Carlton Nell was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1962. He received a B.F.A. from Auburn University in Alabama and an M.F.A. from Georgia State University, Atlanta. Nell’s small oil paintings, measuring 8 x 10 inches on birch panels, capture the essence of a moment, a place, a sensation in nature.
Less specific places than visual haikus, the works conjure a universal understanding and perception of space, sky, land, clouds, grass, trees. Most of the artist’s rich paintings, sometimes built in thick impasto, reference something the artist has seen in nature and remembers, a cloud formation, a nighttime sky. When Nell sees a natural phenomenon he would like to transform in paint, he often takes notes on colors, shapes, light, atmosphere, desiring to re-create nature’s palette in his unique distilled format. He is as captivated by the light and shadow of day as he is by the mysteries of the night, by the way light flickers on waves in the ocean, sparkles through dense summer leaves, and is minimally present when the sun leaves the sky.
Nell’s paintings, all of the same scale, are not titled, but numbered. Each is called “Composition #,” and each is consecutively numbered, one after the other, like a tone poem. The artist’s intellectual approach to his identification of the works removes any personal association and focuses on the meditative quality of the paintings. His genuine fascination of the natural world, and close observation thereof, allows him to delve deeper into the nuances of nature. Sometimes an ethereal white cloud becomes the entire painting with the slightest glimmer of blue at the edge; at others he fills the panel with a night sky, so dense and dark the viewer’s eye has to adjust to the lack of light to see the tiny sparkling stars and the ghost-like shadows of black trees.
It is clear from the artist’s “compositions” that structure is as important to him as is the desire to paint what is “essential” in nature. Rarely does he depict an entire “scene,” for Nell the smaller passage or detail suggests a larger universe.
Nell says of his works: “They are interpretations of scenes, rather than replications.” Nell draws the viewer into his panels in ways that large paintings do not offer. His works are rich invitations to the viewer to contemplate nature in a quiet and reverent way.