Gladys Nilsson

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Gladys M. Nilsson (born May 6, 1940) is an American artist, one of the original Chicago Imagists, a group in the 1960s and 1970s who turned to representational art. Her paintings "set forth a surreal mixture of fantasy and domesticity in a continuous parade of chaotic images."[1]

She is married to fellow-artist and Hairy Who member Jim Nutt.[2]

Early life and career[edit]

Gladys Nilsson was born to Swedish immigrant parents. Her father was a factory worker for Sunbeam, and her mother a waitress.[3] She attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she met her future husband, fellow student Jim Nutt.[3] Nilsson and Nutt married in July 1961, and their son, Claude was born in 1962.[3] Although Nilsson originally painted with oil paints, she switched to watercolors when pregnant in order to avoid the hazards of turpentine.[3]

In 1963 Nilsson and Nutt were introduced to School of the Art Institute of Chicago art history professor Whitney Halstead, who became a teacher, mentor, and friend.[3] He introduced them in turn to Don Baum, exhibition director at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago.[3] In 1964 Nilsson and Nutt became youth instructors at the Hyde Park Art Center.[3]

The Hairy Who years[edit]

In 1964, Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson began to teach children's classes at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. They and James Falconer approached the center's exhibitions director, Don Baum, with the idea of a group show consisting of the three of them and Art Green and Suellen Rocca. Baum agreed, and also suggested they include Karl Wirsum.[3]

The name of the group show, "Hairy Who?", became the name of the group. It was coined by Karl Wirsum as a reference to WFMT art critic Harry Bouras.[4] There were exhibitions at the Hyde Park Art Center in 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1969. The 1968 exhibition traveled to the San Francisco Art Institute, and the last show, in 1969, traveled to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.[3]

Later career[edit]

In 1969, the influential Chicago gallery owner Phyllis Kind agreed to represent Nilsson and Jim Nutt.[3] In that same year Nilsson and Nutt moved to Sacramento, California, where he was an assistant professor of art at Sacramento State College.[3]

In 1973, Nilsson was the first Hairy Who member to have a solo show, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Two of her paintings were stolen from the show.[3] In 1974 Nilsson and her family returned to Chicago.[3] They have lived in Wilmette since 1976.[3]

She had a retrospective of her art in the spring of 2010 at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago.[3] Nilsson's current art dealer is Jean Albano, who also represents Karl Wirsum.[3] She is also represented by the Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee.


  1. ^ Lisa Stein, "Nilsson's Colors Continue to Get More Intense", Chicago Tribune, Thursday, October 15, 1998, section 2, page 5
  2. ^ Barbara B. Buchholz, "Chicago's Style: Gutsy, Independent, Defiant: A New Show Captures Our Artistic Traits: Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson: Two from the Who's Who of the Hairy Who", Chicago Tribune Magazine, December 1, 1996, pp. 14-21
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Christine Newman, "When Jim Met Gladys", "Chicago" Magazine, Vol. 60 No. 2, February 2011, pp. 78-81,92,146-148,164
  4. ^ Dan Nadel, “Hairy Who’s history of the Hairy Who.” The Ganzfeld 3. New York: Monday Morning, 2003. p. 121-2.