Drowning Barbie, Beauty Queens and Wonder Woman. An Interview with artist Daena Title


Stockholm Syndrome, Daena Title

This is a blog post that is way overdue.  I met Daena on Facebook in the Fall of 2016 in a group managed by poet, publisher and curator Didi Menendez.  Didi was looking at new ways to get those of us in this space to engage with each other and tossed out a challenge of artists interviewing each other.  A number of us raised our virtual hands, volunteering, which led Didi to assign Daena and me to each other.

We traded contact information and several emails where we laid out a framework of thoughts to guide us.   Daena suggested a Skype video call with an idea that recording that call would be an interesting method of conducting a joint interview.   And we did that.  Sort of.  While not recording, we had an initial videoconference and talked for a long time.  Neither of us was happy with the video quality and decided that while the idea is still worth pursuing, that for the “assignment” given to us by Didi, we’d write up a more typical interview post.

Five months later, I am sitting down to write up that video call, along with the email conversations we had leading up to it.

JN:  I see very strong feminist imagery in your work.  Tell me where that comes from.

DT:  it’s not that I pick Feminist issues and paint them, it’s that I get obsessed with something (perhaps a photograph or the idea of painting underwater reflections) and then 4 paintings in I look at them and go, “Oh.  I get it.  That’s…” and inevitably it’s some Feminist diatribe.

I have been an ardent Feminist since I gave up cheerleading in 1972, and I guess it just permeates my soul and there’s no escaping it.

JN:  How did you get here?  I see that you were very active in theatre early on.

DT: It’s a checkered past.  From theater, to screenplay writing. It wasn’t until I weaned my first son that I wanted to return to art, which I’d loved pre-college.


Big Doll, Daena Title

I see that my art is semi-narrative and dramatic at times, but otherwise don’t see much of a connection to theater days.  Theater was so social and collaborative.  Things I was happy to trade away for quiet time alone in my studio. How about you?

JN:  Checkered is a good term!  I also have a theater background, and share your viewpoint that the time in the studio is a good trade-off.  I talk about my evolution from theatre to the studio in this blog post.

DT: I recently survived a bout with breast cancer, and I find that’s moving me down a new, as yet unclear, path.  Funny that, two moments where my art is being launched, and both tied to my breasts. Hah! How essentially female of me.

JN:  Ah yes, you mentioned the birth of your first son as a catalyst to returning to art after a long hiatus.  Congratulations on being a survivor!  My wife, Connie, is also among your ranks.  What can you tell us about the shift that is happening for you?

DT: Yes.  It’s a plague. I’m sorry to hear that. For the art, my hope is to be less didactic and more joyful.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the way to contribute as an artist is to bring joy to others.

I loved that old saying from the movie tycoon (Samuel Goldwyn) in the 40’s, “If I wanted to send a message, I’d call Western Union”.  As if anyone even knows what Western Union is today. But hope I can be less didactic somehow in future.  I love my Beauty Queens, but I’d love to paint animals for example.

JN:  Well, your palette sure imparts emotional feeling, I think you experience your own joy in working with color.  I am reminded of the Fauvists.  Tell me about that.

DT: Totally devoted to color, yup, and obviously grew up on the Fauvists and Der Blaue Reiter and early Kandinsky. I just don’t understand neutral colored art. But a high chroma surrounded by neutral support, that’s a piece of heaven that I would love to explore more.

I remember seeing Matisse’s portrait of his wife at MOMA as a child and saying– Oh gosh–that’s how I see. A shock of recognition.


The Green Line, Matisse, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

JN:  For years, B&W best expressed my responses to the world.  I am not sure why that was, what the drivers were for it.  Today, color is more interesting to me and is increasing as a part of my vocabulary, though when I look into most of my imagery, it seems that the palettes are pretty subdued.  I wonder if there is a connection between that and my earlier preference or self-selection of working in B&W?  It seems that we have a different way of seeing the world of color.

DT: I will sometimes use black or white as a color, but rarely use black to create a value scale. And often, not white.  Also, I usually paint with a full spectrum palette.

JN:  Let’s talk a bit about process.  I plan ahead, doing compositional work in the prep stage with my cameras.  I think the discipline was developed by the relatively high cost of film and dark room time.  Getting everything right before releasing the shutter was critically important to me, and even now with wonderful digital cameras, this process persists.  I am very deliberate.  The process of painting or drawing also has parallels with my photography, the works start to emerge like a photograph in the developer tray in a dark room, layers and time bring them to the point where I feel they are complete.  Tell me about your process.

DT:  I am more impatient and improvisational. Like you I plan out most of the composition ahead of time, but do not set the values or color.  Those are discovered as I work. The painting tells me where it needs to go. It is more a path of happy (or unhappy) accident and discovery.  In fact, I often put in too much, and then have to eliminate and simplify.


Wonder Woman at the Disco

JN:  So we could say that I see in patterns of value, and you see in color.

