Jan Nel­son
Marsh­land

3rd June – 2nd July 2011
Anna Schwartz Gallery

Jan Nel­son’s Marsh­land fea­tures new works from the con­tin­u­ing series Walk­ing in Tall Grass. In these hyper-real­is­tic por­trait paint­ings, Nel­son depicts ado­les­cence in colour­ful iso­la­tion: indi­vid­ual por­traits of young teens who avoid the view­er’s gaze and remain defi­ant­ly absorbed in them­selves. Lucy’s head­phones can­cel out the noise of the world, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Gra­cie is deferred as our empa­thy is chan­neled instead through the implor­ing gaze of her pup­py. Nel­son’s sub­jects are named, but by no means do they allow them­selves to be iden­ti­fied — these youths wear their lay­ers of mir­rored sun­glass­es, com­i­cal masks, hats, and cod­i­fied cloth­ing as impen­e­tra­ble defenses.

Drenched in bright, clear light, each fig­ure is stark­ly defined against a sat­u­rat­ed back­ground of abstract grad­u­at­ed colour. This lack of spe­cif­ic con­text inten­si­fies each sub­jec­t’s iso­la­tion, fur­ther refus­ing us any means of locat­ing and inter­pret­ing the indi­vid­ual fig­ures. Instead of a leg­i­ble land­scape, Nel­son builds up planes of intense and lumi­nous colour — allow­ing no escape beyond the pic­ture plane for the sub­ject, nor the view­er’s eye. The dynamism of hue and pat­tern oscil­lates with­in and around the sub­ject, who is frozen in the mil­lisec­ond of cam­era exposure.

Posi­tioned at the junc­ture of paint­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy, Nel­son’s works are a con­stant reminder of the role that time plays in each. How­ev­er, Nel­son refus­es to be com­plic­it in the par­tic­u­lar con­ven­tions of either: these paint­ings call into doubt the doc­u­men­tary func­tion of pho­tog­ra­phy, whilst also defer­ring the insight into a sit­ter’s per­son­al­i­ty that the por­trait genre claims to pro­vide. The rep­e­ti­tion of par­tic­u­lar sub­jects who recur in the Walk­ing in Tall Grass series, with alter­ations to their pose or cos­tume serves to remind us again of the process involved in each painting.

A seam­less syn­the­sis of style and sub­ject, Nel­son’s paint­ings emit ten­sion, strug­gle and ulti­mate­ly achieve­ment. As well as the appar­ent con­flict between pho­tog­ra­phy and paint­ing, each work dis­plays mas­ter­ful con­trol of the pig­ment, where colours appear translu­cent and lay­ered instead of mud­died by their rel­a­tive prox­im­i­ty. There is a pull between the per­ceived age of the sit­ters and the iconog­ra­phy they wear — the avi­a­tor sun­glass­es and pais­ley prints sig­ni­fy larg­er and old­er rev­o­lu­tions than their own. And a ten­sion between these sub­jects and our­selves, read­ing but nev­er quite con­nect­ing with Nel­son’s portraits.

Images

Jan Nel­son

Walk­ing in Tall Grass, Betty, 2010
oil and liquin on linen
7653.5 cm

Jan Nel­son

Walk­ing in Tall Grass, Iris, 2007
Oil on linen
74.557 cm

Jan Nel­son

Walk­ing in Tall Grass, Gra­cie 1, 2010
oil on linen
7759 cm

Jan Nel­son

Walk­ing in Tall Grass, Carter, 2010
Oil on linen
7760 cm

Jan Nel­son

Walk­ing in Tall Grass, Silas 2, 2010
Oil on linen
7754.5 cm

Jan Nel­son

Walk­ing in Tall Grass, Tom 2, 2010
oil on linen
7757.5 cm

Jan Nel­son

Walk­ing in Tall Grass, Tim, 2010
Oil on linen
7757.5 cm

Jan Nel­son

Walk­ing in Tall Grass, Lucy 2, 2010
Oil on linen
77.559.5 cm

Jan Nel­son

Walk­ing in Tall Grass, Lauren, 2007
Oil and liquin on linen
79.563 cm

Jan Nel­son

Walk­ing in Tall Grass, Marion, 2011
Oil on linen
77.559.8 cm

Jan Nel­son

Walk­ing in Tall Grass, Victor, 2005
Oil on linen
7963.5 cm