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Kenton Nelson

Public Work
Public Work
Oil on Canvas

Kenton Nelson was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA.  He attended Long Beach State University and Otis Parsons Art Institute, and for the last 35 years has had his art studio in Pasadena, CA.  He has been on the faculty of the Otis Parsons Art Institute in Los Angeles and the Academy of Art in San Francisco.

Nelson traces his interest in painting back to his great uncle, Roberto Montenegro, renowned Mexican muralist and Modernist. The style of Nelson’s paintings have their origins in American Scene painting, Regionalism, and the work of the WPA artists of the 1930′s.

Nelson paints figures, landscape, and architecture bathed in light.  The objective in his paintings is to idealize the ordinary with the intention of engagement, using the iconic symbols and styles of his lifetime in a theatrical style to make leading suggestions.

Nelson’s paintings have now been featured five times on the cover of The New Yorker magazine. Recent exhibitions of Nelson’s work have been enjoyed from Los Angeles to London, Vienna, and Zurich. His oil paintings of figures, objects, and architecture have, as one critic said, “single handedly resurrected the sun drenched optimism of New Deal American Painting.”


photo – Eric Minh Swenson

“He is producing the landscape of our longings. Here paradise has not been lost. A bit complex, perhaps, but nothing of the graffiti, polluted air, and aggravated driving conditions in a state whose city populations have congealed into a honking mass.”

—Jim Heimann, “In California.” Californian Idealism

The more I saw of (his paintings), the more I was fascinated by the nature of the images, the motives and the form of presentation.

–Thomas Renner, Obstacles and Competition

If it hadn’t been for the luscious gold light that lies all over the sinuous landscape like lay lady lay, there wouldn’t have been the movies. Kenton Nelson, Pasadena painter and mosaics maker, loves the light . . . and the cinema.”

—Carol Caldwell, “Kenton Nelson, This Side of Paradise.” Nashville Arts

Working on as huge a scale as he did with his oil paintings, the native southern Californian has here gone mosaic—using thousands of tiles as his paintbrush.  The effect is not just Chuck Close in pixels but a deeper exploration of light and the possibilities of chiaroscuro on an almost quantum level.

—Devon Jackson, Santa Fean

“Kenton Nelson’s work, which has appeared on several covers of The New Yorker, often depicts Americana that brings to mind 1930’s American scene painters, American Regionalists, and Mexican Muralists.”

—Cynthia Dea, “Scenes from American Life.” The Los Angeles Times “Critics Choice”

“His cool dramatics owe more to Charles Sheeler’s linear fussiness and cunning, not to mention the sleek world of graphic design and advertising, than it does to Edward Hopper’s bleak chic…A sweeter formality and less loaded air is seen in another female study figure, “Swim Party #2” in which a woman in a one piece swimsuit and cap lounges elegantly, anonymously, by a backyard pool. This is the opposite of Eric Fischl’s pool parties, where sexual or criminal activities always threaten to invade the suburban calm.”

—Josef Woodward, “Full Nelson Effect.” ArtsScene

“On some level, we know what to expect from the painter R. Kenton Nelson. On other levels, he’s a hard one to figure out or easily place within the pantheon of contemporary painting. Somewhere between those two poles lies the ongoing seductiveness of his approach to painting.”

—Josef Woodward, “Getting at Angles.” ArtsScene

“Informed by an Americana influenced by the WPA and it’s champions as well as his great uncle, Roberto Montenegro, the Mexican Muralist who was a contemporary of Rivera, Orozco, and others, R. Kenton Nelson’s work implies a story line that viewers are seemingly familiar with. Executed on both board and canvas, his paintings are precise, saturated, and polished; wonderful perspectives on the world brought forth through the vision of a truly great exponent of narrative construct.”

—“Trouble.” CASA Arts and Entertainment

“Nelson’s paintings are a kick to look at. But like the short stories by Cheever and Fitzgerald, they are not about milk and honey.”

—Lynn Cline, “Nelson’s World.” The New Mexican

“This is literally a fantastic show. It’ll take you back to whatever world you’re prepared to visit again, whether it’s art or your own dreams of an unsullied future. Nelson’s mock-Soviet version of Southern California gives you all the slack you need to transplant his picture-perfect idealism to your choice of settings or sets.”

—Dennis Jarrett, “Picture-Perfect.” SF Reporter

“Nelson paints in crisp bright hues redolent of Depression-era children’s-book illustrations. Shadows are cleanly defined, edges are carefully delineated, and everything—from lighthouses to clouds—is given equal weight. Nelson creates an American ideal reminiscent of Dick and Jane or Ozzie and Harriet.”