DT:  Absolutely. If you look at, for example, at the torso of “Great Britain”, you can see that it’s not so much a study in value as in color.  In places, the only thing that creates the form is the use of warm vs cool, rather than a grey scale of value.


Great Britain, Daena Title

I’m also experimenting with a more indirect form of painting. Underpainting, planning values and layering.  Interested in seeing if the use of under painted layers will add to my conversation or hurt it.

JN:  I recently completed a studio space that frees me to change my processes from working one-at-a-time to doing a series of works simultaneously, as well as the potential for increasing the scale of individual works.  Being able to move between pieces as drying times dictate is something I’ve not had the liberty to explore.  How that added capacity adds to or changes my processes will remain to be seen.  What about you?

DT: I am trying to work on more than one piece at a time, but inevitably I end up obsessing about one of them until it’s first draft is done.  It’s a battle because I’m very impatient and I hate waiting for paint to dry, even when I know I should.  OCD?

JN:  I guess we’ll learn a lot by trying these experiments!

DT: Your work in the cannery series is very Charles Demuth/Precisionists.  Are you drawn to their work? Whose work do you admire?

JN:  In fact, I co-curated a show with fellow artist and friend Allan Gorman for the Nichole Longnecker Gallery in Houston that ran from  February 27th through April 1st, 2017 called “Industrialism in the 21st Century” where works from this series were on display alongside works of 9 other artists.  Demuth, Sheeler, O’Keefe… all influences, more for their representational painting during a time when Abstract Expressionism ruled than for the specific subject matter, though grain silos and similar imagery resonated for me as a young artist living in rural Nebraska.


Pressure #1, Jan Anders Nelson

Daena: YEEEESSSS! Love these guys. I’m drawn to their fracturing, almost cubist work. I was recently working on trying to add a temporal element to Precisionism. As well as apply it to Figure painting as seen in my painting “It’s all a Blur”


It’s all a Blur, Daena Title

Emotional Cubism as Compositional Collage via Precisionism’s fracturing of space:

In “It’s All A Blur”, I continue my experimentation with Compositional Collage, here adding a Temporal Component to my form of Precisionism. I’m trying to capture what I’ve been thinking of as “Emotional Cubism”, that is, instead of showing an object from all sides, showing an emotional event from all sides and through a moment in time. My hope is to convey the inexact way our brains and souls register and remember a highly charged event.

JN: I love how we have these threads of commonality, with visual imagery that is so very different.

Daena:  Though we land at different paces on the scale, both of us have similar challenges:

When is a painting done?  When is there too much detail?  When is too much said?  What should be left out?

JN:  Indeed.  Though my drawing and painting have strong photographic references,  I work to reduce the imagery to become only those details that I find essential.  Determining what not to paint is a part of it.

Daena:  Also interesting that you mentioned living in Nebraska.  I’m wondering what the light is like there. Never been.  I grew up in NY.   Lots of blue light and very yellow-green trees.  But I’ve spent the last 30 years in LA.  Flat yellow light and blue green trees and dusty chaparral.  Really ugly.  To me anyway. Do you find where you’re living effects what you’re making?  Or do you just carry your art inside you?  I find the earlier influences seem to be more important than where I am now. So no Georgia O’Keefe shift for me. It reminds me of what you said earlier, that in some ways your art is memory.  How the shifts from the past and the now blend, how that synthesis affects the aesthetic.

JN:  Yes, I think the light does make a difference.  The intensity of the midday Sun over the Great Plains is very different from the “Bluest skies you’ll ever see” here in the Pacific Northwest.  As I write this, it is raining outside in a typically Washington Spring sort of way.

John Salt said this about light in the United States:  “…the light is much sharper, you get incredibly clear light, much harder, it’s much softer in Britain, it doesn’t quite have that edge – edge in every way, in light and subject matter.”

I do not think John spent any time in this part of the world, but his words resonate with my time in the Midwest.  “Chev” is a slide I shot in the mid 70s while living in Nebraska and (I think) captures that intensity.


Photoshop mockup for a painting “Chev”, a part of the series “Dirty Picture Show”, Jan Anders Nelson

Daena:  Did I tell you that I remember David Hockney was quoted about that.  He said as a boy in England he saw pictures or movies of America and he couldn’t believe how sharp the shadows were.  I love that story because we take that for granted here, and also because it shows that he was destined to be an artist if he noticed those sorts of things as a child.

JN:  I wonder if introversion might also play a role in how we observe and note the world around us as figurative artists.  I think that is true in my case.

Daena, thanks so much for taking the time to tell me about your life and work, and for your patience in waiting for me to follow-through and write our conversations up.  Recently you told me that our dialog had some value for you, both in process and clarifying your viewpoint.

Daena:  I arranged a monitor in my studio, not as large as yours, but sizable, to work from and am so happy!  Also, I have found that our conversation was deeply helpful to me. Delving into your process helped me understand my own with new and greater clarity. I realized, for me, it wasn’t a weakness, as I believe I was harboring the notion of on some level, that I didn’t plan out my values and colors ahead of time.  Rather, the journey of discovery is where my strength lies. Seeing how beautifully well it worked for you, made me understand it could never work for me.  Funny that.

