The Chabad Boys

Whoa, hey! Long time, no see, friends! The studio has been very busy this summer with plenty of visitors. There have been a couple Hollywood Painting Emergencies, too! Nancy was even in LA recently for the Grace and Frankie wrap party. Whoo-hoo!

This week, we're going to tell the story of the neighborhood boys that sparked Nancy's interest and inspired an on-going series of portraits started half a decade ago.

Every Friday, we are greeted with the neighborhood Orthodox boys who go to school at the Lubavich Mesivtah (Jewish High School for Boys) around the corner. The school and it's dormitories are peppered down California Ave and they are seen walking up and down the street to class or back to their dormitories to sleep and study.  They are all incredibly dedicated to their schoolwork and their religion. The boys of the Chabad have a mission to spread the teachings of the Torah and to make other Jewish people as devout as possible. So, every Friday during outreach around 12:00 pm 2 to 3 boys come in to the studio to give Nancy shabbas candles and Jewish Insight pamphlets.

Nancy with Yehuda Gerber, the first boy to pose and be painted by Nancy.

Nancy with Yehuda Gerber, the first boy to pose and be painted by Nancy.

Around five years ago, Nancy decided to introduce herself because her middle son, Leo, told her that she should open her windows to the neighborhood to let her creative presence be seen.  One day, Nancy was in her studio and she noticed one of the boys from the Chabad walking to class on the other side of the street. She saw this moment as her opportunity to introduce herself.  So, she crosses the busy avenue, with her neighbor Karen Bark running close behind and introduces herself. She says, “Hi, I’m Nancy. I’m the artist across the street there.” and the boy responds flatly, “I know.”.   She extends her hand for an introductory handshake and out of the blue Karen quickly slaps it away “You can’t touch him!!!”, she exclaims, panicked.  Orthodox Jewish boys aren’t allowed to touch or be touched by a woman that isn’t their mother until they are married. Nancy often describes herself as ‘Jew-ish’, meaning that she respects the her roots, but doesn’t devoutly practice religion... she does more yoga than prayer. Anyways, the boy went into his pocket, pulled out a Nature Valley Granola bar, and reached out to her with it politely.   She grabbed the bar and and they shook granola together. Now formally introduced by way of a semi-nutritional breakfast bar, Nancy then told the boy she wanted to a series of portraits of him and his classmates and asked if it was OK. He told her that he would have to ask his principal.  

A couple of weeks later, Nancy saw a pair of boys from the school and ran over to ask if the permission had been granted.  They looked at her sheepishly and said, “You don’t understand. We are ultra, ultra orthodox.” and she asked if she could speak to their principal.  They said yes and proceeded to basically run away from her; which is what Nancy wanted to do when she saw their principal- a very stern-looking bearded orthodox man, who in reality is very kind, but takes his responsibilities incredibly seriously.

 Still a little bit too shy to talk to the principal, Nancy decided to do some research among her more Jewish friends. They told her it would probably never happen. Until one day, Nancy was teaching a class in the back of her studio and one of the boys comes in and yells out, “Anybody in here Jewish?”, like an eager beaver little kid, Nancy emerges from the back waving her hand, “ME, ME! I’m Jewish!”.  Since this boy was different Nancy took another stab at getting this project off the ground. She said to him “I really want to do this series of portraits of you boys.” to which he replied, “Sure”.  

 After some negotiation, Nancy and the Chabad boys came to an agreement that the portraits would be from photographs taken by Nancy’s husband David, but that David would have to get wrapped in tefillin after the photos were taken. Tefillin are a set of small, black leather boxes with straps containing scrolls of parchment with verses of the Torah.  There are arm-tefillin (shel yad) and head tefillin(shel rosh) and it is considered quite an honor to be wrapped in and blessed with the tefillin, also for a jewish man who hasn’t been bar mitzvahed this is the equivalent.  With this clever trade-off, the deal was made and thus began the beginning of a mutual, beneficial neighborhood relationship and a series that hangs in the front of Nancy’s studio and on the walls of her studio. As the boys matriculate,old ones go off on their way and new ones come in with shabbas candles asking for their portraits to be made.

David Rosen being wrapped in the tifillen.

