Two Ton Hammer
The drawings comprising this exhibition are James Nelson's reaction to the recent loss of his friend, Tomcat Mahoney, who hosted the WNYE radio program, The Other Half, from 1990 to1995. Nelson's title, Two Ton Hammer, refers to the first line of the Captain Beefheart song, "Hard Working Man," which Mahoney used as a theme song for his program. The exhibition includes new charcoal-and-graphite drawings by Nelson, created while listening to cassette recordings of over 200 hours of his friend's radio show, as well as an installation of reproductions of Mahoney's handwritten playlists and audio of his broadcasts. Nelson's mysterious, quietly powerful drawings were created during the yearlong process of carefully listening to and digitizing his friend's original-broadcast cassette recordings.
Nelson's past drawings ranged from Zen-like fields of organic abstraction to representations of wildly overflowing locks of hair, all of which simultaneously featured elements of understated tranquility and assertive abundance. His current drawings, primarily of hammers in close view or of human ears, highlight the same meditative and cumulative aspects of drawing. Nelson's charcoal marks on handmade Japanese papers add organic warmth to the depictions of hammers without diminishing the strength of their potential energy. The hammers are shown in groups or singly, but do not appear to be wielded by human hands. When in groups, they overlap at odd angles suggesting a chaotic chorus of ringing strikes. The single hammers, in contrast, seem obdurately focused when posing or striking. The disembodied ears in Nelson's drawings sometimes appear as single entities, but more often in groups, floating across open spaces, and drawn at different scales accentuated by touches of colored pencil. As with the hammers, there is tension between isolated individual elements and the diffusion of their multiplicity