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John Lamb, Published November 19 2013

In the pink: Artist Barbara Benda Nagle says color is warm, comforting

If You Go

WHAT: Reception for Barbara Benda Nagle’s new show of watercolor paintings, “Viva la Pink!”

WHEN: 4:30 to 6 p.m. Saturday

where: Spirit Room, 111 Gallery, Fargo

INFO: The exhibit is on display through Jan. 15. (701) 237-0230

FARGO - Pink may seem played out after October, when the color was used to draw awareness of breast cancer.

But Barbara Benda Nagle wants you to think pink. She’s not telling you, she’s showing you in her new exhibit, “Viva la Pink,” at Fargo’s Spirit Room.

The display contains around 50 colorful, energetic pieces, most done within the past 18 months.

The Moorhead artist isn’t using pink to fight breast cancer or draw attention to women’s issues. For her, pink is a warm, comforting color.

“I want people to feel good. Feel ‘in the pink,’ ” Nagle said on Saturday as she hung the Spirit Room show.

Growing up in Wahpeton, N.D., her mother liked their home painted pink, something that led to her house being called “the bubblegum house” or “the wad.”

“People said if there was a blizzard they could find their way by ‘the bubblegum house,’ ” she said.

The collection of works includes scenes from a rodeo, horseracing, a softball game and various trips she’s taken.

“I’m always sketching, wherever I go,” she explained, adding that she even brings watercolor paper or rag board on trips so she can work on studies from the sketches.

“I wanted to show people what comes before and they’re not always the same,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll do multiple studies to figure out problems. It’s also very relaxing and very enjoyable.”

Some of the studies will be in the show, as are the finished, final paintings, though she admits she brought more to hang than she had room for.

In many of the pieces, she has first painted on with a pink wash, before adding coats of other colors, something she calls “pinkifying.”

“The layers in it bring about this luminosity. The underpainting really comes through,” she said.

She learned more about the underpainting technique from Donna Zagotta, the juror at the 2012 Red River Watercolor Society national juried show.

For more than 25 years Nagle has been honing her skills in classes and workshops with artists like Robert Burridge, Frank Webb and Arne Westerman. And she continues to learn from classic masterworks by John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Van Gogh and Michelangelo.

“I’m a lifelong student,” said Nagle, a teacher for 30 years, now instructing sixth- and seventh-grade art at Carl Ben Eielson in Fargo.

Her influences are as diverse as her art itself, mixing action shots with images of scenery and other more “intuitive” paintings.

“It’s all by feel. It’s whatever suits my fancy at the moment. It pretty much has to do with what I’m going through at the time,” she said. “I’m not trying to please people, but I want to have a variety to appeal to people. I think the show reflects my work ethic.”

What people will often find in her pieces are positive messages.

“A lot of my pieces are symbolic. A lot of these are saying, whatever is the problem, there’s a way through,” she explained, gesturing to one called “Rock and a Hard Place,” which shows a figure silhouetted in an opening between two boulders.

Nearby hangs one of what she calls her more “intuitive” ones, “Leap of Faith.”

“It’s a message of hope,” she said, adding that she’d recently gone through a dark period, without giving specifics.

“I’m a Christian, and I get my creative energy from God,” she said. “A couple of years ago I asked him to turn on the creativity and he hasn’t turned it off.”

Steve Johnson, who helped her hang the show, described Nagle as a vibrant person.

“Her paintings are as fun as she is,” said Johnson, who is both a friend and collaborator.

Nagle was the artist in residence at Boerth’s Gallery, where Johnson works, during one of this past summer’s Corks and Canvas events.

“Her personality is captivating. It’s fun to watch her work,” he explained.

She’s had to slow down a little over the last decade. A competitive athlete, she had both knees replaced in 2006 after years playing softball, tennis and racquetball.

“Now I’m reduced to golf and table tennis,” she said with a laugh, referring to herself as “a has-been athlete.”

“It took me a long time to accept it, but it gave me more time to work on my art,” she said of taking a slower pace. “I can’t have everything, but I have the things that are important to me, my health, my faith and my art. And I’m going to do this until I drop.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533