Step into my office

Pierre Nagley makes Yellow Springs his gallery

One has to be quiet while walking up the steep, narrow set of stairs leading to Pierre Nagley’s studio in Yellow Springs. The space sits above the Little Art Theatre (think Greene County’s answer to The Neon downtown), and too much noise from the upper floors might disturb the patrons. This is harder to manage than you might think: Nagley shares the space with two other artists, and one colleague’s dog has a habit of barking furiously whenever he hears the sound of someone knocking on a door echoing from the theater below.

I meet Pierre at a small coffee shop after almost getting lost on the way into town. A short trip northeast from 675 leads to a large yellow “Springs” sign (get it?), followed by a small cluster of buildings housing an eclectic assortment of shops, including an ice cream parlor and a secondhand book store. People mill about everywhere, families and tourists checking out the city’s famous antique shops. After driving around a bit looking for a parking space, I grab my notebook and head across the street, not realizing as I pass several of Pierre’s creations along the way.

Walking through downtown Yellow Springs is like taking a tour through Nagley’s personal art gallery. Psychedelic yellow imagery adorns the back wall of a local emporium. A “big blue lady with stars and spirals coming out of her,” as Pierre himself describes her, came to Nagley in a dream straight out of a Greek myth, and has graced the wall of a building housing the city’s newspaper ever since. Look up as you exit the Little Art and you’ll see a mural depicting the mythical Japanese storyteller Lady Murasaki. Ghostly faces cover the inside wall of the old Foundry Theater, and a sculpture created from old honeysuckle trees evokes nothing so much as the Loch Ness Monster.

As ubiquitous as his work seems to be around town, however, making a living as an artist isn’t always easy. The artist’s life is filled with challenges, including sometimes mercurial clients who may not necessarily end up liking the work they’ve commissioned you to create. There’s also the fact that, unlike writers and filmmakers, a painter doesn’t get to retain some measure of ownership over his work once it’s been completed and sold.

If a building housing one of Pierre’s creations changes hands, for example, the new owners may decide to demolish or paint over it.

If one of his murals starts to become weathered or faded with age, its owners may or may not be willing to shell out the money to have it “touched up,” a project Nagley can’t always afford to finance himself. Even something as simple as leaning yo ur bike against the side of a building while exploring downtown could result in accidentally defacing an artist’s work. Nagley’s learned a few tricks over the years. North-facing walls make better homes for murals than south-facing ones, he says, because they don’t get as much sun, and thus the image doesn’t have quite as much tendency to fade. This only goes so far, however.

Mostly Nagley makes ends meet by having his fingers in a lot of different artistic pies, so to speak, including sewing, making glass arrowheads and selling small paintings and drawings on canvas. He also paints the backdrop of the Antioch Amphitheater once a year for the Yellow Springs Kids’ Playhouse, a children’s theater he’s been working with for the past 15 years. And he’s trying to convince the owners of the local paper to let him refurbish that Greek Goddess.

Pierre’s work, like the shops whose walls and ceilings it so often adorns, is eclectic, and much of it exists simply to lighten the mood around town, to give the folks in his neighborhood something pleasant to look at as they leave for work in the morning. Some of his creations are crafted with more serious intent, however. A painting depicting a collection of broken eggs, for instance, attempts to summarize Nagley’s feelings about the recent epidemic of police shootings across the country.

“It’s like people are screaming, ‘Stop killing young black men,’” Nagley says. “I wanted to create a mural expressing the positive ways black lives influenced me.” Nagley, who grew up in a multiracial family, was inspired to create the mural when a local police officer complimented him on his work. This put Nagley in mind of the many different kinds of people his work gives him the opportunity to influence.

Nagley also aims to provide a break from the barrage of advertisements and other mass marketing images that are so ubiquitous in today’s society.

“Art is there to make energy lighter, not to try to sell you something,” he says. “I want to counteract the constant bombardment of advertising images by giving people something friendly and fun to look at.”

Reach DCP freelance writer Tony Baker at

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