By David Rogers. August 31, 2016. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Once Roger Allen Nelson warms up to you, it’s hard for him not to go deeper in explaining his special works and the life experiences that have led to this moment in time. And it is time well spent.
Take a quick look at a Roger Nelson oil painting and it is a bit like looking through a window onto an open landscape. Glancing from frame to frame, you are instantly transported with every flick of your head from a pastoral Valle Crucis farmhouse scene to a scenic panaroma perspective from Rough Ridge to a view of the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge over Flat Top Road. He is adept at catching the impact of light, whether seen in thunder cloud-filled sky or reflections on a lake in the shadow of Grandfather Mountain. Nelson is a realist.
The biggest influence for a realist painter is to go out in nature.
As good as he is with his oils, though, Nelson’s passion for art and his craft seem to ratchet up a notch when he starts talking about painting frescoes. These days, he commands his own fresco commissions, but he has also worked as an assistant to the renowned Ben Long, in Charlotte, in France, and other areas of the world, learning the special craft of fresco painting – which goes far beyond slathering pigment on a plaster surface you learn as you hear him describe the intricate process.
For a guy who started out studying chemistry, biology and anatomy, Nelson has done quite well for himself after finding his soul in a creative side, although as a realist, certainly Nelson’s knowledge of and attention to scientific details comes in handy.
“For starters,” Nelson explained to Blowing Rock News in an interview as he paused in unloading some 20 pieces of art for his Blowing Rock Frameworks exhibition this week, “I think the biggest influence for a realist painter is to go out into nature, to paint outside. I do a combination of plein air (and studio).”
With a wave of his arm around the room, sweeping across quick looks at his finished paintings, Nelson added, “Probably 90% of these paintings were done on site, but a lot of them I will work in the studio as well, to tighten them up a little bit. I usually carry around a digital camera when I am out, but a lot of unique little things happen out there when you are standing in the moment. These are mountain landscapes, but I like to do urban landscapes as well. You end up with people walking into your scene and they are sitting just perfect, but they are going to be gone in five minutes. They are going to get up and leave. It the subject is right, I’ll shoot a picture to get them in the scene later, but I keep a lot of things up here, in my head.
You wouldn’t believe what comes out of the woods when everyone has gone.
“Walking in the morning or in the evening,” Nelson recounted, “that’s when the light is best. I’ll just stop for five minutes and take it all in, the colors and stuff.”
“The key is to work even when you are not inspired,” advised Nelson. “The inspiration comes somewhere in the middle of the work. You may be out in the field and you are just focused on what you are doing. I have been snuck up on from behind by people, by cows and other different things.”
He laughed in recalling, “I used to go up on Grandfather Mountain after everyone had left at six or seven o’clock. The sun might not go down until eight or nine. You wouldn’t believe what comes out of the woods when everyone has gone. One time I was walking back to my car and there was a big bear, right in my path.”
It’s probably a good thing that the American black bear is mostly vegetarian and any meat is usually off of the carcasses of already dead animals.
“In the realist school of painting,” Nelson admitted, “a lot of people ask why don’t you paint more from photographs. I kind of look at it as my own journey. I’m out there painting a landscape and wearing my floppy hat, I absorb a lot of stuff and it enriches my own soul. The that is produced from that experience is the gratification, inside of myself. I don’t want to romanticize it too much. There are bugs and the heat of the sun.”
I don’t want to romanticize it too much. There are bugs and the heat of the sun.
From interviewing prospective patrons commissioning a large mural in a church or some kind of public art, to sharing sketches of his ideas for what the finished frescoe might look like, to plotting out the actual design and execution of the work, Nelson is meticulous in his work. Few things seem to be an accident. He brings both the discipline of studying science for many years, as well as the passion of a hopeless romantic to his craft.
Nelson began his artistic studies in 1972 at the Atelier Lach School of Fine Arts in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a school that traces its roots to Jean Auguste Dominque Ingress, who is described by history books as a realist and naturalist with a penchant for adding quaint eccentricity to his works. The now Blowing Rock resident earned a degree in Fine Arts and Art History from the University of Minnesota. Although he first studied in the French academic tradition, Nelson developed a taste for larger work and public art when he was commissioned by the City of Minneapolis to design and paint murals.
He told Blowing Rock News that at various times in his life he has worked other jobs to support his passion, including carpentry work and renovations. “I was pretty good at making plans and designing things,” he smiled.
After being introduced to fresco master Ben Long in 1989, he signed on as a volunteer assistant to help with work on a fresco at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Charlotte. He ultimately was named Chief Associate Artist to Long and worked with him on frescoes not only in North Carolina, but also in Europe.
While the official reception for Nelson’s exhibit is on Saturday, September 3rd, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm, his exhibit will be available for public viewing from September 1-10 at Blowing Rock Frameworks and Gallery.