Jan Anders Nelson, Art Studio

Working on “Pressure #1” for “Industrialism in the 21st Century”, an exhibit at the Nicole Longnecker Gallery, Houston Texas, 2017, Jan Anders Nelson Studio


Jan Anders Nelson Studio

JN:  Ah yes!  The monitor is such a great tool for me.  With the advent of 4K televisions, the key issue for me was building a little studio computer that would drive that resolution and then finding a deal on a 52” screen and rolling cart to hold them.

I am thrilled that our conversations have played a role in your thinking about your approach and am really looking forward to seeing what comes out of your studio and in continuing our conversations.  And thank you Didi for making us talk to each other!



Raised on Long Island, lifelong Feminist Daena Title received a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Theatre Studies from Wellesley College, and then lived in Manhattan until 1991 where she worked as an actress and a writer. Title then returned to painting as the best avenue with which to control her artistic message, mine her ongoing fascination/obsession with the relationship between women and society, and indulge her love of color and design. Her work, which focuses on the powerfully seductive force of modern female icons, has been shown in gallery and museum spaces since 1998, including recent group exhibitions at the Carnegie Art Museum, the Long Beach Art Museum, The Oceanside Museum, the Riverside Museum, the Torrance Art Museum and the LA Art Fair. Title has received critical praise for past solo exhibitions from the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, and the Huffington Post among other publications and is proud that her work has been featured in several PoetsArtists shows and publications, is part of the Brooklyn Museum Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art Online Feminist Art base and the Tullman Collection of Chicago. Title currently resides and works in Los Angeles.

“Industrialism in the 21st Century”, Curating a group show

In studio, at work

Jan Anders Nelson working in his studio, February 2017 – photo by Eva Munday


This is my first effort at curating a group show, a role that came unexpectedly as part of a conversation I had with Brad Barber, Marketing Director, Nicole Longnecker Gallery.  I’ve known Brad for a long time, with shared passions for cars, motorcycles, music and art. Though we’ve only ever met on the Internet, the friendship is not virtual, it is real.  That virtual reality is an interesting and growing force in the art world where access to art is now a mainstream, global experience.  Just as viewing works of art is as easy as entering a search term, so are creating new communities of working artists with shared interests.

The creation of this exhibit rests firmly on a rich, online network effect that made it possible to connect with artists while thinking about what focus of the show would become.  The speed of communication, sharing works and words, seeking other artists to consider and managing all aspects of curating a solid collection of works assured that all stakeholders could work with relatively few seams and pretty good agility.

This emerging capability for artists to gather in self-selected and curated communities helps provide fuel for both group and individual art works.  I am fascinated by this new social construct and the implications for a new, global art market.  I do not attempt to answer any questions here about what will drive curators, collectors, museums or galleries to intersect with these art communities.  I am curious to learn where we are all headed.

Curator’s Statement from the exhibition catalog:

When I received the call asking if I was interested in curating an exhibition for the Nicole Longnecker Gallery, I was both excited and more than a little nervous. Excited at the prospect of making all the hard curatorial choices of selecting a set of artists and the art works that would comprise a great show and nervous about the prospect of the same…

We initially talked about a desire to bring an urban-based realism theme into Houston, something that would be fresh, new to the community. I quickly realized that if I were to deliver on this I would need help. Enter fellow artist and friend, Allan Gorman. Allan graciously agreed to become a co-curator and immediately rolled up his sleeves, collaborating on building lists of potential artists, on developing a theme, working to do a virtual installation of selected works based on the gallery floor plan, helping out with communications with the artists and getting another gifted artist and writer, Lorena Kloosterboer, who lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium to write up the exhibition statement.


Logo design by Allan Gorman, co-curator

I am deeply grateful for Allan’s hard work collaborating with me on this show.
It was incredibly difficult to narrow the scope of artists to those who are in this exhibit, there is so much wonderful art being made today. However as I worked with Allan through the process of defining the body of work, I truly enjoyed the refinement process of bringing the set of works together that, in my opinion, present a wonderful visual treat. And, I have been getting to know a new set of artists, which I find very rewarding.

Four decades ago, my friend and mentor, Don Eddy, suggested that it is important for an artist to get together with a group of other artists, that the community is an important source of creative energy. I view this group of artists as one aspect of that community, many of us connected by social media, a few living close enough to meet in person frequently. My hope is that as we move on, more of us will meet in person and that our conversations will grow and deepen to add to that creative energy Don was talking about so many years ago.


“Pressure #1″ Jan Anders Nelson, 2017  oil on canvas, 40″ x 60”

Though the artists come from across North America, displaying a wonderful diversity of imagery and technique, throughout the selection process no thought was given to geography. And, while we started from the seed of an idea of urban realism, the resulting body of work is much bigger than that, exploring a contemporary view into an idea of “industrialism” though not strictly tied to it, of the ties to a group of artists working almost a century ago who loosely referring to themselves as the “Precisionists” and with an eye toward the future.

