Murray Horne

Pittsburgh x 7


James P. Nelson's subjects have ranged from the West German Konigsee to New York's Riverside Drive to the Gothic churches of Pittsburgh. Through his paintings we feel the humid summer in a city park, the tension of long-distance driving through a fast and furious blizzard, the melancholy of a morning mist over a lake. Regardless of location, his landscapes become vehicles of personal expression, equivalents of memories, moments of epiphany.

Nelson is in command of light, even when it is minimal. His nocturnes are charged by solitary lamps, crescent moons, or distant headlights. Night also imparts a heaviness. For example, Willow presents a tree known for its gracefull lightness, its pale green sway. Here, its delicacy assumes a massive volume, trapped by the surrounding muddy greyness. The flat silhouettes and hazy definition of his dark places transform the familiar into the poetic. It is a subtle transformation. At first glance, Nelson's canvases appear opaque with dense, matte surfaces that often contribute to a flattened representation of space. With longer viewing, however, the space evolves; the picture plane is ruptured by receding roads, rivers, and layers of leaves and branches. We drift in and out of recognition. Alternating between anonymity and particularity, Nelson's sense of place elicits reminiscence, contemplation and musing. Nelson's treatment of paint can encourage us to forget the image as it dissolves in a flurry of strokes or becomes encrusted. Though his compositions are often determined by preliminary drawings, the actual application of the paint is guided by intuition. This combination of preconception and impulse parallels his stance between realism and abstraction. His realism captures the specificity of place, but his abstraction captures its essence.