Johnson City Press
Milligan College alumnus Nathan Pelson says in his artist statement that “Learn-Study-Experiment” represents an evolution of thinking over the three years he lived in Asia. His years there were divided into three distinct phases: The first one of learning to accept and define himself in context, the second one studying other cultures and coming to terms with them and the third one exploring social structures in his art. Specifics aren’t given, but the observation and consideration come through in his later work.
His exhibit is up through Sept. 27 at the Milligan College Art Gallery, located in the lower level of Derthick Hall and explores the world in paintings, drawings, assembled fabric pieces and outdoor installations, which he photographed.
He bills himself as being primarily interested in composition, and Pelton expresses himself with graphic lines, bold shapes and striking color contrasts. Yet, there is more to his work than that.
I stopped to talk to Pelton’s college art teacher Nick Blosser while I was looking at the show, and Blosser said his installation photographs highlighted the gray of the region. Visual people like him often tune in to the obvious, and that is no insult. It’s just an illustration of the different ways people look at art. It would be interesting, I told him, to have several people study the same work of art and talk about what struck them about it.
In Pelton’s 2007 photographic series “Beautification,” he has photographed pink, yellow and orange daisy petals arranged meticulously and placed in unexpected spots that are as graphic as the petals that fill them and accentuate the shapes: cracks and holes in the pavement and under piles of rubble. The color contrasts with the gray, yes, and the order of the petals to the disarray surrounding them to create instant sculpture. But there’s something more spiritual underlying the effort.
Doesn’t it say something about man’s survival instinct and faith, about the act of giving and devotion?
Many of his paintings include text that is often obscured. The ruminations seem an attempt to come to terms with change and suggested rupture that is symbolized by amputated limbs, cut skin and bared flesh that is less a provocation than a plea.
His pencil on paper “Creation” series, 2005, features shadowy bodily images contrasted with incisions on unidentifiable surfaces. They are images of beauty and pain and life and death. Simply the manner in which the incisions visually close the picture surface suggest endings.
Life and loss is reflected most overtly in his mixed media “The Hymn,” from his “Last Supper Series,” 2006.
It features a sculpture of the “Last Supper,” collaged photographs of arms raised in praise or shock, the stub of what looks like a stunted damaged limb, an open palm that is at once welcoming and vulnerable, and an image of an ancient cathedral.
The images run up the left side and across the canvas like a newsreel and open the ancient gray wall-like surface, suggesting what we hold onto under duress.
The 2005 abstraction “Untitled,” an oil and pencil diptych, reflects past and present and transition in the unveiling colors and dark areas that suggest a tunnel to and fro and an absolute block despite its snaky character.
It’s architectural, and we can glimpse buildings along a night street, the differing color blocks suggesting roads, lamp light on the pavement and in the glass and structures along it.
Two of the most interesting pieces in the show are “Swatches” and “Swatches 2,” assembled fabric pieces from 2006 that combine the dynamism of his 2007 calligraphic black ink on rice paper abstract drawings with the solid structure of his abstract paintings.
The soft fabric contrasts with the background as the dark inks do with the white, yet they retain a sculptural presence.
There is something forlorn and hopeful about them as well. They are our spirits: sometimes pulled together from damaged parts and singing of survival, like the daisies in the path.