Daniel Crooks: Asia Society Triennial, New York
The inaugural Asia Society Triennial opens today 27 October, 2020 in New York City, and […]Read More
What strikes you first when you walk into Nelson’s backyard studio is the contrast of her workspace to the paintings produced there.You enter a controlled gloom. “I keep the light low,” says Nelson, “it comes in from the north and is incredibly difficult to work under, so I prefer to work under artificial lighting.” Near the entrance, there’s a shop mannequin wrapped in plastic and a light-filtering purple cloth sagging over one of the windows. The air is rather close and tinged with oil paint and turpentine. “I’ve worked in this space for, I don’t know, since ’89. I moved from Flemington to here. This was a shed at the back, I did it up a bit just to start working and that is the way it stayed unfortunately.”
The studio, as Nelson puts it bluntly, is “ falling down, and when it rains it just pours in. I have to move all the work away from that particular wall.” The only sign of 2018 is an Apple computer stacked away in a corner, away from the mid-century cabinetry under a window. The rest of the studio has just a touch of 1990s grunge about it. Of course, Nelson would pull the shed down if funds and time would allow, but for now, unruffled, she says, “It’s OK, I work cheaply and alone.”
As her PhD title suggests, the complexities of the digital age are very much part of the methodology and raison d’être behind her practice. In particular she looks at the “idea of the infiltration of [technology] in our lives increasing and how it’s changing our neurological pathways.” The act of making a painting for Nelson is to face off with this phenomenon. Where the internet can be seen to rob an image of its historical markers in order to manipulate its contextual meaning, the act of painting for Nelson restores them through its labour intensive making and is used to anchor the simulation back to something intrinsically real.
“Technology gives us a kind of standard. That’s my process really, I make the standard of technology; whatever technology gives me, I do it.”That standard is a level of perfection and finish. Though Nelson doesn’t see her work fit the framework of hyperreal painting. “If you look at a hyperreal painting, they’re often done with acrylics and they’re trying to get a Chuck Close kind of idea of it. I’m not like that at all, I’m not trying to perfect the person; I’m just trying to perfect the screen, and the file, whatever the file does.” “Whatever appears on the screen, I get those measurements and I send them o to the stretcher maker who makes them to exact measure. Then I bring it back and I use primed linen, with about three layers of oil primers. Then I prime it again so it’s perfect.”
Nelson admits that for her the question of authenticity is inescapable, “I’m always asking that one question, what’s real?”Instead of answering it, she is alerting the viewer to potential speciousness. This comes back to the innate riddle of hyperrealism. There’s a “gap that opens up between looking at a distance at it and then as you get closer you kind of realise, this is something else, and then when you get really close you can look into and you go, oh shit this is actually made by someone’s hand.” Nelson discusses her interest in analytical psychology. As well as plush toy companions, she has adorned the children in her paintings with protective gear. Headphones came into her paintings a long time ago. “This idea of silence is quite big in my work because I grew up with a profoundly deaf sister, and so I was her voice in lots of ways. When she was young, there was incredible frustration when she couldn’t communicate. She would throw tantrums, and quite extreme tantrums, and it was anxiety about trying to live in the world.”