Pressure #2 triptych_smaller.jpg

“Pressure #2″ Jan Anders Nelson, 2017 photographs on aluminum panels, overall 30″ x 72”

There is so much here for you to see from across the continent: Californian Joe Santos’ beautiful watercolors depicting aspects of heavy machinery, Detroit photographer James Ritchie’s haunting imagery of an industrial era that echoes Demuth and Sheeler, the landscape paintings of another Detroit artist, Stephen Magsig setting industry and nature into a wonderful dissonance, Houston’s own Mark Cervenka with his dark, moody setting that shares a sense of place, engaging with a story being illustrated, Ottowa artist Sheryl Luxenburg and her tightly rendered watercolors of the glass and steel of the Shaw Centre, Chicago artist Rolland Kulla’s paintings of bridges that tell stories of industry in motion, Ontario-based British artist Chris Klein’s dramatic paintings of salvage yard scenes, New Jersey artist Allan Gorman and the abstraction that lives in his paintings of riveted steel girders and buildings, and New York City’s Don Eddy whose richly layered paintings talk to the spiritual as well as the physicality of his imagery. And my work, reflections of time and its effects on human endeavor.
I hope that the viewer finds this exhibit as delightful as I do.

Jan Anders Nelson
February, 2017

Conversations with Don (1200x799)

“Conversations with Don” Jan Anders Nelson, 2014 graphite on rag, 16.5″ x 25.5″

Exhibition Catalog available:


Hardcover available on Amazon:  13″ x 10″ imaged wrapped.  50 full color pages on proline pearl photo #140 pages.




Eric Green – Artist, Poet & Novelist


I’ve known Eric for a fairly short time now, we met via the fabric of social media a couple of years ago and have been exploring the things we have in common as well as those that are unique to each of us.  The following interview was originally intended for a different blog altogether, but I am pleased that Eric asked me if I would pick up where the session left off and publish this.

Let’s begin with Eric’s own words, which can be perceived as spare or concise, but are always brutally honest:

EG:  Since the age of eleven I’ve written, drawn or painted almost every day. That’s 48 years of work. For my Time Diptych series I drew for 19 months without a single day off. This was needed at the time but turned into a huge mistake in terms of health.

JN:Who are you and what do you do?

EG: I draw, paint, write novels, short stories, and columns.

JN:  I’ve enjoyed reading your works, you have a gift of turning the settings of your stories and poetry into richly illustrated art forms.  It feels like there is not much distance between your visual art and your literary art.  Why do you do what you do?

EG:  I suppose I was compelled because of being overwhelmed by the poetry of being alive. I wanted to show others what I felt and saw.

JN:  How do you work?

EG:  In a room. Whatever apartment or house I’ve lived in, I simply choose a room and begin working. I’ve never had a studio. Artists with fancy studios just seem pompous, and they usually are.

JN:  I am super thrilled to have recently completed a dedicated studio space, but could not agree more that making art happens wherever the artist is.  Do you feel that your art reflects your personality?

EG:  I sure hope so. My work is, of course, primarily about my relationship to God. Real art, as opposed to decorative or commemorative art, is usually about the distance between the artist and God.

JN:  Has your practice changed?

EG:  Why would it change? I’ve resisted caving into money or art world opinion as too many artists usually do.

JN:  That pressure, to accept feedback intentional or subliminal and be driven by it is very real for most of us isn’t it?  Keeping your personal values intact is critical.  What are some of the most inspiring things happening at present?

EG:  I’m working on a new series that should be more powerful and engaging than my Time Diptychs or my Mirrored Rooms. What would be the point otherwise? Most artists make the same painting over and over and over. I would be too bored to do that.

Time Diptych: Bridge, 2014, Grisaille, varnish and colored pencil on board, 16 x 25 inches, 40.6 x 63.5 cm, including 1″ in between, Arkansas Arts Center Permanent Collection



JN:  I loved being able to see your latest show at Ameringer, McEnery, Yohe (A/M/Y) in New York City this past year and those color pencil drawings.  They are spectacular.  I look forward to seeing what you intent to be more impactful!  What is the artist’s role within their community?

EG:  To lead the culture spiritually. To show that poetic aesthetics is much more important than anything else once you have food, shelter, warmth, and reasonable safety. This creates the quality of life, not more stuff.

JN:  What art do you most identify with?

EG:  Art that changes my life and perception of reality (or our reality of agreement).

JN: What’s the last art object that you purchased?

EG:  Two Rod Penner paintings from A/M/Y in New York. Parents want their children to be creative, but ask the parents how much money they have spent on art. Something wrong there! I’ve spent a considerable amount (considerable considering my poverty over most of my life), let’s say well over 50k on the work of living artists. If you buy dead artists, you’re only helping yourself. Think about it!


Falling Match III, 2000, graphite on paper, 14″ x 11″, Private collection


JN:  Indeed, getting a gem from an artist friend is one of the most special experiences, to have that connection, to talk to each other… though I have a few works from before I was born that mean a lot to me as well.  What work do you most enjoy?

