Palette Contemporary Art and Craft is hosting “Rock, Paper, Scissors … Glass?” a solo exhibition by artist Sarah Nelson through Dec. 30.
I knew little about Nelson or her work when I visited her new show, and I had a couple of other stops to make that day. So off I went only to be haunted by her work for the rest of the day.
Her mostly black-and-white imagery was big-city romantic and very familiar to one who grew up in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York and has visited Chicago several times.
As it happens, Nelson came to New Mexico 17 years ago from Chicago, where she discovered kiln glass making. Though her artistic journey is a fascinating story, suffice it to say she is a three-time Pilchuck Glass School residency recipient and a recovering textbook designer from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Nelson rode Chicago’s L train to work every day for 10 years, and the visual wreckage of constant metropolitan decay and rebirth became imbedded in her consciousness. It’s that fleeting mental picture-taking experience that informs Nelson’s imagery in such works as “Glimpse,” a nine-panel composition revealing structures paled by the distance of memory and the speed of a moving train.
The late widely published writer and photographer Douglas Kent Hall found train travel to be a transcendental experience that guided his work as a rock ‘n’ roll stage photographer.
In contrast, abstract painter and Yale art professor Joseph Albers had to pull down the window shades when he rode on trains to shut out the visual chaos. But somehow, Nelson has embraced and embodied that ‘chaos’ and captured its essence in fused-glass panels.
In her “The Mind Plays Tricks” a six-panel arrangement, Nelson acknowledges the predicament offered up by our ever-changing lifestyles that leave scant seconds for the apprehension and processing of thoughts conjured by perceiving images and living structures while in motion.
Nelson’s “Road Tunes,” replete with a solid yellow center stripe, is one of several free-standing sculptural panels in the show. The glass panel mounted in and supported by a black metal framework depicts a section of highway altered by a shimmering black, white-and-gray section that could be a visual description of sound.
Is Janis Joplin belting out the lamenting story of a ruined relationship spoiled by one night of misalliance or dalliance during a road trip whose pounding beat was supported by the truck’s windshield wipers in a lonesome rainstorm?
I’ll let you call the tune.
Among several colorful pieces is my favorite, titled “Paragon.” Whether of virtue or merely named after her first professional kiln, it is an elegantly structured asymmetrical geometric predominantly blue composition that sings of creative joy. Nelson mentions in an artist statement that her first glass kiln offered the same level of excited anticipation as her childhood dream machine in the form of an “Easy Bake Oven.”
Her dolls always loved her cookies, and I love her beautiful fused-glass panels that so powerfully capture remembrances of things past.
“Rock, Paper, Scissors … Glass?” is a wonderful collection of Nelson’s glass art that includes scads of small pieces titled “Mile Markers” that cover a range of images beyond those already discussed. The mostly abstract series includes little line drawings, paintings and fragmented images inspired by photographs.
Several of the tiny “Mile Marker” drawings are reminiscent of a series done on paper by Santa Fe artist Mary Ristow about 20 years ago. I doubt any actual connection between the two artists but do find a parallel kinship of sensibilities.
This is a exhibition by a talented and intelligent artist that shouldn’t be missed. Two thumbs up.