Nancy Calef - Painter, Author, Singer, Song-Writer

Painting by Nancy Calef
Painting by Nancy Calef

1. Who are you and what inspires you today?


I am a painter, author and singer-songwriter channeling my experiences and emotions through my creative disciplines.  The love and commitment of my husband, creative partner and best friend inspires me to overcome my obstructions with grace and rationality.


2. Was there anything in your past that caused you pain, struggle or hardship? Share briefly if you feel comfortable.   


As a child model from the age of five, with a bipolar stage mother, I was exposed to the superficial and manipulative world of objectification, filled with competition and exploitation.


3. If relevant describe a difficult event or circumstance in your childhood, teen or adult years that caused you to "act-out" or "act-in" in a detrimental way. How has your emotional pain been a wake-up call for growth?  


After my Tween modeling years, I started filling out, and my mother became my biggest critic.  She always put me on diets and was obsessed with my appearance.  My reaction was to become anorexic and bulimic.  Once I realized the risks associated with this destructive behavior, I began to honestly evaluate  the source of my self-loathing and finally concluded that the damage I was doing was to myself.  By blaming my parents, and rebelling against everything else in my life, I was accepting a victim mentality.  I could not ignore this revelation. I stopped purging and threw it all into my artwork, which has emotionally carried me for the last 30 years.


4. What is the main thing that you have needed to heal in your lifetime?  


I have suffered from insecurity, depression, and low self-esteem.  I believe these are the symptoms of being raised by a bi-polar mother and father who did not make the effort to protect me.  Also, being thrust in the modeling world at a very young age put unrealistic emphasis on my physicality, resulting in a food disorder.  I've worked tirelessly to reverse my negative programming, rearrange my values, and accept myself with all my imperfections.


5. What is your greatest strength as a result of that healing? 


I have healed my deepest wounds by painting, writing music and singing.  These activities have allowed me not only to express myself, but to sit with the painful issues, providing space, and enabling me to see with a broader perspective.  Sometimes, I'm lucky enough to release the neurotic patterns and move through those tender areas.  My twenty-six year relationship with my husband has been an anchor and has helped me grow.  Marriage makes one accountable and reflects back whatever you're dishing out.


I have developed a strong center through 30 years of yoga. I've grown aware of my weaknesses and strengths and regularly push myself to explore those boundaries.  I am in touch with my fear and insecurity; while hearing those self-critical voices,  I try not to act on these emotions any longer.  Most of the time, I recognize these old reactions to pain and channel this self-knowledge into my art.


6. What is your favorite creative healing modality? What makes your feel alive, passionate and whole?  


 I feel that creativity is a state of mind, and I try to bring that energy to everything I do.  I love to paint, sing, play the piano, do yoga, take long walks with my husband, laugh daily and feed my friends.  I've discovered that service to others is important, but not to the point of self-depletion, so balance and routine help to restore my energy.


Inner Workings by Nancy Calef
Inner Workings by Nancy Calef

7. Please describe the details of your creative process and how it has evolved.  


My creative process is a fluid and ongoing dance.  Ideas come in a visual flash, and I often spend months manifesting that vision into a painting or sculpture.  I allow my work to unfold naturally, without strict rules, often incorporating current events or addressing a subject I feel passionate about.  


My "Peoplescapes" (2D and 3D oil paintings, with sculpture, fabric, found objects on canvas) are detailed narratives addressing social, spiritual and political issues facing society.  When I travel, I love to paint plein air and capture the beauty and light of the landscape.  


I've recently created a new technique I call "Plane- slashing" where I layer seemingly disparate paintings on stretched canvases,  slash through them,  and then work into the dimensions of canvas as a whole, sometimes adding sculpture and found objects.  These are especially effective when I'm working through emotional upheavals.


8. If the major healing theme of your life had a book or a movie title what would it be called? 


 I have a new book entitled "Peoplescapes -- My Story From Purging To Painting" an illustrated memoir (Babu Books). 


9. How has your past pain informed your life purpose? How do you specifically want to contribute life?  


The pain in my life has pushed me to deep inspection of my inner workings, and steered me to create artwork with discipline.  Once I discovered the transformative power of creativity, I realized that my contribution to the world is the body of work I've produced over my lifetime.


10. What strength-based inspirational advice would you give someone who has similar challenges?


I recommend that others learn to identify their intuitive voice, and follow their muse.  Get fearlessly involved in your own creative process, learn to love it, and don't get distracted by public opinion.


11. Create your own quote to inspire others on their life journey.  


"Allow your heart's desire to be revealed, test your resilience, prioritize your values, and commit to the process.  The rewards come while you're busy paving the path."

About Nancy Calef

Nancy Calef
Nancy Calef

Born in Bronx, New York, I completed Bronx High School of Science at age 15 and received a scholarship from the College of New Rochelle to study painting and sculpture. In 1977, I moved to San Francisco, where I continue making new work and regularly exhibit in solo and group shows.


I have also lived in Europe and Thailand, traveled throughout the U.S.,Mexico, Central America, Southeast Asia, India and Nepal, which has served to develop my painting style and sharpen my understanding of the cultural and spiritual diversity of the world landscape.


I have come to realize that art is truly a universal language. For decades I’ve been creating “Peoplescapes,” oil, sculptured characters and applied objects on canvas, addressing cultural, political and spiritual issues facing society.  By juxtaposing people in recognizable places and situations, each painting weaves together a story about contemporary life, filled with layers of detail, symbolism and humor.

Links and Book

This transformational journey in words and 149 full color paintings and drawings, chronicles Nancy Calef's evolution from child model, suffering anorexia and bulimia, through recovery and maturation into a multi-disciplined artist.


Driven by honest self-examination and daily commitment to convert her self-destructive energy into creative expression and physical exercise, Calef provides in these pages a path for others to help themselves transcend their deepest emotional and physical obstructions. 


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