EG:  Solving problems. And I find mowing the lawn or stacking cord wood nice because I don’t have to think. Thinking is exhausting. I also love writing novels—a true delight.

JN:  Do you have any creative habits or rituals?

EG:  Get up early (dawn) and begin working. Once the world intrudes, you’re screwed. I spend the afternoons drinking beer. Without clean fresh beer I could never do what I do.

JN:  What themes and symbolism do you employ?

EG:  God is nature. Nature forms most of our aesthetics so I spend a lot of time looking at it, studying it. Beer goes good with this process of observing.

JN:  What was the last show that you saw and how did you like it?

EG:  It was a local show and so boring and clichéd I won’t comment.

JN:  What is your favorite viewer response to your art?

EG:  “Your work changed the way I see the world. It made me really notice the simple things around me. Thank you! Can I buy you a beer?”

JN:  That is powerful stuff, I hope to hear it myself.  Could you tell me about your most memorable response to a work of art?

EG:  I usually laugh insanely, then I get chills, then I feel like crying. Antonio Lopez Garcia at the MFA in Boston did this to me. Of course, the teenager next to me said it all when he bellowed, “Holy fucking shite!” He knew!

JN:  I can see how Antonio would have that impact.  His precision, efforts to center himself and the work are so core to many of the elements I see in your work.  What do you dislike about your art?

EG:  If I disliked something I would fix it. I work until it clicks and I will work endlessly until it clicks, just like a terrier hangs on.

JN:  Ah, yes… I enjoyed being an observer to your working and reworking a recent painting.  You are just like that terrier.  What do you think that future generations will recall about the art world today?

EG:  Self indulgent, redundant, depressing, spiritless pap.

JN:  I hope there is reflection and recollection of those among us who were truly creators of something special as artists.  Where do you find ideas for your work?

EG:  From God. If you don’t channel God in some way, you’re probably not making real art.

JN:  Do you collect anything?

EG:  Antique furniture and lamps, electric clocks, books, pool cues, shaving brushes, moments, model O-scale trains, 1/18 model race cars from the 1920s to 1961. They must have wooden steering wheels. I’m also having two 1955 356 Continental Carrera Porsches (full size!) built to my exact specifications. Look here: http://www.quantumrun356.com.

JN:  The things you mention make appearances in many of your two dimensional works, but those miniature environments you create that have the trains integrated into them are fabulous sculptures as well.  And the cars.  We both hold a special place for the 356, but the cars you have specified are real stunners.  I would love to be driving one of them that meets you in the geographical center  of North America at speeds required of such machines.  Do you have any grievances with the art world and how it operates?

EG:  Very very few people in the art world have an eye for art. They simply have no understanding of what is good or bad. Ivan Karp commented on this constantly. He had the eye.

JN:  What is your favorite city for seeing art?

EG:  Amsterdam and Paris.

JN:  What artist do you think is most undervalued?

EG:  Most artists doing inline interviews will probably say themselves, but if I’m dead honest, without any false modesty, I would say myself as well, although that is changing rapidly. For instance, just today, A/M/Y sold a major piece to a wonderful regional museum. 45 years is a long time to starve in obscurity as other artists stole my ideas and made money. I wonder how many other modern artists would’ve stayed the course.

JN:  Yes, many of us would indeed say that.  I’ve said it myself.  Congratulations on getting one of those works into the museum by the way, that must feel pretty great!  How do you view creativity?  What does “being creative” mean to you?

EG:  Making contact with God. It’s an amazing feeling because it goes beyond the parameters we assume are rational.

JN:  However defined, there is a space where the Physical and the Metaphysical are connected and it seems to me that creativity happens in that space.  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

EG:  I never wanted to be an artist. I dislike making art rather intensely although I believe in it, delight in it after. I always wanted to be a poet, but without any family money or connections, I realized that would never fly. Still, I did publish 5 books of poems.

JN:  What do you wish to communicate with your art?

EG:  God and the joys of living a poetic life.

JN:  That sums it up!  Thanks for your time and reflections Eric, I’ve enjoyed the journey of getting to know you to this point and anticipate continuing our dialog.

Links to Eric Green’s Art & Projects:





Will We Ever Learn?

Guest post by Kelly Richman-Abdou

July 2016

Capping a Century of Change:

Terry O. Herndon Completes Comprehensive Collection of 20th Century Art with Piece by Jan Anders Nelson

“Will we ever learn?” 

An age-old question, this query has been rhetorically asked and repeatedly explored by Terry O. Herndon, a renowned Massachusetts-based art collector. With a keen focus on the 20th Century – an era he deems a “remarkable, totally unique century” – Herndon has collected some 275 American works representative of the discoveries, inventions, and changes that appeared and evolved during this time.

