Liisa Nelson altering perceptions with ‘Anomaly’ at Paris Gibson Square
Whenever you see a piece of art, what you visualize and how it makes you feel can be unique to you.
At the same time, if you let it open your heart and mind, a piece of art can plant a potent thought seed that can grow into a tree of ideas bearing fruit that changes how you look at the world.
Great Falls-based clay artist Liisa Nelson takes that idea and incorporates it into her new exhibit “Anomaly,” which is on display now through Dec. 20 at the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art.
Through an inquiry and discovery of science and self through experimentation and openness, Nelson uses her new abstract art to give subtle hints about what she thinks about life, nature, spirituality and femininity.
In her artist statement, Nelson says that, “I am drawn to things that I can see people in, objects that are well used, or that would appeal to only a very specific type of person, items of kitsch and curiosity, as well as things that remind me of my childhood.”
And, in an exclusive interview with Big Sky State Buzz, Nelson said that even if people who see her clay creations at the Square don’t understand her intent behind the pieces, if somehow she changes the way a person thinks about something, she knows that she’ll have reached people in a way that only a visual artist can.
Nelson’s pieces also uniquely incorporate found items including tree branches, bejeweled plastic fruit, old pieces of furniture and things like makeup holders that she used as a base for her clay works.
Nelson said by using these existing items, she can work to show her own interpretation of what might be a societal norm and show how things aren’t always quite what they seem.
“I want people to find that same kind of feelings in themselves that I’m feeling and not that I want to put that on them but, yeah, I want to shake people up a bit and say, ‘Oh, so you haven’t thought about your innate nature or your heart-mind in a while or making inspirations from nature, maybe you should,’” she said. “I’m kind of changing peoples perspective I guess and really look at the whole consumer society in a lot of different ways to challenge people.”
Many of Nelson’s clay works have found objects, chains and trinkets worked into them, which she said all are dripping with symbolism.
“With the jewelry and the chains, first of all the chain is a powerful symbol but they’re all these delicate chains (in my pieces), and they’re more like these magical ties between things and to me they represent connections, relationships and just, attachment in general where you’re thinking about desire, thinking about you know, not it being necessarily a bad thing but the fact that some of it leads to getting that sustenance or that sacred bond while also using it in some ways as a reference to femininity.”
Nelson said she identifies herself as a feminist and that part of her works were designed to ask questions about why women are thought of as less-than beings in comparison to men and how they need accessories and beauty products to define their gender.
“I’m definitely a big feminist and I’m always thinking about equality in general and social activism in terms of relationships and things like that,” she said. “So with things like feminist markings – jewelry and makeup and things that are unique to women where the male is being the standard and a woman has to have something extra and that to me is always something I’ve wrestled with … (But,) it’s also part of my identity as an American woman and as part of this culture and it’s something I enjoy, and lots of women enjoy.”
Nelson uses that femininity in her pieces in a way that connects the idea to nature, as well.
She said she believes that while women are often considered delicate beings, she takes that faulty perception and mirrors it with nature, which can be considered just as beautiful and delicate as women, although both are much more than the beauty we see on the outside.
“I was thinking about how women are considered these delicate things thats problematic and there’s also depictions of trees and the forest and talking about beauty of the natural world … But I wouldn’t say (it’s) cynical,” she said. “So from that perspective it’s kind of a social critique, but from another perspective it’s talking about the natural world and just the falsely perceived delicate beauty of it.”
Nelson said another big inspiration for her pieces come from her Taoist studies. She said at least one of the pieces’ names are taken directly from Taoist books and incorporate Taoist ways of looking at things.
“For example one piece there has a title “Remembering to Guard the Center,” which is referencing a Taoist text that talks about guarding your Chi energy and your sacred essence of yourself above all else,” she said. “You wouldn’t get that from the title if you didn’t know it wasn’t a Taoist reference and you see these podss sitting there on these seed stains like little babies protected by their surroundings. But, I think people could get meaning out of if even if it’s not the one I was referring to.”
That level of abstractness appeals to Nelson because she said by leaving her work open ended to a degree, it allows for others to see her intent and possibly expand beyond it to something greater than she could have ever anticipated.
“I love that someone could come up to a piece and be like, ‘Oh that spider is doing something’ that is totally different than what I thought because to me it’s an elephant and not about what that person saw at all,” she said. “Working with abstract speaks to people in whatever way that they need to get out of it and I like that a lot.”
One of the reasons that this show was moved up from its original date is that Nelson recently was accepted into a post-baccalaureate program at the University of Colorado in Boulder. She said she’s excited to work with the clay art professors there and that she found that she identifies with a lot of the pieces that people who have worked in that program have created.
She also said after she’s finished with her year in Boulder, she’s looking to work toward getting an MFA to open up more doors if she ever chooses to become an art teacher herself.
But more importantly, she said she’s hoping that after returning from her time in Colorado she will be, “a better artist than I am already, and I think that this will help that happen.”