Meet One of the Small Works Project Artists:

Ellen Nanni-Vargas

Ellen Nanni-Vargas is one of thirteen artists selected as a Gallery 263 Small Works Project artist. This project presents artwork in flat files at the gallery and on our website for the duration of one year. All artists are based in Massachusetts. Visit Nanni-Vargas’ Small Works Project page>>

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a teaching artist and an MFA candidate at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. I currently teach at a public elementary school in Pawtucket, RI and am about halfway through my MFA program, with the expected graduation of June 2023. My background is in printmaking, but these days I mostly paint and draw. Getting outside is where I find much of my inspiration. 

What kind of art do you make?
I create playful and poetic paintings, works on paper, and photo collage dreamscapes that straddle between abstraction and representational. I like to work in a range of sizes, from the small 4” x 6” works included in my flat file to the occasional mural. My work is informed by natural forms, particularly clouds and flowers, along with an eclectic mix of objects and toys that I collect. 

What concepts does your art explore?
Memory, dream, and weaving together emotional and existential experiences are key concepts in my work. My process is centered in personal excavation, dissection, and the reorganization of moments from the past and present. I am interested in what happens when the visual field collapses in an artwork. Also, color and color relationships are especially important to me. 

Can you tell us about the work you have on view in your flat file drawer at the gallery?

The majority of the work in my flat file is part of a series of collages called Now in a Memory. This work explores the collision of memory and place. Being in one place, in the present, but through memory existing in multiple moments throughout time and space at once. This body of work mostly consists of photographs taken of the environment — plants, skies, buildings — of Rhode Island, California, Mexico, and Thailand, four locations that have influenced and continue to influence my identity. 

Where do you make your work?
Right now, my studio is in my apartment in Providence, RI. I have a large table that I love to work at, otherwise I work at my easel. 

What are your favorite materials to use? Most unusual?
Gouache, wax crayon, various acrylic paints, graphite, and colored pencils are some of my go-to materials. I also enjoy experimenting with different papers, like glitter paper. Sometimes I use photography in my work — I take photographs and print them to use in collages or print large-scale to use as surfaces to paint or draw on. Some of the most unusual materials I’ve used might be stickers, nail polish, confetti, and candy wrappers. 

What historical and contemporary artists inspire you?
René Magritte, Lee Bontecou, Thomas Nozkowski, Hilma af Klint, Miyoko Ito, Charles Burchfield, Louisa Chase, Melissa Brown, and Chie Fueki are some of the artists who most inspire me.

When did you decide you wanted to be an artist?
I don’t think there was a moment where I “decided” I wanted to be an artist. Art has always been central in my life, and over the last few years I’ve made more of a conscious decision to step into that space and own that label. Art was what I did through my childhood to entertain myself, through high school as a way to find a place to belong, in undergrad as a way to save my life, post-graduation as a way to support myself, and now as an MFA student at Lesley University I am taking some time to really get to the core of what my work is about and who I am as an artist

Is there anything else you would like to share?
Thank you for including me in the Small Works Project! I’d invite anyone interested to check out my work at