With its unique and impressive arsenal of artists, including American greats like Thomas Hart Benton, Stuart Davis, Wayne Thiebaud, Guy Pène du Bois, Ansel Adams, and Jacob Lawrence, the collection boasts an equally unique and impressive array of subject matter, from the revolutionary emergence of the automobile to the proliferation of petrochemicals. Now, with the acquisition of Port of Tacoma, an oil painting by Washington-based artist Jan Anders Nelson, Herndon believes he has completed his collection, viewing this work as an innate symbol of global warming and appropriate “end-piece” to his 20th Century study.

Port of Tacoma

Port of Tacoma, Jan Anders Nelson, 1978, oil on canvas


Painted in 1978, Port of Tacoma is an early work by Nelson, who worked as an art instructor at the time. Initially intended as a study for a larger work, the piece was first exhibited in a gallery on the University of Puget Sound’s campus, in an exhibition of local college art faculty.   Up until Mr. Herndon’s acquisition, the painting has remained in Nelson’s private collection.

Depicting a hazy scene of the smog and smoke offset by a pulp and paper mill, Port of Tacoma illustrates the everyday effects of industrialization on the planet, with Tacoma,Washington, as an example. Due to the palpable prevalence of pollution in the city, the “aroma of Tacoma” became an established joke among locals, who lived among its refineries, factories, and plants. With muted colors and a highly intricate level of detail, the piece presents an intimate and lamentable view of Tacoma, paying particular attention to its ample machinery and the pollution that it produces.

Unsurprisingly, Nelson’s artistic interest in the industrial is not limited to Port of Tacoma. Since the painting’s production, he has also demonstrated an affinity for the automobile, a motif constantly revisited in his oeuvre – and a passion he happens to have in common with Herndon.


Jorge & the U-Haul Trailer, Jan Anders Nelson, 2016, oil on canvas

In 1993 – 1994, Terry Herndon and his wife, Eva, shared their extensive collection of car-related Americana in Art From the Driver’s Seat: Americans and Their Cars in an exhibit at the Museum of Our National Heritage in Lexington, Massachusetts. Following this showing, the works travelled across America visiting nine additional museums. Featuring prolific pieces that remain in the collection today, the exhibition explores the role of the automobile in 20th Century American life. To illustrate the rapid growth of the modern car’s influence, Herndon turned his attention to the century’s major shift in artistic focus:

“Images created by all artists began to change from wildernesses, ocean waves, sailing ships, views of isolated farmsteads to views of paved roads and increasingly of cars, crashing elegant garden parties or sitting proudly in front of houses as part of the image’s design.”

Offering a chronological approach to the subject matter, the exhibition paved the way for Herndon’s growing collection of 20th Century art. And now, over twenty years later, it is finally complete, with Jan Anders Nelson’s Port of Tacoma as its long-awaited swansong.


Kelly Richman-Abdou:  kellyrichmond@gmail.com

Kelly is a freelance writer, currently residing in Paris.



Conversations with Don


“Silverware I” Don Eddy, 1976


When in grad school, I started to question my subject matter choices.  In particular, I was overly concerned that I was seeing other artists having their work being shown that pre-dated mine and that the subject area was “already done”.  John Salt and Ralph Goings were two of the Photorealist painters who had been active with the use of automobiles in their imagery, which was where I had also been focusing my time.  I also saw early Don Eddy work from his California years that had covered the same spaces.


“Midwestern Motel” Jan Anders Nelson, 1974

Superficial worries of originality effectively stopped me in my tracks and so I started to just make pieces that allowed me to work on technique while getting feedback from my major professors about what they thought I should be doing.

During research for a paper I needed to write for a class;  “American painters from 1950 – present” I started writing to the artists, Richard Estes and Don Eddy.  They also had what appeared superficially to be similarities in their subject matter and I wanted to dig into that, in particular since I had those feelings of being a bit lost and it seemed like a way to connect my personal philosophical search for meaning as an artist with the explorations of others.

Cover page of that research paper from 1976 with Don’s studio address noted when I was planning my move to the city.  Don no longer lives at that location, having moved to a larger loft space.


During my conversations with Don, even though my original intent was to learn more about his work for my research, he dug into what I was working on and uncovered this serious questioning I working through, and my feeling that I was not getting what I needed at the UW, though the professors there were well-intended.

Don suggested that I consider coming to New York and we concocted a plan that had me register at NYU for graduate independent study  with Don as my instructor to allow us a framework for meeting weekly to continue the conversations, though now they were no longer about his work, but soley focused on my introspection and rediscovery of myself.  I spent time in Don’s studio in the Village looking through his library of books and magazines, with very limited conversations when there since he was working at the easel all day long and I did not wish to interrupt that deep level of focus needed to work as he does.  We also went out on Wednesday evenings for pizza and beer with his friends which was a highlight for me in a week spent doing my internal investigations, making some art, taking photos and also working as a travel agent to make the rent.

The weekly meetings at NYU was where Don would ask an open-ended question about some aspect of our earlier conversations, with a very strict guideline that his opinion was not important, nor was that of my professors back in Madison.  He wanted me to do that deep soul searching to find my voice and be able to articulate it as I prepared for a return to the UW to hang my Master’s exhibition and  complete my oral defense.  Those sessions and the spaces in between were invaluable to me, the time we spent together also created a deep connection that has stayed with me throughout the decades.

