An Interview with Nina Nemeth

Last spring, New York City became an early epicenter of the pandemic in America. The vibrant, bustling city, though reeling from the impact of the pandemic, responded with the usual grit and grace. New York City became an example for the rest of the country in how to deal with this unprecedented situation, with the unimaginable suffering, the inadequate resources, and the shut down of important institutions.

In her limited series Do You Remember When? Nina Nemeth creates a love letter to New York City; a remembrance of that bright vitality that gives us hope for its inevitable return. Mixed media paintings on maps of the various locations in New York, the images show dream-like memories of human connection—people dancing and visiting museums and playing basketball.

The series caught the attention of none-other than film director Spike Lee, and he bought the entire series. Though the originals are no longer available, Nemeth offers prints, and she compiled the collection into a book, and all profits from the book are dedicated to a charity close to her heart.

Hello, Old Friend

Did you conceive of this as a series when you started, or was it something that built up piece by piece until you realized you had a cohesive body of work?

The first piece I did In the series is called “I Remember Spring.” This piece represented how I was feeling at the time. The Covid-19 virus had hit very hard and it was affecting New York City in a particularly difficult and devastating way. The entire world was struggling and changing at an alarmingly scary and fast pace. “I Remember Spring” was a representation of all that was going on, both in the world, and in my head. New York City is near and dear to my heart, having been born and raised there, so this is the “place” that the work was based upon. After completing this piece, it felt as if I had communicated visually what many people were feeling, ideas started flowing and the other pieces followed. I realized after having completed about seven pieces that I was onto something, and set out to work on and complete the full series.

I Remember Spring

Some people had trouble maintaining their creative spirit during the quarantine. Did working on this series help you deal with the stress of the pandemic?

Having trouble being creative has never been a problem for me, particularly when times are tough. Having contracted Myasthenia Gravis, an auto immune disease, at the age of seven months old, and still having it now, muscle strength and energy come and go. But the energy to think, have ideas, and put them to canvas is always present for me. When the pandemic hit and we all went Into lockdown, I went into overdrive; I was creating my normal body of work in my studio and I had another area on my dining room table where I started drawing and painting a lot on paper. I actually started just painting greeting cards and sending them to people because I missed them and I was trying to cheer them up. At the same time, I started drawing the first piece on a map. All of this work, the series, the cards, paintings in my studio, really helped with stress and isolation.

Tell us about the maps. I love that they create a sense of space. Maps always seem full of potential though devoid of life, and pictures of cities in lockdown had that exact feeling.

The maps represent all those places that we could not go to, that we were missing. I was making an effort to connect the things I was painting and drawing to the locations where they may have been. It may not have been exact locations, but pretty close, and to me there was something about including that visual that was very familiar and meaningful. The other aspect of the maps is that as a substrate they really create quite an interesting background to work on. All the lines and dots and dashes really represented a lot of the chaos of the time, but also the beauty of the locations It was really important for me to let as much of the underlying map show through because the elements of the design of the map really play into the pieces themselves.

Fort Greene Represent

How did Spike Lee find your work? I understand you got a chance to speak to him as well! What did you two talk about?

I have admired Spike Lee for as long as I can remember. He was a film student at NYU at the same time that I was a graduate student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Back then, he built his movie studios “40 Acres and a Mule,” in Fort Greene. Spike Lee was/is an influential New Yorker, and known for his powerful work. There was no question that I would include him in the series which takes place in NY. I posted the series and tagged Spike Lee in the piece that included him called “Fort Greene Represent.” As a result, he sent me a message and expressed admiration for the piece and I followed up by gifting, and sending him a print.

A few months later, after just having picked up the print from the framer, he called to thank me! We set up a meeting and we talked for quite a while about each piece in the series, the affect of Covid on so many aspects of life, and the need to raise awareness. It was a few weeks later that he called and expressed interest in purchasing the entire series. This body of work could not have found a better home, Spike Lee’s appreciation for New York City is legendary, his commitment to bringing attention to matters of justice and stories that need to be told, is unparalleled.

Images of You Remain
Thinking of You

Tell us about the charities you’re donating proceeds to. I understand they’re near to your heart!

Along with family and friends, I’ve always been a proponent of both donating to charities as well as working to help people. One charity that I have been involved with for long time is Homeless Solutions in Morristown, NJ. I found my way there because I had a close family member that had struggled their entire life with addiction and as a result homelessness, I found myself looking for ways to help people, who for any number of reasons, found themselves struggling to meet basic needs. The pandemic made it glaringly obvious that many people were suffering and struggling to meet their needs. It occurred to me that I could compile a book and make prints of my series, and give a portion of proceeds to charities. In this case I was able to donate to Homeless Solutions, Community Food Bank, and The Robin Hood Foundation in New York City, which was directly helping people affected by the pandemic. Throughout the years I’ve been able to donate art to any number of charities and have found It has the great power to change lives. I remain aware of this always. It’s a lucky thing to be able to do what you like to do AND have it help people. Win win.

Do You Remember When - A Limited Series, the book

To purchase  the book, click here.

The Symphony of All Things

What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

I have been trying to maintain some sense of a teaching schedule while the pandemic has been happening. I teach classes at the Morris County Art Association which I thoroughly enjoy. I have also been working on experimental type of art lately, especially combining drawing materials with painting materials. Beside the regular things I do, I have also started a new series; I’ve taken the advice of Spike Lee seriously, and decided to continue telling stories. Up until now, I had never worked on a series that had the ability to convey such a powerful message, I have learned that using my art to accomplish this is something I enjoy, the experience has really opened my eyes to the possibilities and I think it has transformed me in the sense that I will probably always have a series going simultaneously to whatever I am doing. Currently I am working on the next series, it represents life after the pandemic or "Hope for the Future” - (also the name of the series in progress). I currently have four pieces completed in that series and it can be found on my website. It will be fun to document all the ways that life returns to normal, or should I say the new normal.

How They Danced in the Streets
I've Been Scared of Crowded Places


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