Wondem imagines herself as a crazed French realist painter, Gustave Courbet.

By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN — Nadine Shillingford Wondem has a Ph.D. in computer science and works for an IT security company. On her own time she does something else.  “The style I use right now I started last March…just playing

Nadine Wondem came home bored from work one day and imagined herself as French artist Joseph Ducreax.

around with charcoal on paper. I draw every day,” Wondem said. 

A native of Dominica, an island in the Caribbean, Wondem went to college in Trinidad, studied in Michigan, and got her doctorate at Notre Dame. Her husband is also an IT engineer. Wondem taught for a while in Indiana and moved to Nashville in 2013 when she started to paint.

She took community classes in painting at Centennial Park Art Center but has no formal art training. “I try to do one drawing every day and it’s just been good practice for me.”

Wondem is prolific. She did about 350 drawings last year. After work she makes supper and then watches TV with her 14 year-old daughter. That’s when she draws. It takes about 1-3 hours to do a piece. 

“I don’t have an art background so I don’t have the formal ways of doing stuff. They teach a pattern in art school but I never got that. For the most part I draw based on what I see.”

Wondem’s subjects are mostly people; her style has been described as whimsical and that is true of her series of self-portraits. She draws herself as other artists have painted themselves and her Frida

Wondem drew a young father holding a baby with the names of two dozen victims of police violence.

Kahlo, Joseph Ducreux, Salvador Dali, and Gustave Courbet give homage to artists she admires. But Wondem also injects something of herself into those recreations. Her Salvador Dali, for example, is her face with his signature mustache.

“That set of portraits started the day after New Year. There were not many people in the office and I was bored. So I wanted to draw something that reflects me being bored and the next day I drew Joseph Duereux.”

In Gustave Courbet’s self-portrait he is wearing a big white fluffy blouse. “He looks crazy and I did the same thing. I take a picture and draw all those self-portraits with my face in the style of the particular artist,” Wondem said.

Usually she can tell if something is off with one of her drawings and going back and forth fixing it is the hardest part. Sometimes she asks her husband or daughter for advice. 

“She has a very good eye for that. Getting somebody’s face right can be tough. She’ll look at it and say ‘the nose is too big or the eyes are in the wrong place’.”

Wondem’s subjects have just been doing something or feeling something. And she has a knack for catching whatever it is. Wondem’s work is thus life-affirming and lively. Easy to look at. Her drawings are also very detailed and naturalistic. Her subjects really look like how she’s drawn them.

“My sister has cute kids and when somebody buys a drawing of one of the kids, I send them half the money,” Wondem said. She also does drawings with overt political themes. She has one of a Black father holding a baby and the names of 24  people killed by police. When it sells she will donate the money to Black Lives Matter. Wondem has recently done a lot of drawings with people wearing masks or waving from a distance and other pandemic-inspired pieces. 

Wondem also paints with acrylic and does mixed media with some of her charcoal drawings. She will tear up little pieces of colored paper and incorporate them into her portraits. The color expresses what her subjects are feeling or who they are and what Wondem thinks about them. They are evocative.

Wondem recently had exhibits in Terre Haute, Indiana and the Gordon Jewish Community Center in Nashville. You can see more of her work at www.nsw-art.com.

Wondem has a book out about growing up on Dominica with her beloved father. It’s called “Hello Beautiful!”

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