By Samuel Huntington
The sun shines brightly in new exhibition SPLASH by local artist Kenton Nelson on display at California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica.
Nelson is a self-taught muralist who turned to painting in the early 1990’s after becoming frustrated in his career as a commercial artist.
Billed as having work that “constitutes a world unto itself,” Nelson is known for a style of painting that is reminiscent of the “sun drenched optimism” of some New Deal, World War II styles of painting.
There does appear to be something aspirational in the artist’s work. Viewing Nelson’s work, one gets the sense that the greatest part of life is the thrill of simply being alive.
Nelson’s portraits have a larger-than-life sensibility while also demonstrating a distinct type of privacy. His exhibition includes vivid portraits of women that appear to be going places without indicating where the place might be.
“He goes out and sees a landscape and this allows him to put anything back into it,” explained California Heritage Museum Art Gallery Assistant Mike Snow.
It’s perhaps in this where some of his hopefulness comes from; the idea that all suffering is temporary and that the path to a good life is in the hope of something larger, or the thought that we come from the presence of something larger.
A series of three intimate portraits of a beautiful blond woman in a white bikini quietly drinking in the sun is part of a series of four, with Snow explaining that the images were created with the hope that perhaps one day they may be resurrected under one roof in a gallery somewhere in a type of artistic reunion.
This might also be the hope and the understanding that the life of a piece of art will live on after the life of the artist.
With walls covered in images of women, the sole image of a male is a young man sitting at a dock at the edge of a lake looking up resplendently out at the horizon. He is seemingly looking out at a beautiful world full of subjects to paint.
SPLASH is on display at The California Heritage Museum through June 12th. Go to californiaheritagemuseum.org