BAL to present ‘Faye Nelson and Friends’ beginning May 14
When Faye Nelson refers to the kids she has invited to participate in her art exhibition, one needs to put it in context. Nelson, 87, is joined by Robert Lawson, 76, and Jamie Kessler, a mere babe at 69, for her exhibition, “Faye and Friends,” at the Beaumont Art League, opening May 14.
The show is Nelson’s reward for winning the 2021 BAL membership show. Nelson said when she won Best-in-Show she knew she wouldn’t be able fill the entire gallery. So, she turned to Lawson and Kessler, whom she met when they were all teachers in the Gulf Coast Art Educators Association.
“I like both of the kids, and their work is so different from mine, but I appreciate the diversity,” she said. “I just thought it would be a tremendous show for anybody that liked art — they would have their choice.”
Nelson’s work is meticulously detailed, with a collection of objects rendered in colored pencil and graphite. The juxtaposition of images, often positioned on a checkerboard, invites viewers to interpret the meaning.
“I really like for the viewer to judge for themselves,” she said. “I’m a mystery reader. I love whodunnits. And I love working puzzles and games. For me, the black and white grid is the game of life. Some you win, some you lose, some get rained out. But these are emotional releases. When I get so balled up emotionally, I feel the only release is and to get a piece of paper and start drawing.”
Nelson pointed out a drawing inspired by the evacuation from Afghanistan, which features flames. A recent piece featuring a yellow sunflower on a blue background was inspired by the conflict in Ukraine.
“It all came together mentally for me, for their leader who is so strong and steadfast and responsible, and all those good character qualities we’d like to see in other people and ourselves, and their roots to their nation. And that was another coping.
The Ukraine piece is among her latest works, but another sunflower appears in a painting which earned her an honorable mention in the 1965 show BAL membership show, a testament to her vitality and longevity.
“I’m 87 and holding, and proud of it,” she said. “I’ve worked for every one of these gray hairs.”
Kessler met Nelson when he taught in the BISD system in the early 1980s. The pair were part of a series of faculty exhibitions held at the Murray J. Frank Planetarium.
When Nelson called to ask if he had enough work to help fill the gallery, Kessler said he had a lot of older work. Nelson joked that he could just erase the dates. Instead, Kessler took the opportunity to update some of the older pieces that maybe didn’t stand up as they were.
“I refreshed it as it needed it, added some lines here and some color there, darkened the color tones, and brought it out,” he said. “I kept doing that and then I edited.”
Kessler is an instinctive artist who doesn’t start with a preconceived idea but just allows the work to flow out spontaneously.
“I compare it to body surfing,” he said. “I grew up in Galveston, and we were out in the water all the time. I surfed a little bit on the board, but I prefer the body surfing. When you’re on that wave, that’s all you feel. You forget all your worries and troubles and it becomes a sense of freedom, like you’re in a playground by yourself. Then when you exhibit (the work), you invite other people to play with you and they respond to you.
“I have no preconceived notion of what my hand’s going to do. It’s like an outer muse and an inner spirit guide. Sounds ethereal and metaphysical, and as some people say, New Age and all that bull. But it’s a truth. It’s a good feeling.”
The connection between the three artists may not be apparent stylistically, but they share a common philosophy of catching a spirit or an emotion. Lawson’s latest work is monochrome, with blacks and grays swirling across large canvases, sometimes incorporating bones and skulls. He pours paint into the canvas and lets the weight of the liquid find its own place.
“I add in water and air, and I step back and let gravity compose the picture,” he said. “I like what nature does better than what people do. My idea is that anything that human touches, eventually it’s gonna be corrupted.”
Like Kessler, Lawson has reconstituted old pieces. One clay sculpture of a skull, made when he taught art at Stephen F. Austin Middle School in Port Arthur 20 years ago, now forms part of a mixed media panel.
“It sat on my porch for the longest and I got tired of it,” he said. “So, I took a hammer and I broke it. I saw the shards all laying on the ground, and I said that looks kind of like archaeology or something antique.”
Lawson affixed the broken pieces to a board with liquid rubber, the fun is in the experimentation, he said, then poured paint around it. When he didn’t like the way the ground and figure worked together, Lawson added spray paint until it “floated and drifted,” he said.
Another piece features Halloween bones and skulls on a black textured surface. Fate played a hand in the look of this particular piece. Lawson had it propped up in his studio and had added heavy acrylic paint so the bones would stick to it.
“I’ve turned around to do stuff on my table and I heard a crash,” he said. “I went, ‘Oh, no!’ And I turned around and I went, ‘Oh, yeah!’ because all this stuff had run down and up, and it was this nice unifying movement.”
The archaeological feel of Lawson’s work ties into his interest in ancient cultures and how he connects to the world.
“I think people have a feel or an idea where they fit into history,” he said. “And I’ve always felt like I have no time frame. I have more of a historical (sense), from the beginning of humanity to where we are now. Kind of the Collective Unconscious, a universal drift.”
Faye Nelson and her “kids,” as she said, present different styles. So, visitors are sure to find something they like. But if one looks closely, one will see the common underlying sense of play that gives the work a vitality and energy.
“Faye and Friends” will be on display at the Beaumont Art League through June 4, beginning with an opening reception, 7 to 9 p.m., May 14.
BAL is located at located at 2675 Gulf St. For more information, visit their Facebook page.
This story first ran in the May 13, 2022 Art of Living section of The Beaumont Enterprise.