David Rosen being wrapped in the tifillen.

You can see Nancy's studio in 360 if you click the 'Studio' tab on her website and then click on 'Google Studio Tour'

Here's the link to the Lubavich Mesivtah:


Nancy's Boys

Hello again and Happy Mother's Day to all you lovely ladies out there!  This time on Nancy's World, we're going to turn the tables a little bit and chat with Nancy's three sons: Sam, Leo, and Ben. 

Leo, Nancy, Ben, and Sam!

Leo, Nancy, Ben, and Sam!

I chatted with each Rosen boy individually and asked them questions about their Mom.  I got some wonderful responses and some hilarious stories. The three interviews are posted below. Enjoy!

Sam Rosen and his daughter Lily.

Sam Rosen and his daughter Lily.

First, I talked with Nancy's oldest boy, Sam, who makes websites and is a Co-founder of One Design Company among other business ventures.  


OB: What was it like being raised by an artist in a creative environment?

SR:That’s an interesting question to answer because I don’t have anything to compare it to.
I am deeply connected to this idea that I grew up in an artist’s studio.  It’s probably had an impact on what I’ve ended up doing in my life and career so far.  I feel very lucky to have been raised by two parents that were very creative and passionate and entrepreneurial.  It was always fun and never boring.

OB: Do you have any specific stories about being a ‘Studio baby’?

SR:  There’s this great Chicago Reader Article from like the eighties that features my mother and her studio (Nancy Cohn Painted Fabrics). One of the things that I can really recall the article saying was that I was in my, like, baby-proofed area and I was picking up the phone like a receptionist would. I don’t know, growing up in an environment where both of my parents had their own businesses made me want to have my own business or lots of little businesses. I had a book of beat poetry that I sold at independent bookstores when I was 12 years-old. I had a roller-blade messenger delivery service, you know, my parents were always up to something so I was always up to something.  

OB: Is there anything specific you remember about your childhood home?

SR:  Our house was always very colorful and bright and my mom always came home covered in paint.  She stills does.  Everywhere she would go, if she was going out, she would always find paint on in her hair or on her fingers.  We came from a very, colorful, messy, home.

OB: How else would you describe your mother ?

SR: My mother is the most, passionate, honest, artist that I know and I am fortunate to live my life surrounded by mainly creative people that identify as artists.  My mom has always had this quiet, limitless discipline and practice that I have known my entire life. She is a painter because she has to paint.  All these other painters or artists that I know make work to share it and I really don’t think that’s where her motivation lies. My mom’s motivation is in the making of her work. To consistently be devoted to a practice every day for so long has been really, really inspiring. It’s taught me that there really is no substitution to the time that you put into work.  I can’t even imagine how many hours my mom has painted in her life.  



Leo Rosen

Leo Rosen

Leo is Nancy's second oldest son.  He is the founder of Shiner Photo. Here's what we talked about:

OB: What was it like being raised by an artist in a creative environment?

LR: Well it's never been much of a thought for me. Since I’ve always been in it. my mom told me that days after my bris I was brought to her studio to work. There is photo of me on her fabric cutting table as a newborn. Art has always been around. In school people called me artistic and good at art but I didn't really understand. It has a deep subconscious effect on me. Shit’s in my bones.

OB: In what ways did Nancy influence or inspire the work you currently do?

LR: Ohhhhh, mannnnn. My mom is a production master. When she paints she is in production mode. assembly lines are her favorite thing. She loves repetitive tasks she always has. If some activity can be turned into a repetitive game ... she’s in. We used to count change just because we wanted too. My mom is also a finisher. She likes to finish things to the very last itty bitty drop. Both of those principles are engrained on me. My current work involves creating thousands of thousands of the same thing .... and I love it. Also, her general composition and eye are just in my genetics I think. I work hard and I don’t give up easily.

OB: What are your earliest memories of your Mom's art?

LR: I can remember her painting large swaths of fabric when she worked out of her mom’s basement doing Nancy Cohn Painted Fabric (production). Hand painted patterns on cloths are so cool. Also,  when my mom was the art mom at school she used to do “Art on Parade" and come in and teach all the kids some art project. That was great.

OB: Were you and your brothers interested in art at all as kids?