As a side note, I asked Don about a set of small paintings hanging in his studio that were lovingly rendered details of a roof cornice and a few windows of a building at differing times of the day.  Don told me they were the art of his girlfriend, Leigh.  I never met Leigh Behnke when I was at NYU or in the pizza and beer evenings, but she and I learned when meeting for the first time last year that we were both graduate students attending NYU at the time I was there carrying on my conversations with Don.

While in NY, I started to throw out much of the baggage I was carrying, including influences from other professors who, in spite of good intent, were creating baby versions of themselves .  Don once quoted Brancusi to me when we talked about my thinking of continuing after the Master’s to enroll in Yale art school when he said something to the effect of “Attending a school populated by stellar artists makes it very hard for the developing artist to find themselves, nothing grows in the shade under a large tree”, “Instead, consider moving to a community of artists where there is a lot of creative stuff going on and just make your art.”

Conversations with Don (1200x799)

“Conversations with Don” Jan Anders Nelson, 1976 – 2015


I left New York when time came to meet my professors back in Wisconsin, earned that degree and moved to the West Coast in 1977.

Over the years, Don and I traded a few letters, talked on the phone a little but never met again in person until last year when his latest exhibition at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery opened.  Prior to that, Don and I reconnected on Facebook, which felt to me like picking up where we had left off.  We also now use email frequently.  At age 63, I still think of Don as my mentor  and as a friend.  I sent him a copy of that original research paper a couple of weeks ago for his amusement, and then asked him to consider what is different for him from the problems he was working on then compared to now, to think about folding time between the two times.  I  am looking forward to hearing back on that question, he asked me to let him spend some time thinking about it and doing some writing.  Once he answers that,  I might just connect the decades with my original conversations with Don and this new series in one of my art notes I publish on this WordPress site.

My conversations with Don  are a mixture of early letters, phone calls, in-person sessions at NYU, in studio moments, social settings, Facebook, his recent art opening and back in his studio this past year and email.  I look forward to our meeting again in person this coming year, we are talking about visits to New York and the West Coast.


Jan Anders Nelson

Gig Harbor, Washington



Perturbation”  Jan Anders Nelson 2015, entry in the Concinnitas Studio

The Concinnitas Project is a portfolio of 10 aquatints, visualizations by these remarkable individuals:  Michael Atiyah, Enrico Bombieri, Simon Donaldson, Freeman Dyson, Murray Gell-Mann, Richard Karp, Peter Lax, David Mumford, Stephen Smale, and Steven Weinberg.

The portfolio is a limited edition set that has traveled to several museums and art galleries world-wide since inception in 2012, currently on display at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York City from December 17 through January 23, 2016

The project, also featured in the December, 2015 issue of “Scientific American”, grew out of a chance meeting between Robert Feldman of Parasol Press and Daniel Rockmore, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Dartmouth College.  Their collaboration grew from 2014 through 2014 to connect with a series of illustrious scientists and mathematicians who were commissioned to create a drawing of a mathematical expression most meaningful to them, along with their thoughts about that work.

The word, concinnitas, was used by the Renaissances artist and architect Leon Battista Alberti to describe his ideas of how the geometry of number, line and position combined to define a work of art.  Mathematics was intertwined with the essence of his art.


“Color”  SU3 Symmetry Group Exactly Conserved,  Murray Gell-Mann

From the note accompanying Murry Gell-Mann’s drawing, “Color” he states:

“The expression presented here embodies the Lagrangian of quantum chromodynamics (“QCD”), the mathematical representation encoding the dynamics of the strong interaction, one of the fundamental physical forces along with gravitation and the weak, and electromagnetic forces. It is “beautiful” because it contains some truth.”

I love this project’s presentation of the confluence of math and art and encourage you to engage with the images and notes while on display at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery or other venues, to visit the project website and to submit your own beautiful truth into the Concinnitas Studio!


Jan Anders Nelson

Gig Harbor, Washington


Alan Shields 1944 – 2005

ShieldsAlan came to the University of Wisconsin in 1977 to chat with a few grad students.  I believe that he was there for the  opening of an exhibition at the Madison Art Center along with one of my major professors, Victor Kord.  Alan spent a couple of hours with us talking about his experiences in New York City, how his career had evolved since the late 60s and his thoughts on some of the things he felt were crucial for a young artist finding a path that would allow them to stay in the studio and make art.

I found Alan to be quite charismatic, tall and good looking with a shaved head.  When he walked into the room, the energy level went up a few gigawatts, his smile infectious.  He knew that he had an effect on people and made that a point about how he had worked hard to bring some theatre into the circles he moved in.

