Jan Nelson
Walking in Tall Grass

Jan Nelson
, 2003
Installation view
Click to enlarge

Each one of Jan Nelson’s paintings from the series Walking in Tall Grass made around photographic images of youth provides a different window onto the world of growing up in the glare of our obsessive photographic reality. Her stunning technical virtuosity has captured on canvas eleven posed portraits of youngsters doing their thing in their own particular adolescent way. This work is concerned with opening up the possibilities that exist at the juncture between painting and photography: using both mediums as part of a broader conceptual examination of the resonance between the cult of the individual and anonymity in today’s media saturated world.

David Cross, extract from ‘THE PHOTOGRAPHIC GLARE: youth as a hyperreal experience’, in Jan Nelson: Walking in Tall Grass, Iconografias Metropolitanas, XXV Bienal de Sao Paolo, Brasil, 2002

Jan Nelson’s works often mesh design and some kind of emotional content. The abstract striped paintings juxtaposed with the portraits are a direct response to the high design world of advertising, architecture and fashion. They are shiny and pure, executed in signwriter’s enamel: handmade to look manufactured. Where the small portraits are loaded with content, these works are contentless. They rely on a cerebral response to colour, vibrate with intensity and are named in response to this season’s colours: Summer Collection, Winter Collection and Autumn Collection.

The handmade element is important in Nelson’s work, bringing a touch of human imperfection. While aiming for precision, she ultimately fails to achieve perfection. The works are obsessive in their manufacture, trying to replicate that which is already mechanically reproducible and expressing the anxiety we all feel about loosing control. This is perhaps a struggle that is doomed to fail but in the process, something unique is created, with a life of its own.