Film Festival Interview : Nancy Wyllie

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your work

I was brought up in upstate New York on the edge of the Cornell campus and was exposed at an early age to many people who chose to make a life in art. Trained as a painter, I completed graduate work at RISD and Tulane University in New Orleans. As my paintings became increasingly narrative, I decided to study film at NYU thus setting the course of my work with the moving image.

I have taught foundation, all levels of painting and digital media on the college level for over 25 years. In 2002, I returned to RISD to learn Final Cut Pro. As the first class to take on this new digital film making process, I found myself in the company of a wide range of creatives from the world of film, television and advertising.

What set you off as an artist?

My exposure to the arts & sciences faculty at Cornell University and to the think tank that defines Ithaca NY provided the impetus to commit to making a life in art. The Herbert F Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell was a great source of wonder to me as a child. My junior high school was located across from the park where Nabakov, while a visitng professor at Cornell, began writing Lolita. There was also the life changing moment when I learned that I had close friends whose fathers worked on The Manhattan Project including the Astrophysicist who headed the detonation team.

I remember seeing Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone around town when he wasn’t teaching at Ithaca College or writing. I was deeply influenced by the themes that run through his work and I was inspired by what Mr. Serling was able to convey about the life of the mind and heart through the medium of television. I knew early on that I wanted to find a means of expression that would convey my own passion for those things that explore and unmask the human experience.

Tell us about the themes you pursue in your work

My work addresses both public and private history. In exploring the nature of memory and the subconscious, I try to uncover everything from the subtext behind the headlines to the fragility of life on this planet as well as personal trauma and loss.

What art do you most identify with? any specific influences or research areas?

I deeply identify with the work of Jean luc Goddard who stated, ‘Every film should have a beginning, a middle and an end but not necessarily in that order.” The paintings of Marilyn Minter embrace this dictum. In mastering the use of Dupont enamels on aluminum, Minters tightly cropped figures, most of whom identify as urban females, are rendered in superb detail yet have an unsettling ambiguity. Are these women willing participants or are those scarlet red overripe lips the result of a violent death? Minter’s work has a garish, gritty and mysterious cinematic narrative that I find endlessly fascinating. As in Godard’s films, it is up to audiences to decode what Minter is doing. This also applies to much of my own work.

Is there something you couldn’t live without in producing your work? What is your most essential tool?

I spent many years working as a photo realist painter in a tightly controlled studio environment. Now I cannot be productive without the element of chance and randomness. In the past few years, my practice has shifted from tightly woven short experimental documentaries to harvesting footage from disparate sources that often does not take shape for 3 years or more.

Tell us how you organize, plan, and prioritize your work

I no longer search out my projects. My subject inevitably finds me. It may manifest in many ways over a long period of time. I keep my eyes, my ears and heart open. The percolation period during which I make the thematic connections between seemingly disparate footage is the most exciting part of my process.

Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions?

My film ‘Inquest’ will be screened in Paris at Brigade des Images in September 2019

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