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R. Kenton Nelson

(b. 1954)

Contemporary American Idealist; Figurative Painter

by John Strawn and Frank Goss

R. Kenton Nelson paints light, landscape and architecture in his “native habitat” of Southern California. Appreciating direct visual communication, Nelson focuses on images that are engaging, immediate, and explicit. He paints in a straightforward and compelling style that idealizes the ordinary with rich colors and bold figures. His style has its origins in American Scene painting, Regionalism, and the work of the WPA artists of the ‘30s.

Table Of Contents

Time Out
Oil on panel
12" x 12"
Private collection
In this image, the artist's unerring eye for detail and precise draftsmanship are both here in abundance. The scene is both comforting as a quintessential image of the classic American craftsman home and disquieting as a home devoid of family or any other sign of life.

I. Biography

R. Kenton Nelson was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. He has been on the faculty of both the Otis Parsons Art Institute in New York, and the Academy of Art in San Francisco. For the last twenty-five years he has been operating a visual arts studio in Southern California.

II. An Analysis of the Artist's Work

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.

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.

Nelson's central topic may be loneliness, but the subjects of the canvases are not without hope. The very nature of the unblemished world that Nelson paints implies, within his flawless construct, a confidence in the bounteous American landscape to provide all that is necessary for the characters to communicate.

III. Education

  • Long Beach State University
  • Otis Parsons Art Institute

    Solo Exhibitions (selected list)

  • 2005 "R. Kenton Nelson: Narrative Idealism", Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, CA
  • 2005 "R. Kenton Nelson: One Man Show", Reynolds Gallery, Westmont College, Montecito, CA
  • 2005 Ruzicska, Salzburg, Austria
  • 2005 Klaudia Marr Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
  • 2005 "Viewmaster", Mendenhall Sobieski Gallery, Pasadena, CA
  • 2004 "Trouble", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2003 "Leisure Suite", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2002 "Pocket Show: R. Kenton Nelson", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2001, 2000, 1999 Diane Nelson Fine Art, Laguna Beach, CA
  • 2001 Scott White Contemporary Art Gallery, La Jolla, CA
  • 2003, 2002, 2000 van de Griff Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
  • 2002, 2000, 1998, 1997 Eleanor Ettinger, New York, NY
  • 1999–1993 annually Mendenhall Gallery, Pasadena, CA
  • Group Exhibitions (selected list)

  • 2004 "In Search of America: Art of the American Scene", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2002 "The History of the Nude in the Art of California", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2002, 2001 Eleanor Ettinger, New York, NY
  • 2001, 1999 van de Griff Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
  • 1999 Albemarle Gallery, London
  • 1999, 1998, 1996, 1994 Pasadena Art Alliance, Pasadena, CA
  • 1997, 1995, 1994 Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA

  • Days at Home
    24" x 30"
    Oil on canvas
    Exhibited in "Trouble", 2004
    Private Collection
    One of the artist's truly remarkable figurative paintings. Here the artist presents a woman wiling away the hours in the warm California sun.

    V. Collections (selected list)

  • Steve Martin
  • Brian Grazer
  • Diane Keaton
  • Erika Glazer
  • Kevin Sharer
  • Tim Allen
  • Ralph Kent Cooke
  • David Geffen
  • Paul Reiser
  • Cindy Costner
  • Dean Koontz
  • Microsoft
  • Publications

  • Picturing a Perfect World (1998, book)
  • The New Yorker (covers: August 2004; July 2003; April 21/28, 2003; April 26/May 3, 1999)
  • Hemispheres magazine (cover July 2002; "Artist Showcase" April 1995)
  • Southwest Art magzine (cover March 2001)
  • Décor & Style magazine ("Artist Profile" Jan 2001)