Can I even call paint crackle luscious? Whether found peeling off an old, deliciously rusted, hand painted sign or peeking through layers in Jay Nelson's paintings; the effect has me weak at the knees. When I first entered Nelson's San Francisco studio, I felt like I was surrounded by paintings dictated by 1980's-style sweaters of a bygone Cosby era. The sentiment quickly faded as I drew closer to individual canvases stretched over wood panels, covered in wonderfully acrid colors, distressed layers and loose patterning. I wanted to check out Jay's work before it hit the gallery walls for With Edits, his solo and third exhibition of drawings and paintings, at Triple Base Gallery.
Approaching Triple Base on opening night, passersby may have been intrigued to further their gander. Steamy windows and a host of viewers milling within softened rows of pencil-patterned drawings, with mild reference to op art. Nelson built an extra wall within the gallery to create an accessible viewing space for the drawings from the street. A cut and patterned floor installation extends from the front entry, as a welcome mat of sorts. The floor is crafted from varnished and unvarnished plywood, leading into an intimate space holding Nelson's oil paintings.
Commandeering its own wall immediately to the left is the bold, black-and-white striped "New Combination." I wax nostalgic over Beetle Juice before noticing wood grain from the panel below, loosely traced with black paint. By far "Combination Stage III" is the most successful as it is a striking painting of hard geometrics and guttural application. It hangs next to two other equally sized pieces at 30" x 24". Waiting.
Nelson's paintings and drawings have changed shape over the years. Tight renderings have given way to a looser abstract approach, more concerned with exploration and playing with the unexpected. He sometimes paints on plastic and transfers the image or pattern to canvas. Squeegees, metal plastering knives, and stencils have taken place of both his paintbrushes and his intentions that once dictated expected outcomes.
When he's not painting, Nelson is building structures and creating vehicles for road, sand and water transport. Since his four-month stint living in a tree house he built with materials sourced from its surrounding environs in Hawaii, Nelson has built similar structures for a show at Needles & Pens, Mollusk Surf Shop, for artist Thomas Campbell, Berkeley Art Museum Director Lawrence Rinder, and the Oakland Airport.
Nelson holds similar sensibilities to the unconventional lives of artists he is inspired by, particularly Austrian painter, architect and environmentalist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Hundertwasser thought of straight lines as "the devils tools" and found people to be enslaved by conventional architecture. Hundertwasser's incorporation of undulating floors and living trees growing from within architectural designs reflects the experimentalism in Nelson's new body of work and a loving relationship with nature that Nelson captures as a major surfer and craftsman of recycled materials.
With Edits is on view through February 6, 2011 at Triple Base Gallery in San Francisco. For more information visit basebasebase.com.