Robert Nelson: Renaissance Redux
Written by Katie McGarigle
If Robert Nelson’s work were a type of humor it would be dark sarcasm. Nelson’s pieces are bold and contemporary, with an emphasis on combining elements of the past with the technology of the present and future. His work seeks to explore the influence of technology and its effect on the dark side of humanity through the use of whimsical elements and pop-like imagery. Not all issues addressed by an artist need to be done in a serious manner, rather, Nelson’s work will keep you thinking about the dire state of the world while making sure you laugh in enjoyment while doing it.
The influence of Renaissance master painters is immediately apparent in Nelson’s work, seen through his incorporation of faces from the paintings of Raphael or Bronzino, combined with the shape of his paintings which are often reminiscent of Medieval or Renaissance palace windows. This can be seen in works such as “Leda Redux” or “Silent Mortem”, both featuring portraits of female faces from another time, combined with technological elements drawn from Nelson’s own experience as a graphic designer. It is important to note that Nelson’s work is not computer generated. All of his pieces are hand drawn using multiple layers of colored pencil, acrylic, and sealed with matte medium, giving the final product a glossy finish. The complex design process Nelson uses to create his work is a demonstration of his immense skill as an artist alone, separating his success as a graphic designer, and making him a visual artist in his own right.
Nelson’s seamless juxtaposition of the past and the future is achieved harmoniously in both physical execution and conceptual ideology, a reflection of the views on modern technology that were present both then and now. “People during the Renaissance thought they were at the apex of technology, but we are all a part of the same timeline. There is always going to be a future just like there is always going to be history”, explains Nelson. Although certain human thought processes are always going to be apparent regardless of time, there is a feeling of dread apparent in the technology of our contemporary world that far exceeds that of the past.
In his work “Mine is bigger than yours”, a smiling man holds a bomb while a sign below reads “sex shop downstairs”. This work alludes to the fear of technology due to its mainstream accessibility. “What makes me worried about technology is that it makes things much more simple for us, yet it also makes it more simple for people to use it negatively,“ says Nelson. There is a passive aggressiveness inherent to some of his works, urging people to realize that there is something more dire occurring in our society that they may be blissfully unaware of, through either genuine ignorance or personal choice.
The most alluring component to Nelson’s work is his ability to disguise a dire message with dark, and sometimes provocative humor. His ability to fuse technological elements of the present with ethereal imagery of the past forces the viewer to imbue their own view of technology and its effect on the world into his paintings, making the experience as personal as it is conceptual. Through being immersed in Nelson’s work we can allow ourselves to laugh with his paintings, or we could realize that maybe it’s the paintings that are laughing at us.