It seems very pretty but it’s rather hard to understand! Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas…only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear at any rate.
- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
“Working in the relative isolation of Arizona for the last ten years, John Nelson has synthesized his illustrative and sculptural experience into a unique body of work that combines painting, drawing, and text with narrative content.
Nelson embraces the concept of artist as story teller, a chronicler of contemporary culture. His symbolic amalgamations, which often consist of a central image superimposed over a collage of symbols and text (anything from art criticism to nursery rhymes), make intuitive sense of the inundation that we experience in what Nelson sees as our “over-communicated, how-to world.” Bits and pieces from daily life are placed, layered, painted, sanded and repainted; in this persistent, almost obsessive editing and rearrangement we ?nd the grammar of Nelson’s private language. And because the constant reworking of the surface and the rearranging of form describe the process of discovery and creation, the paintings end up being narrative in two ways: they ask us to invent our own stories based on the images and messages that Nelson uses, but they also present the “story” of their own creation and invite us to share the restless, somewhat anxious journey of the art-making process.
The strength of the work lies in the terrain between the narrative and the abstract, between what is immediately accessible to the viewer and what remains obscure. Masked in Nelson’s faux-naive style is a complex formalism designed to both present and obscure meaning. “Ambiguity and metaphor are central to my work,” says Nelson, “I think the ambiguous is more interesting, more engaging. Because there is always something more to discover it reveals itself more slowly and it has greater longevity.”
Deborah Hilary Susser