Nelson’s invented and appropriated images push back against a male-dominated history of the landscape painting genre and question a deeply-rooted, North American vantage point centered on narratives of Western expansion, conquest and resource extraction. Combining details of trees, mountains, composition, and other elements borrowed from iconic depictions of landscape with imagery from photos, travel books, old postcards, imagination and memory, Nelson problematizes the notion of the discovery of this land by painting it as fiction.
Adams and Ollman is pleased to present a new body of work by Joan Nelson as the artist’s third exhibition with the gallery. For nearly four decades, Joan Nelson has been reverently and subversively painting landscapes. Since the start of her career in New York in the 1980s, Nelson’s singular focus has been on the awe and the artifice of the tradition within which she is working. The new works—painted in reverse on plexiglass—feature mountain ranges, waterfalls, rainbows, expansive skies, and epic vistas, building on Nelson’s interests in the experience and depiction of the landscape, as well as in the materiality of paint and the history of painting.
Nelson’s choice of materials also suggests to the viewer that her paintings be understood as emphatically feminist landscapes. She adds mascara and glitter, as well as items collected from her garden and home, such as burnt sugar, plant life, and beads, to the maximalist palette of her wax, oil, and ink. The works are not planned, and imagery arrives through accident, experimentation, and play as Nelson spray paints, stipples, draws and etches into the surface of each, coaxing a mood, a bit of light, or an impossible view. As the works unfold, the imagery toggles between abstraction and naturalism. Many of Nelson’s new works depict a barren, isolated landscape. Images are hazy, subject to the artist’s deft description of the fleeting effects of light and air, and depict the shifting nature of our world. She offers worlds that exist before and after us, and asks us to consider the environmental threats posed by human behavior.
Joan Nelson (b. 1958, California) lives and works in upstate New York. Her 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, Boston.