COLOR PLAY • The Vibrant Immersive Explorations of Artist Nanci LaBret Einstein

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    icon Jun 13, 2024
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With their current exhibition ‘Color Play: The Art of Nanci LaBret Einstein, currently running at The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University, lovers of fine art have an extraordinary opportunity to view the work of a truly innovative artist who utilizes natural and man-made objects to create three-dimensional sculptures encompassing the synergy between color, form, and texture, along with the interactive relationships animate and inanimate objects forge together to inform the world we live in.

Through her drawings and particularly with her freestanding and intricately detailed wall sculptures, Einstein works with recycled objects like beads, popsicle sticks, and other found objects in a manner that engages the viewer to explore the way seemingly disparate natural elements when coupled and woven together with manufactured and man-made objects form a cohesion of form weight, color, light, and texture.  Similarly, Einstein’s gestural drawings and layered photo collages, which are also featured in this exhibition, are also rendered in a manner that evokes unexpected emotion.

As a point of reference, Einstein’s artistic mission is simple, which is why her work is so complex.

We walk around in our daily lives doing our thing: grocery shopping, driving to work, exercising, and dealing with the everyday minutia of life. The basic bare components that construct our lives, both inside and out, correlate in ways that we often don’t even think of.  What Einstein’s work attempts to do is show us how our spice rack is related to our sock drawer; or how flowers sitting in a vase are relatives of the vegetable soup boiling on the stove.

\“Life is a cornucopia of visual delights that are often taken for granted,” explains the artist.  “The basic components that construct our lives, both inside and out, correlate in ways you don’t think of. How much do we pay attention to what we see all around us? How does that crack in the sidewalk relate to the tree growing alongside it?  Or why is the texture on that toast altered once the pool of butter appears?” 

In a nutshell, her work is all about discovery.

When asked how she got started on this artistic mission, Einstein says it was prompted by both happenstance and necessity. “I come from a painting background and also worked with clay,” she explains.

“Actually, I got started when I was working on my daughter’s bar mitzvah. I didn’t like anything I could find so decided to build some small sculptural things that could be utilized for floral arrangements and got into using found objects to put them together and kept going from that point on.  Because I was a painter who did some clay, I never touched sculpture before; but started creating them and decided to enter a couple pieces in an exhibition, figuring if they weren’t accepted I would go back to painting - but they were accepted and everything changed after that.”

“The key thing with all of this is I was getting back to what I should have been doing,” she reflects. “I graduated with a BFA and once out of school I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with my BFA, so I started to license designs out to different product lines and became more of a commercial artist, also designing logos and other drawings. It was a way to make a living. I also did a lot of charity and organizational work, but was occupied with the tenant of having two kids and taking care of certain obligations, so I put what I should have been doing on the backburner and finally got back to what I should have been doing all along, which is pursuing fine art.   What’s interesting is that my sensibilities of color and design that came from drawing also go into these sculptures, so I never lost those talents but just recalibrated them into a different medium which was sculpture.”

When asked about sculptural artists that have inspired her, Einstein says has always been drawn towards good design and form. “

“I think a great deal of what people do or don’t do is missed throughout life,” she reflects. “They don’t get how a cheap pot can be incredible or outstanding, or why does a cloth napkin look so much better than a paper one, or think about all the things consumed in everyday life. There’s a lot of garbage out there, but a lot of good and wonderful things as well. The same is true when walking down a street. People don’t really see what’s happening - they look, but they don’t really see how that crack a sidewalk relates to everything around it, or how a bottlecap that’s bright red or green or rusted can change your reference to other objects surrounding it. It’s all about context.”

In many ways this approach is aligned with the way an artist such as Andy Warhol would take commercial objects and figures like Coca-Cola or Campbells soup cans and cereal boxes and transform consumerism into an art form based upon how one object can change or alter your reference to others.

Having engaged with her work in sculpture for 20 years now, Einstein says her most ambitious project is the landscape centerpiece that she created especially for this show at Marshall Fredericks. “It took quite a long time to complete and I have limited height where I work, so it was improvised and worked upon in three separate sections,” she explains.

“I would lay it out and create it flat and then stand on a ladder to see what was going on, otherwise I couldn’t see the overall piece because I was working on one small section at a time comprised of numerous small pieces. The first time I saw it all together and realized it worked was an extraordinary feeling. Up until that time it was only dancing in my head.”

Nanci says the most difficult challenge with three-dimensional artwork is having to work at all different angles in order to create it. “Everything you do in art, whether its two-or three dimensional is predicated upon the fact that every mark you make is altered by the next mark, so you need to make decisions based upon that. I may have a preconceived notion in my head, but things can change abruptly and I can see if something isn’t going to cut it.”

“I literally have bins of stuff and generally sort it by size or shape and will put certain objects out that I think might work with a piece and start playing with them. Half the time they go back where they came and maybe an object will get used or maybe it won’t, but these are all choices that need to be made - the most important one being how it’s going to fit into the piece itself - will it be raised or submerged, or how do you make it not so obvious or obtrusive.”  

“Usually my mind doesn’t work that way, but with this I’ve trained it to. There are engineering properties involved in terms of how an object has to be connected so you can’t see where or how its connected. Plus, people like to touch these three-dimensional pieces, so you want to insure an object or piece of the work won’t fall off in their hand.  There’s a lot of factors involved.  With a wall-mounted piece it’s a bit different, but has some of the same parameters.”

Nanci says the biggest challenge is getting the work out there and getting people to understand what it’s all about so they can become excited about the piece. “People tend to walk away from things they don’t understand, and for me the most painful thing is to see somebody walking by, because that tells me their attention is not being grabbed or engaged. It’s one thing for someone to explore a piece and say it’s not for them, but if they simply walk by it demonstrates indifference, so for me it’s important to engage people, especially in this time we live in now where people need to be engaged.”

“I like to consider myself an integrated sculptor in the sense I’ll work with Aspen trees, photographs, all variety of inanimate and animate objects, with the focus on mixing and balancing them in a colorful manner so they flow with different mediums.”

Ancillary Programs are also planned in conjunction with “Color Play: The Art of Nanci LaBret Einstein” and include a Color Play Drop-In Make & Take Activitiy on Saturday, July 6th fom 1 - 4 PM. This free program allows patrons to learn more about Nanci’s colorful creations and abstract sculptures and create a Nanci-inspired collage/painted relief to keep. All supplies included.

Then on Thursday, August 8th, :a workshop titled Do You See What I See? will be led by Einstein from 6:00 - 8:00 PM

A list of programs and events in conjunction with the Color Play exhibition can be found by visiting

The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum is located on the campus of SVSU at 7400 Bay Rd in Saginaw. Hours are 11 am - 5 pm Monday - Saturday. Admission is free. Phone 989-964-7125.



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