Nancy Spero began her training at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she met Leon Golub, who years later would become her husband. Both of them moved to Paris where they studied at the School of Fine Arts and at the studio of André Lhote. Later they travelled to Florence, in search of an alternative to Abstract Expressionism, which was the dominant movement in the United States. In Italy, Nancy enthusiastically took in classical art sources, that would influence her work so much.
On their return to France, where the couple lived until the mid 1950s, Nancy Spero created elaborate works based on superimposed layers of paint, half way between Figuration and Lyric Expressionism. Her themes swung between love, motherhood and night.
In 1964, Spero returned to the United States where she was greatly affected by the images of the Viet Nam war being broadcast on television. Her work then turned into a voice condemning the war and its consequences. She turned from canvas to paper, a more fragile medium on which to express harsh allusions to the effects of war. She painted helicopters, swastikas, phallic shaped bombs, and nuclear explosions.
Between 1969 and 1970 the influence of the poet Antonin Artaud, whose work she had become acquainted with during her time in Paris, became noticeable Spero’s work. It was starting at that time when walls became a pictorial medium on which to base her collages in which spectral silhouettes were cut out, and Spero let her emotions run loose in what had now become a period of great maturity as an artist. Her messages, always protesting, and sometimes obscene, moved away from official discourse.
During the 70s Nancy became seriously involved in the struggle for equality between men and women. She was a member of groups such as the Art Workers’ Coalition and Women Artists in Revolution (WAR). She also founded a cooperative in New York’s Soho district that opened the first art gallery exclusively dedicated to women: AIR.
Then in the 1980s, Spero completely abandoned the use of texts in her plastic work, and she concentrated exclusively on depicting the female body. Her works were of nude figures that run and dance before the spectator. In the late 80s she began to experiment with interactivity and long scrolls of folded paper, inviting the spectator to follow winding paths around the exhibit hall in order to appreciate the entire painting.
In the 1990s, her work underwent yet another transformation, and her pallette widened its range of colors, colors that took over the protagonism that her texts had formerly had. The pigments were mixed and superimposed in works that ignore the traditional definitions of figure and depth. Once more, Abstraction and Figuration were not opposing concepts.
Nancy Spero’s work can be found in the world’s most important art collections. It is practically required to include her energetic defenses of feminism. Radical and rebellious, she was a fundamental artist, both due to the innovation of her creations with reference to formal aspects as well as to the ideologies they express.