Irene Nelson is an abstract painter living and working in Oakland. In the studio, she approaches each work of art, no matter what medium, in a similar, intuitive manner. The moment guides her, transforming uncertainty into expressive mark making.
Each gesture informs the next like an “act of discovery.” Nelson sees the process as “a dance between thinking and not thinking, balancing patience with spontaneity. It is an act of faith.” Each resulting composition unlocks imagery that may or may not have been lingering in her subconscious. It is the creative process that, to her, becomes the answer to the continual question “what if?”.
After a successful career in graphic design, Nelson dedicated herself full time to her lifelong painting and photography practices. She works in varying media, from paintings that mingle acrylic paint with collaged personal photographs to monoprints on paper, which she discovered during her residency at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley.
Her works have been featured in various solo and group exhibitions in the Bay Area since 2009 including Gearbox Gallery, Oakland; Jen Tough Gallery, Vallejo; Arthouse on R, Sacramento, O’Hanlan Center for the Arts Gallery, Mill Valley; Kala Art Institute; Berkeley Art Center, Berkeley; and Sanchez Art Center, Pacifica. Her works are held in various private collections around the Bay Area.
I made my recent body of work, a series of intimate interior images, by observing arresting moments of day-to-day life at home. These atmospheric studies are shaped by the introspection of my life as a woman, wife, mother, and artist. The imagery reflects the wonder of typical moments that many of us experience every day, but overlook as unremarkable. I looked deeply at the ordinary—whether it was the light on a bathroom window shade or the Sunday newspaper on rumpled sheets—to find beauty, grace, and respite.
I made this process-based series using Photopolymer Intaglio printing with chine-collé, a method that fuses digital technology with hand-printing practices. I began by capturing images with a digital camera using ambient light. The images, digitally scanned to a film positive, were exposed onto a light-sensitive photopolymer sheet to make a printing plate. I used two different glued fine art papers to create a toned ground, then mixed an ink formula for the plate and ran the inked plate through a hand printing press. Along the way, there were moments of surrender that resulted in the warmth and depth of the tones, subtle whites and smoky blacks—a richly expressive visual poetry uniting observation, image and process.
Two interpretations of “landscape”
My first series were photogravure etchings of "domestic landscapes," drawn from digital photographs I’ve taken in my own home. Photopolymer gravure is a printmaking technique that uses film on photosensitive plates that have been exposed in UV light and developed with water. Using digital tools to crop and frame the images into more abstract compositions, I mimic the shapes, light and shadows that might occur in the natural terrain. The resulting atmospheric images— of an intimate, contemplative, domestic topography—demonstrate presence and consciousness in ordinary moments of transient beauty.
My more recent monotypes series are "internal" landscapes without external references. Using a subtractive wiping method on a metal printing plate coated with black ink, I brush ink away with tarlatan cloths, sharp tools, and dry brushes. Finally, I add color back into work selectively, collaging found materials or hand-painted paper I’ve made myself. Applying these brightly colored layers to the moody black and white monotype landscapes creates the effect of bright interior “windows” that open onto other, smaller receding landscapes made of color and light.
All images copyright Irene Nelson. All rights reserved.