—Grady Turner, “New York Reviews.” ARTnews

“Something darker, though, does seem to call from beneath the tidy surface, implanting an almost undetectable uneasiness. Or perhaps it’s our collective skepticism that invite the uncomfortable sensation. Perhaps we are so used to malevolence in today’s society that we assume it’s presence.”

—Traci Kampel, The Villager

“Fables for our time, these are cynical little mysteries which leave the viewer to fill in the blanks.”

—Rick Gilbert, “Houses of Everyday Life…” Art Beat

Heimann, Jim, “In California”, Californian Idealism, 2015

Renner, Thomas, Obstacles and Competition, 2013

Caldwell, Carol, “This Side of Paradise”, Nashville Arts, May 2013

Present Tense, R. Kenton Nelson, Mendenhall/Ruzicska, 2008

Weinzierl, Gudrun, “Osterausstellungen bei Ruzicska und Ropac:
Kenton Nelson, Francisco Clemente,” review, Salzburger Nachrichten, April 2007

Kronen Zeitung, review, April 2007

Top of Salzburg, essay, April 2007

Die Presse, review, April 2007

Cervin, Michael, review, The Pasadena Weekly, December 2006

California Homes, review, December 2006

Fox, Jacqueline, essay, Arroyo, January 2006

Haggerty, Gerard, review, Art News, December 2005

Woodward, Josef, “Full Nelson Effect,” review, ArtsScene, December 2005

Talkin, Helen, essay, Lifescapes, November 2005

American Art Collector, essay, October 2005

Hemispheres, review, March 2005

“A Peaceable Kingdom: The Paintings of R. Kenton Nelson,” American Artist, essay, February 2005

Geis, Sonya, essay, The Rose, 2005

Rhyme and Reason Prose and Cons, R. Kenton Nelson, Morton Court Publishing, 2005

Casa Santa Barbara, review, September 2004

Susman, Sahra, essay, The Monrovia Weekly, August 2004

Mahler, Richard, “Pool Party,” essay, Southwest Art, July 2004

Collins, Tom, review, Venue North, January 2004

Thomson Randall, Teri, “Glorifying the Utterly Ordinary,” essay, Pasatiempo, December 2003

Woodard, Josef, review, Santa Barbara News, October 2003

“Picture Perfect,” California State University, Long Beach, essay, Fall 2003

The New Yorker, cover, July 2003

Casa Santa Barbara, review, June 2003

The New Yorker, cover, April 2003

Moore, Margaret, Hemispheres, cover and essay, July 2002

Hutchinson, Linda, essay, Pasadena Star News, July 2002

Cline, Lynn, essay, Pasatiempo, May 2002

Atomic, illustrations, Fall/Winter 2001

Coast, cover, June 2001

Kolpas, Norman, “Perfect Worlds,” Southwest Art, cover and essay, March 2001

“20/20-Perfect Vision,” Decor and Style, essay, January 2001

Carasso, Roberta, review Laguna News Post, September 2000

The New Yorker, cover, June 2000

Jarrett, Dennis, review, Santa Fe Reporter, May 2000

Pasadena Star News, essay, June 1999

Gilbert, Rick, review, Laguna News Post, April 1999

Coast, cover, April 1999

The New Yorker, cover, April 1999

Turner, Nancy Kay, review, ArtScene, March 1999

Turner, Grady T., review, ArtNews, February 1999

Kampel, Traci, review, The Villager, October 1998

Picturing a Perfect World, R. Kenton Nelson, publication, 1998

Wilson, Larry, review, Pasadena Star News, December 1997

Where New York, review, May 1997

San Marino Tribune, review, December 1996

Kho, Jennifer, review, Talon Mark News, October 1996

Pasadena Weekly, essay, July 1996

Moure, Nancy, review, Southwest Art, March 1996

Pasadena Weekly, review, January 1996

Pasadena Weekly, essay, November 1995

The Atlantic Monthly, illustrations, July 1995

Hemispheres, essay, April 1995

Pasadena Magazine, illustration, Winter 1994

Williams, Janette, article, Pasadena Star News, November 1994

Buzz, essay, November 1994

Mulgannon, Terry, review, Los Angeles, 1994

Torres, Vicki, essay, Los Angeles Times, January 1991

The Orange County Register, essay, January 1991