Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

The Out-of-Towners: Jay Nelson and Bryson Gill Experience a Change in Scenery

by Jamie Gadette

Jay Nelson thought he’d be an architect. Or maybe even a doctor, helping patients through illnesses such as that which left him bed-ridden for a good part of his adolescence. Ten years later, Nelson, 25, admits his altruistic instincts are best realized through paintings, sketches and tree-house installations.

“Making things helped me feel productive in a very dark time of my life,” he wrote in an email. “I feel like that time helped me formulate a strong work ethic.”

Nelson’s latest work, a collection of pencil drawings reflecting his passion for breaking waves, will be on display at Kayo Gallery alongside material by fellow Bay Area artist and former schoolmate Bryson Gill, 22, a Utah native who relocated to San Francisco four years ago. The two met at the California College of Arts and Crafts, a place where they obtained only partial frameworks for their current successes.

“I would say there was a lot I had to teach myself,” Gill wrote from his home. “The philosophy of [CCAC’s] painting program is not to flush out students with flawless technical foundation; rather to help students cultivate their interests in an intense work environment-wherever that may lead.”

Nelson took his skills to the beach. An avid surfer, he spends each week building surfboards, teaching surf lessons and working at Mollusk Surf Shop, a store that also provides a place for Nelson to rest his head and display others’ art. He sleeps in the attic, dreaming of his watery muse. The ocean is apparent in most of Nelson’s current works. “Wave” depicts a lone surfer sitting on his board, greeting the rising wave.

Viewers perceive a sense of peace, recognizing that the water poses little threat of overwhelming its languid visitor. Its aquamarine walls, though expressed in black and white, project solace and trust. This is his retreat, his haven. The portrait of a young man rising despite encroaching pressures.

There are other markers of the natural world. Tall pines, fog-drenched mountains, dark peninsulas and even Utah’s majestic state bird, soaring above a forest bed (or some unfortunate soul’s parked car).

Gill expresses his connection with the natural world through more domestic images. His mostly large-scale pieces contain references to early American landscape paintings and geometric abstraction. Some hover above plowed fields and crop circles bordering ancient, white motor homes. Others focus on serene lakes with abandoned canoes under a spotlight perhaps cast by myriad fireflies. None are necessarily premeditated.

“I don’t really work conceptually in terms of projects,” Gill wrote. “There are just different ideas that phase in and out simultaneously over time.” Besides, he’s constantly bombarded with new creative possibilities. His neighborhood features several art schools, commercial galleries and museums, many espousing cutting edge trends. It’s a far cry from Gill’s hometown where opportunities seem somewhat limited. Of course, things have a way of evening out.

I think of Salt Lake City as having an art scene and San Francisco as having many art scenes,” he wrote. “It’s easy to feel lost in a sea of art shows in San Francisco. I don’t think shows are overlooked as easily in Salt Lake City, so there can be a clearer dialogue between participants. I’m happy to return and be part of that for a moment.”

Nelson has never been to Utah. He’s looking forward to sharing his understanding of the world. “I hope my art can take me to places where I can meet new people and learn from them,” he wrote. It’s likely our community will learn a little something as well.

This article originally appeared in the November 2005 edition of 15 Bytes

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