British artist Stephen Nelson makes strange and highly personable objects and constructions, often playfully domestic and comedic, using a wide variety of salvaged materials selected for their colour, texture and character. Working with anything from sea worn plastic toys, clay pipes, wire, painted drift wood to cloth, carpet and leather, Nelson’s sculptures have an improvised and makeshift attitude, forming part of a curious world of ‘possible objects’ which defy critical context by reaching out through their physicality.
Nelson’s work juxtaposes poor and disposable materials — discarded toys, old carpet, string — with precious materials, such as Florentine gold leaf and bronze, all collected from his life through extensive travels as well as online. Just as Nelson uses ‘high’ and ‘low’ forms of activity to search and collect his materials so he does not position any one material as more important than another within his sculpture or assemblage. In this way his practise can be said to have strong links to Arte Povera and in particular, their intention to contrast the new and the old, between unprocessed and man-made elements, between primitive and consumer cultures in order to complicate our sense of the effects of time. The collected materials are like motifs or momentos from the artist’s life, highly personal yet also referencing symbolic, especially totemic forms, specific yet ambiguous, resistant to linear narrative, leaving the viewer open to a range of familiar yet unfamiliar worlds.
This display by Stephen Nelson forms a landscape of artefacts which inhabit the Contemporary Art Society, which both references and refuses the traditional display mechanisms of archaeological and ethnographic objects. The exhibition, while referencing history and topography, sing out of an unrecognisable time and place.
Stephen Nelson was born in Liverpool in 1961, and lives and works in London. He gained his BA in Fine Art at South Glamorgan Institute (1983), followed by a Masters in Fine Art at Birmingham University (1985). Solo exhibitions include, It’s a Soft Hard World, Space Station Sixty Five, London (2008), Tepuis, Camden Arts Centre, London (1996), Wax, Adam Gallery, London (1994), Bronze, Mario Flecha Gallery, London (1993) and Untitled, Adam Gallery, London (1992). His numerous group exhibitions include Students, Patients, Paupers, St Phillips, LSE London (2011), Rhizomatic, Departure Gallery, London (2010), Domestic, Tannery Arts, London (2006), Thy neighbours ox, Space Station Sixty Five (2005) which he also curated and 100 Drawings, Drawing Room, London (2003). In 1999 Nelson was appointed the Arts Council of England Helen Chadwick Fellow in Sculpture, during which period he developed a series of works about wolves that related to his time spent at the British School in Rome and at Oxford University.