You could say that Bob Nelson is a veteran when it comes to art. But not in the way you'd think.
Throughout his formative years in Florida and Los Angeles he always had a sense that being an artist was in the cards for him, but after a couple years at a junior college he found himself in the Navy and was soon relocated to San Diego in 1975. And like so many dreamers before him, his original ambitions and youthful aspirations were left behind for what you might call practicality.
Flash forward more than 30 years. No longer working for Uncle Sam and well into his 50s, Nelson says he's rediscovered that original passion. But looking at this week's cover art, “Sleepytime,” or any of his hauntingly surreal graphite and charcoal drawings (which can be seen on his website, www.rlnart.com), the viewer might get the sense that he may have been holding it back all these years, but at least it has finally manifested. Either that, or the viewer might just get really disturbed.
“While some of my work might have specific meanings or storylines, some are more purely visual images,” Nelson says. “Like ‘Sleepytime,' which is intended to provoke a personal emotion or meaning from the viewer.”
Cryptic as he may be about the meaning, Nelson will often use children or toys to grab a viewer somewhere deep within, a place they perhaps haven't explored in awhile—a gut level that might not be that easy to explain to yourself or to others when viewing it at Drawn In, a new exhibition of Nelson and other artists at Noel-Baza Fine Art that opens April 7.
“Children's toys are great subject matter because they possess such a range of meaning and feelings with people that it can open a piece up for multiple interpretations,” Nelson says.
Nelson expands even more on his website: “It is hoped that this work can succeed in multiple ways. I strive for an image that works on an immediate level but that also can be appreciated in a deeper way. I like to work with ideas and themes but not necessarily specific meaning. Meaning comes from the image. Hopefully viewers will find some meaning in an image that is personal to themselves.”
However the viewer takes in a seemingly demented clown with rabbit ears and angel wings, or toy dolls hanging from nooses in the desert, there's no doubting at least one of the meanings for Nelson: his rebirth as a working artist.