I never talked with Alan again after that afternoon in our studios, but remember him as a romantic, dashing actor of an artist who was working hard to define his own path, one that was not a linear progression from Abstract Expressionism, but opening up new possibilities for his creative expression.  His constructions seemed to me almost like quilt-making, using color and fabric, unstretched canvas working both sides of it, forcing the art dialog to consider that works could exist off the walls of museums and galleries.

When asked what the number one piece of advice was for us, he said that it was critically important to be a colorful persona when meeting with people at openings or parties, to make a splashy entrance, even to go as far as showing up “naked wearing a cape”.

I do not know if Alan ever actually did the cape thing, but it would not surprise me based on the short time we talked.


Jan Anders Nelson

Gig Harbor, Washington

Lucas Samaras 1936 –


The Art Department at the University of Wisconsin in Madison brought in several artist lecturers while I was doing my graduate work there, Lucas Samaras among them.  His lecture included describing how he manipulated Polaroid photographs by using a spoon or other burnishing objects to move the layers of wet dyes immediately after taking the photographs creating what he called photo-transformations.  The imagery he shared were largely self portraits that frankly were meant to startle or shock the viewer with subjects that appeared violent, mutilated or starkly sexual.

Lucas stayed on campus following his talk, visiting the graduate student studios the next day and stopping to talk with each of us about our work.  When he entered my studio, he was pretty quiet and then turned to me and asked me “If you saw a person in a window, about to jump to their death, and held up one of your works, would it stop them?”  Given the nature of his work, I was surprised by the question, thinking that the inherent violence in his self-portraits would not be the stuff to stop someone from taking that leap, that it was provocative to the point that it might actually be the thing that provided the little push they needed to go.

I understood Lucas’ point; that he wanted to make work that was in fact shocking, would stop the viewer from whatever internal conversations they were having prior to viewing his work, and reflect on his art.  It was clear to me in that moment that Samaras did not see the quiet, ordered compositions I was working on as carrying that power.  I still think about his comments to me after all these decades.


Jan Anders Nelson

Gig Harbor, Washington

Robert C. Therien Jr. 1944 –


“Greenhouse Interior” circa 1974 oil on canvas, Robert C. Therien

I entered college knowing that I would be in the choir, take classes in theatre and spend as much time as possible performing on stages, musicals, plays and of course… rock n’ roll.  Growing up in a household of musicians, it was never a question in my mind that I would do these things.  I did hold a fascination for hard science, but felt like I lacked the mathematics to dive into physics or chemistry which were the two areas that I felt the biggest connection.

As an actor, I had to try to please the director.  As a director, I struggled to get the actors to impart what I had to say.  As a set designer I was in charge of my own domain and that felt right to me for awhile.620_50025002537_4561_n

Midland Lutheran College Theatre, working on the set design for Enid Bagnold’s  “The Chalk Garden” .  The theatre company was a very tight group and the work we did was top notch.  And, my girlfriend and future wife, Connie, played the role of Miss Madrigal which was even better.Chalk Garden

But during a summer stock season at the Ogunquit Playhouse working as assistant to the set designer, I saw first hand how the producer and playhouse owner fired an incredibly talented young artist simply because he wanted a friend of his to take the job.  That control over the set designer’s future and work was a signal to me that there was more discovery to do.

And then I saw a painting done by a new art professor at the college, Robert Therien called “Three Bean Salad”.

Three Bean Salad

This large oil on canvas (about 60″ X 60″ if I recall correctly) served as a semaphore, signaling that a place existed that I already knew, where I could do what I needed to without others pushing and pulling to control my efforts.  That place was in the studio, making drawings and paintings and out in the world looking through a viewfinder to learn more about how my perceptions of that world were tied to the art I was making.

Robert had attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, working under Hal Lotterman and Victor Kord among others and was instrumental in guiding my exploration into graduate schools.  We talked of Yale and the impact of working as a young artist there going for an MFA with the influences of Joseph Albers and those that followed him echoing through the studios there.  I asked Robert about his experiences at Madison and came away impressed that the faculty and facilities were first rate, ultimately deciding to attend there and work on a Master of Arts in painting, printmaking and drawing.  During my time working in the studio with Robert, I continued to learn techniques that I use today, and still hear his voice when looking through that viewfinder telling me to make all the decisions before tripping the shutter of my Nikkormat FTN.

Warren Wolf 1924-2003

Warren was a gifted painter and teacher, a professor of art at the college where my father was the choral director.  Warren contacted Dad to let him know that a job was open at the college and advocated for his hire.  They had worked together in a high school and remained friends for the rest of Warren’s life.  I have a painting that Warren traded for a sweater my mother knitted for him, and others that we collected over the years.  Of all of the works, this one is the one that has the most connection for me:


“The Cellist” Oil on canvas, 38″ X 54″

This work hangs in the entry to our house as it did in the previous house and will remain a central focus for me for the rest of my life.

As a young boy, 10 years of age, I started to take lessons from Warren in his studio in their home next to ours.  He spent hours with me while he worked, talking about the medium, pigment, surface and brushes.  He also talked a lot about more conceptual topics that I had to stretch to understand, but am certain that are a core part of my foundation.