Connect with us


85-year-old artist creates massive paintings



BILLINGS, Mont. — Neltje is an 85-year-old painter, and her work is — quite literally — larger than life.  Right now, Neltje is staying safe in her home while her one of a kind exhibit at the Yellowstone Art museum is closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.  Neltje says it hurts knowing people can’t enjoy her work.

“I hope what they do is get a feeling of electricity of energy that runs through my work,” she says, “they get a feeling of my sense of color, and they get an emotional impact. I’m a very complicated person but I like simplicity.”

Neltje’s personality truly mirrors her artwork, both complicated and simple at the same time.  One really must see the exhibit in person to understand just how massive the art is.  Neltje uses a wooden platform to reach the top of her paintings, and some of them reach ten feet high.

“I’ve never before shown work this big,” says Susan Barnett, curator at the YAM, “It’s really exceptional for an artist to work on that scale.”

Barnett says Neltje creates her art as a way to heal.  She’s often seen dancing while she works.

“I start with a stroke of color,” says Netlje, “I just take a white canvas and just take a stroke of color and then build from that.  One color endorses another color and then you try a little bit of another color and slowly it builds.  It takes a life of its own.”

Barnett says an East Asian process called Sumi-e is central to Neltje’s practice.

“Nothing is ever erased, nothing is ever changed, it’s just an addition. And the white space is just as important as the ink,” says Barnett.

Bryan Knicely, Executive Director at the YAM says, “she loves to think about being outdoors in the walks she takes in the countryside on her ranch and just the everyday things that really inspire her.”

Barnett says an emotional response to nature is always present in Neltje’s pieces.

“It’s exciting to see an artist in her 80s taking these huge risks,” says Barnett “working huge for the first time in her life, working with imagery for the first time in her life and just being willing to take so many risks and changes.”

Knicely says the YAM will have Neltje’s exhibits — Dialogue of My Mind and Tell Me, Why Flowers? — until July 2020.