Artist of the Week

Zoe Nelson

October 12, 2015

Zoe Nelson was born in Rhinebeck, NY, and currently resides in Chicago. She received an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Barnard College. Exhibitions in Chicago include the Cleve Carney Art Gallery at the College of DuPage (solo), Western Exhibitions (solo), Lloyd Dobler Gallery (solo), Roots & Culture Contemporary Art Center (two-person), and Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts. Other exhibitions include the Elder Gallery (Lincoln, Neb.), Usable Space (Milwaukee), NurtureART (NYC), and The Fisher Landau Center for Art (NYC). Nelson’s work was selected for the 2013 and 2011 Midwest editions of New American Paintings. She has attended residencies through ACRE (WI), Ox-Bow (MI), The Lighthouse Works (Fishers Island, NY), and Yale University’s Norfolk Summer Program (CT).


Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I grew up in a small town in the Hudson Valley with one stop-light (until recently), and a wonderful arts community. I moved to NYC for college and grad school, and after graduating from Columbia I resettled from NYC to Chicago, to be with my love while she works towards a PhD.

Most recently, I have been working on a series of large-scale, double-sided paintings for an upcoming show at the Cleve Carney Art Gallery. For the past few years, I have been cutting into the canvas, in order to open up my paintings, with an interest in pairing formal frameworks of absence and negation with playfully immersive and exuberant surfaces of paint. For my upcoming show, I plan to transform the gallery into a landscape of vibrant paintings that embrace a plurality of holes, simultaneity of sides and folds, and chromatic movement. Most of the paintings will be hung from the ceiling or perpendicular to the wall. The effect I hope to create is a reversible painting installation, where no single angle looks the same, and paintings each contain their own logic of dissonance or harmony between sides.

Touching (verso)

What’s your favorite thing about your city? I moved from NYC to Chicago about five years ago. While I sometimes miss the velocity and performativity of NYC, I’ve grown to really love Chicago as well. The art community here is supportive and engaging, and studio space in Chicago is actually affordable (at least compared to NYC). Being able to work on multiple large-scale paintings at once has allowed me to think about the work as installation.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I’m currently in the midst of preparing for a solo exhibition, “Recto/Verso,” at the College of DuPage’s Cleve Carney Art Gallery. For the show, I will install about ten new, double-sided, large-scale paintings from the ceiling or perpendicular to the wall. The show will open Oct. 18th and run through Nov. 21st.

In response to my paintings, the Leopold Group modern dance company will perform “A Hole Piece,” choreographed by Artistic Director Lizzie Leopold. My hope is that pairing this installation with dance will allow for a fundamentally sculptural expansion of painting beyond the frame.

Touching (recto)

How did your interest in art begin? One of my earliest memories is of going to the local hardware store and “collecting” as many paint chip samples as I could get my hands on. I loved looking at the subtle shift in value on each sample, and I would spend hours arranging the colors in different combinations at home. Each combination would be infused with an intense feeling or mood. I was only about three or four years old at the time, but I think that my love for color, and the very intense emotive and phenomenological relationship that I have to color began with those paint chips.

If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say? My quick summary is usually something like: “I make colorful, abstract paintings. But I also cut into the canvas with a knife, creating holes and spaces. The paintings are sculptural, so I display them from the ceiling, and paint on both sides of the canvas.” Usually at this point I’ve either lost them or they ask a question.

Lips (verso)

What are you listening to right now? Mostly Goat, The Knife, and Grimes in the studio. Mamman Sani when friends come over. But I have to admit that last month it was Beyoncé all day, all the time.

What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you? The current group exhibition, Spirit of the Dead Watching, at Devening Projects is fantastic. I’ve also been thinking about the Terry Winters show at Corbett vs. Dempsey because it’s such a strong drawing show, and I’ve been talking a lot about mark-making in the drawing class that I teach at DePaul University.

Lips (recto)

Do you have any guilty pleasures? Tell us about one. Ugh. Do I have to? I’m not ready to go viral with them yet.

What artists are you interested in right now? Ruth Root’s recent work at Andrew KrepRebecca MorrisCharline Von HeylRebecca Ward and many others….

Flamingo Anus (verso)

What is your snack/beverage of choice when working in your studio? So much peach-pear LaCroix. I can’t get enough of that stuff. The color scheme of the can even subconsciously made it into a couple of new paintings.

What do you do when you’re not working on art? Between teaching and working in the studio, I’m lucky if I get a couple of other fun/relaxing things in a week. That said, I enjoy hanging out, going to lectures, trying to convince the cat to snuggle and reading—I just finished Maggie Nelson’s new book the Argonauts which was really fantastic.

Flamingo Anus (recto)