LR: We were always around it. My mom always liked to shove art supplies in our hands and watch us go.  All my brothers and I have been to a bunch of art galleries before we even really knew what we were doing.

OB: In your eyes, how has your mother's work transformed over the years?

LR: It has changed a ton. I’ve photographed all of her art through the years. there is a clear path in her work- an evolution of ideas and techniques. It’s really fun to look back. She is just more refined and elegant now, I think. She is so prolific there is a ton of changes to see. I just like her work more and more. I think it’s just getting better and better and better. If you do anything as consistently and with as much love as my mom does you get really fucking good.

OB: Do you have any specific stories about Nancy that you'd like to share?

LR: Art is a huge part of my mom’s life, it's not just something she does. Her sons are like pieces of art. So when I accidentally run over her gorgeous painting in the garage....and I come to her with a horrible face on... she already knows what happened and she loves the beautiful tire mark I’ve skillfully added. Saying that it's all apart of it! That mark her son made is not a mistake ... it is apart of the art now. My mom knows that everything is sacred, so in a way nothing is.

Ben Rosen

Ben Rosen

Ben is Nancy's youngest son. He is a College Wrestling Coach at Doane University in Nebraska. Here's our phone conversation:

OB: Tell us about your mom's artistic influence on you.

BR: My mom being an artist influenced everything. For the longest time I never noticed it. It's funny because I am the jockand the youngest in the family andwhen you're young you think that you can't push art and sports together.  As I got older, I found myself picking things artistically, like, clothes and other detailed things.

When I was young she would take us to art shows and I hated them because I thought they wereboring. Now that I'm older I appreciate the exposure to art because I feel more cultured and I enjoy making art, too.  Igot a studio art minor and enjoyed taking art history, too. 

OB: What do you find in common with your mother?

BR: We're both very fiery and passionate about what we do. I am a coach and she teaches art. that's where we apply our passion, through sharing and teaching others.

OB:Do you have any specific memories about your mom's art from early on in your life?

BR: I remember my mom painted the sets for our middle school plays for free by herself. I remember she would be there for hours and hours painting these sets. My mom can't half-ass anything. She would come paint these sets after she had been painting in her studio all day. She'd do this every day for, like, three months. She did that for around ten years and we weren't even IN any of the plays!!

OB: What have you seen in your mom's work ethic that you admire?

BR: She has this compulsion for creating. She has to do it. When you go into her studio you can see it-  the oil bar marks on the walls and just the sheer volume of work that she has built up over the years.

OB: Do you have any other stories about your mom that you would like to share?

BR: Here's one: There was this one time that I was in her garden. I was trying to critique her- to try and ruffle her feathers because I thought it was funny, I guess. So, I started suggesting some poppy colors- her garden has a lot of green tones- she has these weird mossy plants that weaves through everything. I suggested some pinks or oranges would look nice and she looked at me, horrified, and said "Why would you think that would be a good idea?!". It was very funny how she reacted to such a suggestion.  She's a color expert, you know.


Alright. Well, that's all from the boys. We'll be back soon with more stories and chats from Nancy's World!





Behind The Scenes Of "The Art Show"

This week, on Nancy’s World, we’re getting a play by play of the days Nancy spent in Hollywood on the set of Grace and Frankie.

OB: Can you tell us something special about the first episode of season three?

NR: Well, my friend Robbie called me up and she says, “ So, do you want to come to L.A. and be an extra in your own (art) show?” and I’m like, “HELL YES!”.  So, I went to L.A. and I had been working up until that moment on some paintings for episodes that were farther down the line. Work was insane. Anyways, I get there and a PA picks me up from the airport with my name on the sign and everything! It is early in the morning, I get dropped off at the set and Robbie is in a meeting. So, I am very happy to just be sitting there in her office, reading a book and relaxing for a little bit because I had been nuts making paintings that past week.

OB: Walk us through what was it like being on a set filled with your work?

