Catalogue essay by Gordon Snyder, 2006
Looking at Val Nelson’s works, one recalls the anticipatory excitement prior to boarding a flight for a holiday. The paintings and drawings are themselves a form of journey/experience that intimately involves the viewer. Nelson records characteristics of her subject, but the finished work is infused with qualities that transcend the merely visible.
Whether depicting a bustling train station, a ballroom resplendent with French 18th century furniture or a simple tray of airline food, Nelson’s paintings encourage the viewer to participate in the creation of her work. Demonstrating a confident virtuosity when drawing with both ink and paint, Nelson is enticed by travel and the European painting traditions, acknowledging the influence of many artists including Francis Bacon, Cy Twombly, Raoul Dufy, Alberto Giacometti, and Canada’s own Ann Kipling.
Like Kipling, Nelson fragments a subject and then reconstructs it. The tension created by the interaction of her marks with the surface of the canvas is an expression of her awareness of the complexities involved in the act of looking. Seen from a contemporary perspective, the subject she represents holds less importance than the manner of its rendering. Nelson respects the two dimensions of the pictorial surface and her mark-making demonstrates detailed attention paid to its interaction with the picture plane. What might appear unfinished from one viewpoint is perceived complete from another angle.
Nelson’s paintings can be equated to a film or stage set where the viewer plays out his or her fantasies. Her depictions of tourist sites and travel locations address her continued interest in the elusive search for happiness. She is intrigued by the symbols of travel — the sites we visit, the ways we get there and the objects we carry with us. Her application of control and chance in her process mirrors both the planned and unpredictable paths of the traveler.