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Kenton Nelson’s art, in vitreous mosaic, perks up Old Pasadena

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Pasadena artist Kenton Nelson is about to complete one of his more ambitious projects in Old Pasadena. For this installation, scaffolding has been erected and a hefty climb was in order to get to the nearly completed mosaic Tuesday morning.
Nelson, perhaps best known for his striking, colorful paintings, many of which have adorned magazine covers like the New Yorker over the years, is thrilled with this new project and delighted to offer his vision to Pasadena residents.
As a painter, R. Kenton Nelson “brings to his canvases a trimmed and exact world: youthful, robust figures; clean and painted structures; landscapes that are polished and orderly. All those elements combine to support the central theme in his work and the core of his canvases, the fight against loneliness,” according to Sullivan Goss gallery’s John Strawn and Frank Goss.
The authors continue…”Although Nelson occasionally paints a pure landscape, most of his works include figures within the landscape. None of his figures are old, worn, haggard or undisciplined. They are never out of shape. These quintessentially American characters are beautiful. And yet they inhabit a landscape that, though lovely, leaves the viewer with a sense that the characters are forlorn. Even in a canvas with multiple figures, each figure is a solitary, isolated icon of a perfect world.”
Over the past few years, Nelson has been working on this installation that has finally come to pass in Old Pasadena albeit after dealing with some inevitable and rather sticky red tape. The project which consists of 120,000 glass tiles in 84 separate colors make up this mural that will undoubtedly be the talk of the town before too long.
The grand mosaic depicts a striking, pensive and perhaps lonely young woman, her hair in a bun , looking to the south as she holds an umbrella. What she’s thinking, what’s next in her life is entirely subjective.
Nelson tells Beacon that he entitled the mosaic “Forecasting” Joking that it took him years to convince the building’s owner ( also a friend) to let him install the mosaic, Nelson felt it appropriate that the young woman is holding an umbrella “ as if the sky was falling…” Nelson quipped.
Nelson’s partner in the mosaic project is Niclas Hjelm of Morton Court Mosaic. Hjelm uses stunning, three-eighth inch Vitreous glass tiles which are hand finished in Italy for the mosaics. The tiles are then hand set and stored in sections until the installation is ready.
Even the shade and color of the grout is carefully selected. Enter artist Frank Gallagher, long time friend of Nelson and owner of All Industrial Arts in San Marino. Gallagher (who was dubbed the ‘Poet of Pots’ by The Los Angeles Times ) has a inimitable passion for art, in all its complexities. He and his crew helped install these tiny tiles meticulously with Nelson and Hjelm to bring the artist’s visualization to sparkle … into something new and distinct.
“I believe than one can take what is known as a ‘traditional, representational image’, re-present it in a different scale or context and arrive at something utterly new, ” Kenton said.
Morton Court Mosaic retains the exclusive right to recreate Kenton Nelson’s paintings, which are avidly collected around the world. Owner Niclas Hjelm is energized about this latest Nelson project and ecstatic with the location. “ You wait til the light hits the Vitreous tiles in the afternoon…they’ll sparkle and create stunning colors,” he said.
“ Each one-of-a-kind mural recreates the original work of Nelson. Applying his bold colors and heroic imagery into the limited palette of Vitreous glass, we seek to create a unique pointillist effect,” Morton Court Mosaic’s Niclas Hjelm said.
The installation, which should be completed by press time, can be viewed above Intelligentsia Coffee at 55 East Colorado in the alley between Raymond and Fair Oaks.
Nelson traces his interest in painting back to his great uncle, Roberto Montenegro, a 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 suffused in subtle light. The intention in his paintings, according to Kenton, 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 compositions of strong horizontal and vertical lines of architecture contrast beautifully with nature’s curves.
Kenton Nelson’s ‘Forecasting’ is 14 feet by 11 feet and will permanently grace the west side of the building that houses the coffee shop. For more photographs of Nelson’s latest installation in Pasadena, please visit: B2
Kenton Nelson works on the installation Tuesday morning high above Intelligentsia Coffee. -Photos and story by Terry Miller

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