contagious. With a twinkle in her eyes and a clinking of gilded bracelets, she hands you a mysteriously deep-sea green margarita as she greets you into her wonderland-apartment at the Saint Martin’s Tower on 91st Street and Columbus Avenue. She has transformed not only the space she’s lived in since 1990, but also the community room, hallways, and doorways of neighbors on the floor, where she is beloved by all. “Almost all!” she says, laughing.

A lifelong New Yorker, the Bronx-native Nancy is a frequent presence in the streets of the Upper West Side, where she can be seen strolling with her leopard-print cane, fashionable shades, and daring new hair color on her way to an event at  Goddard Riverside’s Bernie Wohl Community Center, a multi-use afterschool location and arts space. One day last year, Nancy brought us a lookbook containing awe-inspiring images of her “hidden” artworks that have been gradually filling the corners of every room of her apartment. Our arts staff was amazed. Now, and for the first time in her life, Nancy Brandon’s career retrospective solo exhibition will be on view at the Bernie Wohl Center beginning March 1st, 2024, as part of the annual W.H.A.M. Festival celebrating the female visionaries in our local arts scene throughout International Women’s Month.

A self-taught painter, Nancy Brandon defiantly picked up a brush in 1960. She had previously studied harp at the elite free School of Music and Art in Hamilton Heights for gifted students. “Back then, women were disincentivized from pursuing careers,” Nancy says with a slightly annoyed sigh.  Growing up in a 5-story walk-up in Washington Heights (“across the street from Duke Ellington”), Nancy’s father was a mechanic, and her mother a teacher. Valuing education, Nancy attended Hunter College and taught kindergarten in Queens’ Rochdale Village housing cooperative before quickly switching to the junior high age group. “I realized I could not be ‘Mary Sunshine’ all day long,” she explains. She married in 1955 to a dentist who was “somewhat of a mismatch, but it worked.” She retired from teaching in 1985, devoting herself fully to painting and family. The merging of these two great passions is readily apparent in Nancy’s works which prominently feature Black American couples and families awash in brilliant tropical colors.

Depicted with babes in arms, dancing, singing, or in still lifes with lush flora, “cohesion” is the word that kept resurfacing as we considered the meaning of her creative output over a truly impressive scope of multi-media works. Nancy’s subjects, in their pensive embraces, represent the gratitude she feels for the steadfast protection and love within the Black community in the face of turmoil caused by “ordinary racism.” One can easily trace the humor in Nancy’s oeuvre, which bears elements of folk/outsider art. Heavily influenced by Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, and the various modern European art movements of the 21st century, Nancy channels their audacity of figurative expression and bold painterly style while flipping the script to center the Black female experience.  Nancy attended the renowned Printmaking Workshop with founder and master printmaker Robert Blackburn, resulting in her print, “The Offering” being added to the Library of Congress. (Other notable students of Blackburn included Leonora Carrington, Romare Bearden, and Faith Ringgold.)

Although she was widowed in 1978 and has lived alone for many years following her adult children’s departures, Nancy’s light has not dimmed. Instead, her love for people has seemed to grow exponentially. Upon entry to Nancy’s studio, one spots her expansive display of children’s artwork, alongside memorabilia from past group shows she was included in at the Jamaica Arts Center, Brooklyn Museum, and Dorsey’s Fine Art Gallery. Her paintings are stacked a dozen high to save space; in recent years she’s taken to creating new ones with housepaint to save money. Nonetheless, each one is more exquisite than the next. One is a portrait of Miles Davis as an angel, based on an encounter they had via Nancy’s friend, Davis’s former lawyer. Another is of the well-known fictional Black lovers, Porgy & Bess. “The Matador Looks At Death” was inspired by Nancy’s trip to Spain, where she caught the eye of the bullfighter. His bravery made an indelible impression on her.

Drawing from her own deep well of bravery, she is comfortable sharing her work with the general public in the hopes of having more space “and time, God willing!” she adds, to continue painting. “To do anything off the ‘grid’, you have to have courage. In doing notable things, you will first hear people say ‘Why are you doing this, what’s wrong with you?’ The key is to ignore them,” she says knowingly, cracking open another can of house paint.

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A woman, Nancy Brandon, standing in her apartment.
A woman, Nancy Brandon, painting on her canvas.