Spring Pasture. Photography: Courtesy Nancy Bush
Spring Pasture. Photography: Courtesy Nancy Bush

The native Texan uses her surroundings to inspire her tonal works.

Spanning 25 counties in Central and Southwest Texas, the vast Hill Country displays its rugged beauty in breathtaking natural features and topographies. From its transcendent fields of delicate bluebonnets to the rugged hills that give the region its name, this land has inspired many artists — among them, landscape painter Nancy Bush.

A native Texan born in Austin and now living and painting in Fredericksburg, Bush developed a love for painting during childhood from her great-uncle Ralph Rountree, an international portrait artist. As a young adult her artistic aspirations were put on hold while she pursued a career in the business world. It wasn’t until she retired that Bush, encouraged by husband Bill, devoted herself fully to art.

After studying at Texas art schools and workshops throughout the United States and then traveling to the East Coast and Europe, Nancy homed in on a particular painting style: tonalism. An American artistic style that emerged in the 1880s, tonalism emphasizes mood and shadow and often includes serene scenes of orchards, farms, or landscapes at dawn or dusk. Muted natural tones and subtle hues of color give the tonalist’s paintings a sense of spiritual connection to the landscape.

“It’s about human emotions in time and space represented by light, darkness, warmth, cool, wet, dry, etc.,” Bush says. “These elements brought together should evoke a very human response of how one feels upon viewing the painting. If they connect that way, then I feel my work is validated.”

Aside from being home, the Texas Hill Country provides an ideal venue for the artist’s sensibilities. “It’s a lovely place for painting the landscape,” Bush says. “In all honesty, I love painting the landscape just about anywhere. I have been fortunate to have painted many places in the West and the more intimate landscape of the East Coast and a few countries in Europe.” Wherever she’s painting, Bush says, it’s not so much about a certain subject matter as it is about the feeling of that subject.

“The atmosphere and light or mood of what I see, feel, smell, and hear are what is most important to me. I want to convey those special senses in my paintings. For example: a beautiful stream. Why is it beautiful? Is it the flowing movement of the water or the reflections in the water? Could it be the feeling of dampness near the banks or the serenity and calm of the atmosphere? Is there light coming from the setting sun or from the rising moon? Is there a sensation of spiritual awareness? It can be many of those things. It is the expression of one or more of those things that I put on my canvas. It cannot be all of those things at once because your brain and eyes do not comprehend all of those things at once. But pick one or two of them and subordinate the rest to an allusion of mystery in the painting.”

The natural world continually inspires Bush’s ethereal way of processing visual beauty so that she might paint it. “I see design everywhere I go,” she says. “I feel it to my core. My mind is constantly seeing, feeling the moment, and remembering the atmospheric conditions of what I have seen. I can remember scents and textures of these moments. So, my paintings are about, What is my intention, what do I want to say, and then how [do I] convey that to the canvas? Nothing can imitate nature, but I hope my paintings will convey a single quiet moment of reflection of nature at her best.”

Nancy Bush is represented by InSight Gallery in Fredericksburg, Texas; Astoria Fine Art in Jackson, Wyoming; and Principle Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina. She and her husband own the Fredericksburg Artists’ School.

From the August/September 2016 issue.