Nell Painter presenting artwork in blue and yellow

Artist’s Statement

The Creative Research Center is proud of our association with the historian and artist Nell Irvin Painter. The saga of her triumphant journey of self-remaking, Old In Art School, was published in June, 2018 by Counterpoint Press. To learn more about Nell Painter’s acclaimed new book and her distinguished career and imagination, visit:

Nell Painter

She writes: For the CRC’s inception, I made eight art works for the web site that echoed key notions in the CRC’s mission: to create, stimulate, reinvigorate, drive, mediate, cross over, explore, enlist, cultivate, collaborate, and link. Their process of creation as well as their palette build on the CRC’s foundation in artistic creation and digital tools. Their abstraction opens the way for viewers to collaborate in supplying meaning—to further the process of signification and carry it into scientific and symbolic realms.

The eight pieces on the website began in two drawings made at Lake Clear in the Adirondacks in the summer of 2010, colored ink and acrylic on Yupo synthetic paper, 11 x 14.” Then, to create the images on the Creative Research Center website, I manipulated details of the drawings digitally in Photoshop, to make new compositions. The images in this statement continue my process of digital repetition and recombination.

It’s easy to recognize these pieces as abstract, though today we claim all sorts of art as abstraction, for the mere translation of light’s wavelengths into paint and print constitutes abstraction of a more or less extreme character. These abstract pieces invite all viewers, regardless of their physical characteristics, into their realm. For creativity does not limit itself to any particular human body type. You are all invited in.


My newer works on The Creative Research Center’s website grow out of an ongoing series entitled Odalisque Atlas, which revolves around concepts of beauty, sex, and slavery in many territories and different historical eras. The pieces in Odalisque Atlas are both digital and manual, a defining characteristic of my art. The image on the CRC home page is a hand-colored etching whose background quotes Ingres’s Grand Odalisque and the landscape of Ukraine, the homeland of so many young women sold into slavery over millennia. The mouth pattern in the foreground comes from one of my many self-portraits, linking the art history in the image to our own times. The other digital images throughout the CRC website are based on the piece on the home page, with varying levels of simplification and abstraction.

Nell Painter, a painter with feet in both visual and verbal terrain, lives and works in Newark, New Jersey. She received her MFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011 and has published books on the history of the United States, including three with strong visual components: The History of White People (W. W. Norton, 2010), Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings from 1619 to the Present (Oxford University Press, 2006), and Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol (W. W. Norton, 1996). She is also Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, at Princeton University.