Gladys Nilsson Air Bored (1990)
Water Color on Paper 41.5 x 29.5 x 0.0
University Club of Chicago

Gladys nilsson air bored 120

As a founder of the Hairy Who, a group of Chicago artists responsible for initiating a funky style known as Chicago Imagism, Nilsson specializes in intensely coloristic watercolors, and often paints satirical narratives that are celebrations of human behavior.

Air Bored (c. 1990) is a watercolor painting created in the latter portion of Nilsson’s career. Set atop a grey, unidentifiable background, two large-scale figures fill the center of the composition surrounded by smaller crevices, forms, and figures.

On the left, the female crooks her upper torso towards her male counterpart, as she looks in the opposite direction towards the upper left corner. One can see Nilsson’s iconic play with misshapen figures as the female’s serpentine arms bend and wave like limp noodles, and her head, which is the same color as her hair, seems to melt into her neck, with no defined chin or jaw.

Her male counterpoint faces away from her, gazing up towards the right corner of the composition. His slack loose fitting pink and purple attire has a feminine quality, but his sexual characteristics are accentuated and exaggerated within his pants, giving clear definition to his sex.

Both figures gaze in distracted wonderment at the small pink and yellow creatures hovering, or flying, directly above their heads. While they are busy looking up, an abstract, whimsical world encroaches around them. Along the left and right edge of the composition are colorful gravity-defying forms, twisting vines leading to flowers, and abstracted figures layered and intertwined to create a dense garden.

By placing colorful and organic forms that emerge from the side edges of the canvas, Nilsson has depicted a world hidden just out of sight beyond the composition. She also rendered smaller microspaces compressed beneath the two large figures.

On the bottom edge of the composition, the gray background opens into four semi-circular archways that expose small-scale vignettes. Each circular archway opens onto a scene with a black background, a deep orange floor, and multiple gesticulating figures engaged in the act of looking, among other things.

The figures’ act of looking near or at an artwork is a defining characteristic of all the vignettes. In this, the small microspaces below mirror the larger world above, with each one containing figures mesmerized by the world around them.

Inquire with administrator regarding the location of this piece