Joan Nelson: Lost and found

Joan Nelson’s delicate landscape paintings feature images that seem familiar: spindly trees, sparkling waterfalls, vivid blue skies. Indeed, for three decades she has borrowed details from the majestic landscapes of painters such as Albrecht Altdorfer, Albert Bierstadt, and Edward Hicks. In this recent series of paintings, on view at Adams and Ollman through July 11, Nelson references an Oregon road trip she took several years ago. Inadvertently getting lost, Nelson found herself driving through the Columbia River Gorge, the rolling hills of Mount Hood, and the foothills of the Three Sisters mountain range. She was so taken by the views that she didn’t turn back.

[Image at top: Joan Nelson, Untitled, 2014, ink, spray enamel, beeswax on panel, 11 3/4 x 11 3/4 inches.]

Joan Nelson

In an interview at State of Wonder, Nelson says the landscape was so beautiful that she was actually gasping. Wanting to fully experience it, she didn’t take pictures but tried to commit each scene to memory. She also describes an unusual painting process that includes, inks, acrylics, glitter and beeswax:
I put some blobs of acrylic paint on the panel; my first thought is a
color that I think of in a dreamy state before I fall asleep. I mess
around with that and put it in a landscape-y format, then I start
painting over that, and then I put on a layer of straight beeswax, heating it up so it’s completely smooth and flat. Then I paint
on it with various inks, and do the final layer that shows the
very front, where you might be standing in the landscape.
Joan Nelson

Her use of color and value (warm deep browns in the foreground, faint blue-green-purples in the background) afford the images a great sense of distance while the little plant or
spit of land she mentions in the interview appear at the bottom of each painting to pull the viewer into the picture. Nelson is close to the land–she lives in upstate New York and walks everyday, making mental note of each plant that falls within her view. Her paintings convey that physical presence, in terms of both image and process. Much like old hand-painted postcards, they embody a
personal memory and evoke a sense of nostalgia.
Joan Nelson
Joan Nelson

Joan Nelson
Joan Nelson
Joan Nelson
 Joan Nelson

Nelson’s last solo show in New York was in 2001 at Robert Miller, and I’ve wondered what happened to her. It turns out she still shows extensively on the west coast, primarily
at Michael Kohn  in LA. Her amazing jewel-like paintings are included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in D.C., and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Joan Nelson (on view with Joseph Yoakum), Adams and Ollman, Portland, OR, through July 11, 2015.

Related posts:
Landscape girls at Jeff Bailey
Gregory Amenoff’s studies

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  1. Great to see this recent work by Joan Nelson. I loved her earlier series quoting old master landscapes, but these are equally enchanting in a very different way. Thank you.

  2. I have followed Joan Nelson’s work for years since seeing it at the Biennial. I most love the fragments…a bit of sky, a bit of leaf, which I have not seen for a long time. I love the mystery and layering and texture.

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