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Gladys Nilsson

Born: 1940 (Chicago, IL, United States)

As a teenager, Nilsson attended after-school classes and lectures at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). When she began to think about college, SAIC felt like the natural choice and was the only school for which she submitted an application. As a student, she frequently visited the Art Institute of Chicago and was particularly fascinated with A Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, delighting in the artist’s mixing of colors and compositional organization. Similar to Seurat, Nilsson’s works present intricate and enigmatic dramas animated by stylized characters. The densely layered content of her paintings, however, places her closer to the Northern Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch, as her figures engage in scenes of courtship, gastronomic delights, and narcissistic passions. In addition to art historical references, Nilsson addresses vernacular imagery and autobiographical concerns with a playful and often ironic tone.

Nilsson’s exhibition history is extensive. She was a member of the Hairy Who and exhibited at the Hyde Park Art Center alongside James Falconer, Art Green, Suellen Rocca, Karl Wirsum, and her husband, Jim Nutt. While completing her undergraduate degree, she primarily used oil paints, but she shifted to more portable and flexible watercolors when she became pregnant with her son Claude in 1961. Today, Nilsson is recognized as a premier watercolorist, but she has also experimented with several mediums, including silver ink on black paper and acrylic on canvas.

In the 1960s, Nilsson became intrigued by the female form, which she perceived as both a spectacle and a source of power and humor. In the 1970s, both her life in Chicago and her travels abroad featured heavily in the content of her work, as she drew upon images and scenes from her own life. After a residency at Arizona State University in the 1990s, Nilsson returned to experimenting with monotypes and etchings. Her recent works combine her characteristic attention to minutiae with casual, gestural elements.

Nilsson met Jim Nutt in her third year at SAIC; they famously spotted each other across the school’s cafeteria and were married six months later, in 1961. Following the success of the Hairy Who exhibitions in the late 1960s, the couple moved to Sacramento in 1969 after Nutt received an offer to teach drawing at Sacramento State College. Nilsson later reflected that she felt a markedly more gendered atmosphere in California as compared to her experience in Chicago, where she had felt viewed as an equal to her male contemporaries.

Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt returned to Chicago in 1976 and settled in Wilmette, IL, where they reside today. In 1990, Nilsson began to teach courses at SAIC; she remains on the SAIC faculty in the Department of Painting and Drawing.


Landed Badgirls-with-horns. Artist: Gladys Nilsson. Date: 1969. Medium: watercolor on paper.

Landed Badgirls-with-horns


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Problematical Tripdickery. Artist: Gladys Nilsson. Date: 1984. Medium: color etching and drypoint on paper.

Problematical Tripdickery


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Untitled. Artist: Gladys Nilsson. Date: c. 1966-68. Medium: watercolor on paper.


c. 1966-68

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Untitled. Artist: Gladys Nilsson. Date: c. 1966-68. Medium: watercolor on paper.


c. 1966-68

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Jumping Pink Floorshow. Artist: Gladys Nilsson. Date: 1967. Medium: acrylic on Plexiglas, reverse painting, in artist's painted frame.

Jumping Pink Floorshow


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A Girl in the Arbor #13. Artist: Gladys Nilsson. Date: 2013. Medium: collage with gouache, watercolor, colored pencil, and crayon on paper.

A Girl in the Arbor #13


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Noteable Monsters. Artist: Gladys Nilsson. Date: c. 1969. Medium: watercolor on paper.

Noteable Monsters

c. 1969

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