 NR: Fast forward to 4 o’clock that same afternoon, I’m still sitting in Robbie’s office and this woman walks in and introduces herself, “Hi! My name is, so-and-so and I’m taking you over to the gallery set”. We get lost because the PA is new and she’s all nervous.  Finally, we walk in and there is Devra, (the main person I work with/Production Designer) and an Art Director. We are in this huge, gorgeous gallery in Hollywood, ( Kohn Gallery) filled with my paintings.  They were finishing hanging the last painting.  The crew was just standing there eagerly because they wanted to see my reaction.  I was floored.  It was my dream show.  We had all been working for, like, 2 months to pull this gallery set together and everyone seemed so happy and relieved once it was done. My seeing it was like a cherry on the cake for them.

Here's Nancy on set!

Here's Nancy on set!

OB: Yeah, it looks brilliant on the episode. I bet it was a tedious process getting everything perfect.  Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

NR: When they call you, it’s not to tell you that it’s great work, it’s to tell you to make changes. The first episode, is an art show of Frankie’s (my) work, the Set Dec Department, the creator and I were in constant communication about pieces that were directly involved with the script. They had me do a nine foot painting of Babe (Estelle Parsons) in three days. There was one painting that I had to redo because it was the wrong shade of yellow.  The turn around was really short. It’s like a painting marathon. I had to learn how to make paint dry faster.

OB: Let’s not forget the fact that you got to try your hand at acting. Tell us about being an extra!

NR: First of all, I was a nervous wreck.  Acting is not in my wheelhouse at all. I was 100% out of my comfort zone. All I had to do was walk up to one of my paintings and look at it for a few moments and then walk away.  I had to do it around 15-20 times. You would think they had asked me to fly a spaceship to the moon. I remember wishing I had a pencil to fix things I saw in this particular painting every time I had to walk up to it. Robbie wanted me to be in the background as much as possible. She thought it would be funny for me to walk up to one of my paintings and imitate the pose.  Each time they gave me direction for this it was like, “Blah, blah, blah” I couldn’t hear them because I was so nervous.   At the end of the day, I jokingly said said to the crew, “ So, I should quit my day job, right?” and they didn’t say anything, but their faces said, “No, honey, keep painting. You suck at acting.”  and I was okay with that.

OB: What were your observations of the crew and the way they worked?

NR: Robbie and I went down to the set early the day after I flew in. Taking in the scene is intense. This shit is the real deal.  Walking onto the lot, you spot the craft service dining area and food trucks, crew members running back and forth, getting ready for the shoot.  The morning rush on set was like this beautiful choreographed ballet.  At one point I got to sit in Video Village and watch the monitors with the directors and producers. Fun Fact: This episode was Marta Kaufman’s directorial debut!

OB: What about the actors? Did you get to meet any of the cast?!

NR: They all wanted to meet me! The cast have seen bits and pieces of me (my work) for three seasons, so it made sense that they wanted to meet the art part of Frankie. I got to meet Sam Waterston(Sol) , Ernie Hudson(Jacob), even Kenny Loggins!  Of course, I got to meet Lily and Jane! Marta (Kaufman)  ran up to me at one point and said, "Jane wants to meet you!" and we had a nice conversation.  When Lily walked onto the set and saw the work installed, she said "Man, I'm good!". They were all was absolutely delightful! The whole four days were just a total out-of-body experience... just a dream! 

Grace and Frankie...and Nancy!

Welcome back to another edition of Nancy’s World!

  This week we will be getting the inside scoop on another side to Nancy. Nancy is very prolific. You can tell just by looking around the studio.  She has two large rooms with work that she’s made over the years and is constantly making more for her own personal practice, but around three years ago she got a unique opportunity to make work for a character on the Netflix original series Grace and Frankie starring legends Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.

OB: What is your involvement with Grace and Frankie?

NR: I am Frankie’s art.  

OB: You make work for Lily Tomlin’s character. How did you get this opportunity?

NR: So, one day I get a phone call from my husband telling me to call our old family friend Robbie who is one of the Executive Producers on the show and she told me that they were looking for an artist to be Frankie’s work. I sent my work out there and was selected from a group artists they had rounded up. I shared my website and they picked some paintings along with items from my studio,like, oil bar scraps, my Aunt Fage’s stool, palette knives, brushes, containers.  I like seeing those little objects around the show.  

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 8.10.46 PM.png

OB: What was your reaction to getting this job?

