Svetlana Nelson before her 62nd year of life, but what never made a painting she has made since confirms that she is an artist overbrimming with natural talent. At a time when most paintings tend to engage the monumental or the political, Nelson has opted to focus on the personal, the quietly perceptive and philosophical. Reminiscent more of Forrest Bess than Henri Rousseau, Nelson’s artistry most certainly falls within the visionary tradition. Religiosity; the depth of subjective, unrepresentable feelings ; the cycle of birth and death—all of these discover a place in her works, portrayed in lavish colors that reveal a unique eye for contrast and texture.
Nelson works in a figurative mode, which gives her compositions a readily understandable subject-matter. Yet this simplicity is offset by preference for utilizing oil on canvas. The slowdrying medium of oil paint allows Nelson to insert subtle gestures, minute layers of detail, in what might otherwise be conventionally representational landscapes. Her depictions of clouds and water, for example, feel furtively animate, as though they were moved not only by an unseen wind, but by the telos of some universal consciousness.
The objects depicted in Nelson’s paintings seem arranged to reveal a secret insight. The comparative isolation of a single structure, such as a church seen from afar, can come to compose a calming, tranquil symbol. In other works, an isolated landscape can feel vaguely threatening, as though embodying the entropy specific to the life cycle. This balancing act between tragedy and joy, anxiety and insight, is beautifully rendered with a palette that clearly evinces a unique, painterly eye. Using color as her communicative tool, Nelson comments on themes like death and rebirth without falling into the trap of cliché that mars the early works of most artists.