For the multi-medium artist Fred Nall Hollis–who simply goes by the name Nall–flowers have been a passion, a muse, and even, at times, a savior.
The 64-year-old Nall, who splits his time between Fairhope Alabama, and Vence, France, where he has a foundation for art students, says he feels he truly became an artist when he was 21 years old. “That’s the year I was disowned by my father,” he says. “He was a banker and I’d disgraced him by pursuing art and not banking.” Nall decided to pack up and leave Alabama and move to Europe. “I took what little money I had, my wife, my passport, and my Southern accent.”
He enrolled in the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris to study art. He mixed and mingled with the hoi polloi, while remaining loyal to his roots. “I preferred to stay the redneck from Alabama, sitting at the dinner table with kings and queens and picking my teeth with a diamond-studded fork,” he says.
While in Paris, he met artist Salvador Dalí. “I became one of the great man’s props,” say Nall. “He would sometimes have me go down to the lobby with him. I’d be totally nude, accompanied by a nude girl. He’d introduce us as Adam and Eve.” In return, Dalí critiqued Nall’s work. The number one lesson Nall learned from Dalí: “Learn to draw from nature,” he says.
The advice happened to dovetail perfectly with Nall’s aesthetic, developed at an early age. “Growing up in Alabama, I was constantly picking flowers and drawing them and even eating them,” he says. At his grandmother’s restaurant, Nall did the floral arrangements on the tables. “These sorts of things grew into the substance of my painting.”
Nall held on to those formative years and that aesthetic. He moved to the South of France in 1976 and started nomadically traveling in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. “That’s where I first came across the pomegranate flower, which is a symbol of fecundity in the Mediterranean,” he says. “The first ones I ever saw were dried as hard as wood. I picked them up and took them back to France and started painting them.”
Later, in an effort to dry himself out from the hard-partying days and nights in France, Nall traveled to the west coast of Mexico and lived in the jungle. “There the colors just came into my life,” he says. “The flowers just zoomed.”
In 1986, Nall bought Jean Dubuffet’s studio in Vence, France. He turned the eight acres into a foundation for art students, and turned the landscape into a flower nirvana. The terraced acres overlooking the Mediterranean are carpeted with pansies, irises, and persimmons.
Since then, Nall’s works have been collected by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the St. Francis Basilica in Assisi, Italy. He has been an artist-in-residence at the University of Alabama, and was named the state’s “Distinguished Artist of the Year” in 2007. And much of his celebrated work is centered around flowers. Prince Albert of Monaco commissioned Nall’s flower mosaics, Pensée Sunrise and Pensée Sunset, monumental 18-foot by 18-foot pieces that becane the official postage stamp of the principality.
Cosmic Harmonies, a mixed-media and watercolor, and Dust to Dust, featuring tulips, were shown at the Bill Lowe Gallery in Atlanta. Nall particularly likes the latter, which he says symbolizes the circle of life. His porcelain line of Alabama camellias was produced by Royal Limoges. He recently did a series of Tornado Tulips at the RSA-Bank-Trust building in Mobile.
Why is the pull of flowers so strong for him? “They are such a symbol of love,” he says. “We give them to people on Valentine’s Day, at weddings, and funerals.” For Nall, flowers are the gift that keeps on giving.
Nall’s Fanciful Floral Aesthetic Stems into Various Projects
Mixed-medium art is only one of the outlets through which Nall expresses his passion for flowers. His collaborations with Bissoumine, a French fragrance line, and with Royal Limoges, the oldest existing porcelain factory in Limoges, France, have resulted in an enticing unisex perfume, Les Fleurs de Nall, and a beautiful line of porcelain dessert plates, the Bellingrath Collection by Nall.
LES FLEURS DE NALL
To purchase this perfume inspired by Nall’s artwork and created with fragrances chosen by Nall according to his olfactory taste (iris, violet, jasmine, rose, patchouli, citruses, etc.), click here.
BELLINGRATH COLLECTION BY NALL BY ROYAL LIMOGES
Bromberg’s is one of the only retail stores with the Bellingrath Collection by Nall available for purchase on location!
2800 Cahaba Road • Mountain Brook, Alabama • 205.871.3276