NR: I was over the moon. I love Lily Tomlin!

OB: What do you like about the show?

NR: I like what they (Grace and Frankie) are dealing with.  I like the whole aging women thing. I like the fact that there is humor involved with the subject of agism and that the two main characters give support to each other despite the extreme differences in their personalities.

OB: Do you feel like you identify with Frankie in any way?

NR: I do. It’s funny but, yeah! We are both artists, mothers, and I think we have the same hair even though her’s is a wig.

OB: Describe the process of making work for a Netflix Series.

NR: Well, its a trip because they do it several ways in a very short period of time. Sometimes they’ll rent existing pieces of mine, or they’ll license it because they need to make it bigger, and other times they’ll commission me to make paintings based on the script. It’s great because I get to have my existing work on set and then I get to make paintings of things like poodles, vaginas, and Jane Fonda as a vampire.

OB: What can we look for art wise on season three?

NR: First of all, in the season premiere Frankie is having her first one woman show.  My go-to person on the show, Devra,   called me up and said “Frankie is having one person show so that means Nancy Rosen is having a one person show!”  It was a couple months of crazy gathering, shipping, and resizing my work to fit the huge 30ft tall space. I got to go out to Hollywood and be an extra on set which was a huge trip because I was getting paid to look at my own work. They directed me to walk up to this piece of mine and the whole time I was thinking about how wonderfully weird the experience was and also wishing I had an eraser to fix something in the piece.  

OB:What do you like about having work on a television show versus having work in a gallery?

NR: It’s kinda apples and oranges. You do a show at a gallery: You send the work to the space and then when it’s done you pick it up and you’re none the wiser. With a TV show you send out all of these works of yours and you relinquish all curatorial control of your work to the production team- I’m just a supplier.  The difference between viewing work in a gallery versus it being on TV is that there’s a much broader range of viewers or audience members. When I have a show it’s mostly friends, family, collectors, and other artists visiting the gallery.  The TV platform makes it more accessible for people to see my work when it’s in the background of a set or written into the script. It’s an added bonus for all of the people in my life who are fans of my work to see it on a screen and having work around hollywood people is always exciting.

Well, that’s all for this week! Look out for the Season 3 of Grace and Frankie March 24th on Netflix!

Welcome to the Studio: Nancy's World

When first walking up To Nancy Rosen's store-front studio in West Rogers Park, you are met with huge window-sized portraits of neighborhood Jewish boys in their traditional garb: black slacks, white shirts, black or gray coats, and stunning wide brimmed hats. You can tell that this space is one that draws all members of the community in with open arms. Passing through the doors your eyes are immediately overcome with the magnitude of the space and volume of work posted on the walls. Trinkets and supplies smattered in every nook and cranny possible, shrines of family photographs, and flat files full of work made over the past two decades. You feel warm and at home in this space because it is a haven; a creative brain dwelling where Nancy lives and breathes art.

The space itself speaks volumes, but here's a little bit about what Nancy has to say about her art process, life and work.

OB: How long have you been an artist?

NR: I’ve always had a creative outlet ever since I'm five years old. Whether it was bead making, leather tooling, jewelry making, or hand painting textiles on fabric, I’ve always found creating things with your hands to be very meditative and cathartic. I’ve been painting full-time for 23 years now.

OB: What do you find inspiring?

NR: I start with you and then let the games begin.


OB: What materials do you use?

NR: I use oil bars, china markers, conte crayon, and graphite- anything that will stick together.  

OB: Where do your paintings start?  

NR: My work is figurative. It all starts with a live subject from a class that I take every Tuesday. The work takes shape when I take them back to the studio with me so I can finish them.  


OB: Are there narratives present in your work?

NR: No,  when I start a painting there’s no plan.  It’s all intuitive.  Viewers can create their own narratives, I’m just having fun.  My only qualifier is that the composition sticks.

OB: When do you know you’re finished with a piece?
NR: When there’s no other mark to be made.

OB: What are some reactions that your work has gotten?
NR: I’ve gotten some strange reactions from men, but I don’t really give a shit about what people think.  I just paint because I have to.

OB: Describe your work in 5 five words?
NR: Can, You, Explain, My, Work?