Joan Nelson was born in 1958 in Southern California and spent her youth in St. Louis, Missouri. Critic Mary Haus wrote, “Nelson… emerged from the East Village in the mid-‘80s at the forefront of a landscape revival that blurred the line between romance and irony.” Now as then, Nelson paints small paintings on thick pieces of wood using a variety of materials often combined with wax.
“Nelson’s work,” wrote Alfred MacAdam of her “splendid” 2001 solo show at Robert Miller Gallery in New York, “demonstrates that landscape painting is not about the imitation of nature, or verisimilitude, but about art.” Her pictures of trees or of landscapes are usually based on fragments of paintings by other artists, from the great landscape painters of past centuries or the cartoonist Hergé (Georges Remi) who illustrated Tintin. “What Nelson offers are fictions—not places in the world but places in the world of art.” Her delicate, dream-like pictures are retreats for the mind, supplied by the minds of others. “It’s not intended to be truthful to the original,” she has said: “It’s channeled through my brain more than my eye.”
In her etchings at Crown Point Press, she combined images from old art with those of living things recorded in snapshots. She says she learned in art school that “you could paint anything. What mattered was the attitude.” Her attitude is one of pleasure in stillness, delight in detail, and recognition of the capacity in nature for renewal. She works on her multiple copper plates in a way comparable to how she paints on wood, making changes and additions until a dense, layered image magically takes on life. “I’m usually pretty passionate about the art I’m working from,” she has said. “Sometimes I’m in love with it.”
Nelson’s work is 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 Washington D.C.; and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
-Rachel Lyon, Crown Point Press