Carolyn Nelson’s art is a product of her forty-five years in the Yakima Valley.
More than thirty-five years as a professional artist—beginning as a studio potter in 1980—earned her a place in the community of Pacific Northwest artists, from whom she gained instruction and inspiration. Twenty-five years as a professor and art instructor—at Heritage University, Yakima Valley Community College, and Central Washington University—exposed her to the creative energies and motivations of her students and exercised her critical eye for composition and technique. Her early education in Anthropology—earning a BA from the University of Washington in 1988—added to her understanding of indigenous Northwest peoples and opened her eyes to the sublime nature of symbol and form in human culture.
These influences are evident in Nelson’s art, which is reminiscent of works by the Northwest Mystics of early Abstract Expressionism, who painted natural forms in deep earthy colors and textures, often incorporating sublime symbolic meaning juxtaposed against visions of meditative emptiness. This regional expression of Modernism—distinctly nature-based and anti-urban, and influenced by Eastern spirituality and artistic traditions—stood in stark contrast to works by the dominant New York City Abstract Expressionists of the mid-twentieth century. Nelson’s work continues this Pacific Northwest artistic tradition. Her paintings are internal landscapes born of memory and imagination, worlds that recall the geology and topography of our region and inhabited by recognizable yet mysterious human and animal forms, like the setting of a dream that distills the essence of many places, creating an archetypical space steeped in meaning. Her sculpture blurs the line between human and geological form, with figures that are monumental and eternal, yet breathing with life.
The Yakima Valley is an essential element of Nelson’s work, but not in a literal or depictive sense.Â These are not Yakima Valley landscapes, but rather visions of the artist’s world and the symbolic forms that give it meaning. The exhibition Carolyn Nelson: Between Memory and Imagination opens a door into this world.
Carolyn Nelson is the Yakima Valley Museum’s third Artist in Residence. The residency was the brainchild of Laurie Kanyer who, together with her husband Doug, are the patrons of the program, and their generosity provides the resources for the artist to create new work, as well the opportunity for an exhibition and accompanying publication. We would like to express our sincere thanks to Laurie and Doug. One of the paintings in this show will be accessioned into the museum’s collection.
Andy Granitto, Art Historian/Exhibition Designe
Peter Arnold, Executive Director