John Nelson– Featured Member of SDAA
by Stacey | Jul 2, 2017
SDAA Featured Member Interview
Stacey Evangelista: I have known you for a while now John, and it always amazes me that I still know very little about your career as an artist. It fascinates me, and I wonder how in the world you can keep such an interesting part of your past to yourself. So, here we go John; tell me what inspired you to pursue a career in art.
John Nelson: In 3rd grade my teacher used art to get me hooked on learning. Then when I entered college, as a math major, my art teacher told me I needed to stay in his department.
Stacey: Where have you studied? Under whom did you apprentice?
John: I went to Dana College and studied under Rev. B. Thompson. Later I went to Japan and studied under Kiyoshi Satio, a woodblock master printer. My work reflects his style. Finally, I studied pottery at Nihonmatsu Banko.
Stacey: Can you elaborate on the Artist you studied under in Japan and the historical significance of the methods /means / teachings.
John: Kiyoshi Saito developed a technique and style of creating woodblock prints with a reduced color palette and simplified forms. Instead of elaborate carvings and color refinement, he worked a lot with the grain pattern of the woodblock. Saito’s work captures people with its compositional clarity and artistic simplicity. The bold abstraction and spontaneous design gives his work a special quality.
Stacey: How long did you study under him? What was the structure; were you required to focus on one thing until you mastered it, or did you have to devote a specific amount of time to each facet?
John: I studied with him for seven years. We studied and worked on five methods. One year for each method, until they were mastered. Along the way I also learned about the tools and materials.
Stacey: How do you think this method of teaching / study might differ from an Atelier such as The Florence Art Academy?
John: The biggest difference is the style, it’s simplification and abstraction. The style is not the realism one finds in the Florence Art Academy. However, the process of learning is much the same.
Stacey: Briefly describe the process of a woodblock print.
John: This is hard to answer briefly, as there are five methods. In general you start with a drawing, change it to work with one of the methods, place it onto the woodblock, start carving, and then print.
Stacey: Tell me about the projects you have been working on lately.
John: Lately I have been drawing the human figure and getting ready for three major shows; Pride in the Twin Cities, Sioux Falls, and Rapid City.
Stacey: You recently received a national award for “The Teacher of the Year” in SD. Congratulations! How long have you been teaching art in the public schools? How have you grown as an artist thru teaching; what has it taught you?
John: I taught five years in Edgemont SD. For fifteen years I taught in Brookings SD and another fifteen years in Sioux Falls SD. The kids taught me not to lose the joy of doing art and to see things with a fresh eye. I try to put that childlike joy in my art today.
Stacey: Now that you have just announced your retirement, I assume you have more plans for your art. What will be your focus? Any big plans?
John: My plan and focus now is to make my life’s work; to get my work out there, be more thoughtful about the work, to pass on my knowledge of woodblock printing and my joy of creating art.
Stacey: Thanks for your time John. I hope we see more woodblocks from you soon! Can we close with you saying something in Japanese?
John: Kyo no seikatsu no tame no taiko no, shorai-teki ni. In English – “Best for life today and in the future.”