GALLERY CHAT: NANCY LITTLEJOHN
Nancy Littlejohn, Founder and Owner, Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art
NLFA gives the Houston arts community well deserved recognition in the National and International art world. Bringing 30 years of experience as a patron, collector, art advisor and gallerist, Littlejohn delivers an experience unlike anything you’ve seen. In 1998 she opened what has been noted as the most avant-garde gallery in Texas, bravely showcasing emerging talent through exhibitions, performances and thoughtfully curated multi-disciplinary events. Today, NLFA represents the very best Nationally and Internationally recognized established and emerging contemporary artists.
What are you working on right now, professionally or otherwise?
Professionally, I am currently planning the gallery’s scheduling for 2021-2022. I spend much of my time talking to and engaging with artists.
Personally, I have just moved my daughter to College Station.
Tell us about your background. When did you first get interested in art and how did it lead you into this business?
I attended the University of St. Thomas, here in Houston. I interned with the Fenn Gallery in Santa Fe. It is a very famous gallery visited by patrons such as Steven Spielberg and Ronald Regan. While there I gained a deep appreciation for art, culture, life, and why art is important; I learned that artists are social anthropologists.
Amongst the artists with whom you work, have you seen any significant changes to their practices during this time?
William Anzalone is one of the great artists I have the privilege of working alongside. At 85, he is still making his best work. When I first began working with him, he primarily focused on figures and realist landscapes. Now, he has shifted to larger more abstract landscapes.
He has been a huge inspiration to other artists. Not only is he intelligent, an MIT grad, but he is so sincere and caring, a true master of his craft.
Walk us through your daily routine when working.
I wake up and check my phone first, emails, texts, and social media. Then I check-in with the Director of NLFA, Emily Griffith. I have coffee then go for a run.
When I am at the gallery, I am glued to my desk, usually on the phone.
Where are you now and with whom?
I am in my office with my communications coordinator, Aisha.
What was the last thing that made you laugh out loud?
Emily was just telling me about her husband John’s chicken nugget eating competition he hosts for his co-workers.
How would you describe the program and vision of your gallery?
The program and vision are uniquely mine. I have noticed when I speak to artists they say our program is exceptional. I think there are a few reasons for this. First, the gallery’s aesthetic is mine. By doing so, I ensure that the overall look and feel of the space and everything produced is related. Next, I focus heavily on painting. It is my go-to medium to showcase. Lastly, I want to ensure that the artists I work with have something important to say and they are given a space to speak. I do not interfere with their political POVs. I think it is best to allow the artists to do their work. This gives them the best opportunity to have a true and authentic voice and produce quality work.
What role can artists play during a time like this?
Artists need to stay true to themselves at a time like this. It is important not to let times like this dictate their vision. It seems disingenuous to jump onto trends. Sometimes it is best not to say anything.
What have you changed your mind about recently?
I am very optimist about the future suddenly. It feels like the vibration is lifting. Overall, I am looking forward to Fall 2020 and 2021!
Are there any movies, music, podcasts, publications, or works of art that have made a big impact on you recently? If so, why? What is on your read, watch, or listen list?
I am a huge history buff, especially with the history of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. Being from the South, these moments and histories resonate with me. I have watched Lincoln (2012) a few times in the recent months and HBO’s John Adams. It is so fascinating to learn about the courage, intellect, and passion of our forefathers when they were changing our country for the better. I have also been enjoying Betty & Coretta (2013). It is a great movie about the relationship between MLK and Malcom X’s widows after their husbands’ assassination.
What is your greatest indulgence in life?
Solitude and being alone to think.
What is the best thing you cooked recently?
I cook good pizzas! I like to cook for Isabella, my daughter, and her friends.
Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a gallerist?
Yes, after working for several galleries and becoming an art advisor, I knew I wanted to be a gallerist. I had great mentors and learned from the best. However, along the way, I knew there were some things I would do differently such as have an open, happy working relationship with my employees.
Which artist or dealer of the past would you most like to meet? And why?
I would love to meet Sir Joseph Duveen. He brought art to the US at a time when the wealth of European aristocrats was declining. He noticed that while American industrialists had money, they lacked sophistication. Some of his most notable clients were JP Morgan, Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon. His dealings brought notoriety to Renaissance painters such as Rembrandt.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I always tell my daughter that someone can always be more talented, but you cannot let them out-work you. This space is the accumulation of all my hard work and dreams. I have a great and disciplined team who take after my and Emily’s work ethic. I also get to work with great artists. Here I am fulfilled. We are in an historic space and it is very close to my house!
Having this gallery and team have been exactly what I always wanted.
Which activities, openings, shows have you had to close, postpone, or cancel?
We have only had to shift two Spring 2020 shows into the Fall of 2020. Our artists have been so wonderful and accommodating about moving schedules and making space for their contemporaries.
What does the art community need most in this moment?
The artist community needs to support each other at this moment.