Despite the topographical feats and tempting alternatives, the city of San Francisco hosts 100,000 bicyclists each day. Watercolor painter, bike aficionado, and California native, Nancy Muren has the wheels turning on a mission to catalog the beauty of San Francisco’s bicycle population in a new series of brightly colored, slyly humorous watercolors.
Throughout her series, and especially Get Up and Go and Green Vector, Nancy treats the mechanics of the bikes with anatomist’s focus, zooming in on the gears, pedals, and frame. With an unrushed knack for precision, she shines a light on the inner practicality of bicycles as objects of beauty, even at their most functional, non-aesthetic level.
To Nancy, the world is filled with aesthetic opportunities. She explains, “As I move through the world each day, I spend a lot of time studying its loveliness and how I might paint it. I notice how light and shadows mix and form interesting shapes. I especially love colors and the way they mix together on wet, white paper.”
She describes her own development as an artist, beginning with childhood, in terms of a seriality of increasing brightness, saying, “as I went from crayons to colored pencils to tempura to transparent watercolors my colors continued to get brighter and more luminous.”
She approaches her bike theme in a pleasant palette of bright, summertime colors that radiate through the composition with energy and ease. In the compositional focal points – such as, gears, handlebars, and spokes, Nancy shows a technique that is tight, controlled, and masterful. In background areas – such as, sidewalks and buildings, she allows the pigment to diffuse in natural, aqueous lines that seem to effortlessly produce the contours of shadows, weather, and wear.
Resembling a bicycle’s counterbalanced relationship to gravity, Nancy’s artistic process strikes its own balance between controlled and uncontrolled. Her medium, her found subject matter, her slightly impressionistic style, and even her studio – which she describes as untidy and even “chaotic,” all have a strong element of spontaneity.
“I don’t seem to be concerned by immediacy of order,” says Nancy. “It surprises some people that a tight watercolor painting can come from such disorder.”
Beyond the series, Nancy continues to fill her prolific portfolio with a range of topics, suggesting to us all that for Nancy, watercolor is a talent, which when mastered, is like riding a bike.