The Intimacy of Memory


My name is Nancy Marks. I have been a Boston-based printmaker and painter for more than twenty-five years. In addition to solo exhibitions, my work has been displayed in galleries, restaurants, and corporate settings. I am also a public health advocate and art teacher who is committed to helping others use art to engage in personal healing and community dialogue.

In 2014, I created The Intimacy of Memory, a body of mixed media paintings based on grief, love and remembrance. The work examined why people chose particular objects or keepsakes after someone close to them died. I was interested in the ways in which an object represents the person who died and the shared relationship with the survivor. How do objects celebrate a life? How do objects prompt memory and how does this memory change over time?

This body of work seeded itself fifteen years ago when the biological mother of my adopted daughter, Taylor, died of AIDS. Taylor was six at the time. As I cleaned out her mother’s apartment, I had to decide what to keep. Which items would hold memories of her mother and offer Taylor comfort both in the moment and throughout her life? As I selected a few dishes, her mother’s favorite shirt, a locket, a mirror, I knew it wasn’t just what I kept but also what I didn’t keep that would play a role in Taylor’s recollections.

As part of this exploration, I interviewed participants and meditated on what I had heard. When I began to paint, the layers of color seemed to mirror the layers of their recollections: feelings of loss, love and longing. While many details faded into the background, what I felt most acutely was the sense of connection that stretched from the present to the past. I began to see how relationships and roles become fixed in time and space at the moment of death. How we forever remain mother/father/grandfather, husband/partner, sister/daughter/granddaughter.

As I exhibited this work throughout Massachusetts, I started to feel that I wanted to more closely connect my art life with the power of personal narrative. Since this initial body of work, I have begun to host Intimacy of Memory workshops.

The Intimacy of Memory workshops are designed to allow participants to make art based on the objects they kept after a meaningful loss in their life. It approaches the complexities of grief and love using art as a central connector. Because so many don’t have language for loss, art can play a pivotal role in communicating emotion and promoting healing.

Whether the loss is fresh or long past, this workshop gives artistic space and voice to the grief and love you may have been nursing privately. While the subject is heavy for many, there is often laughter and joy as people share memories.

But the work doesn’t stop there. After a workshop, participants are encouraged to hang their art in public space. The goal of the public exhibition is to promote a community conversation about death, grief and love, three subjects that are often privatized in the broader culture. I know how deeply painful loss can be, but we make the healing process that much harder by not giving our losses adequate  "time.” After all, grief is really just remembering how much we love and miss those we have lost.