Jason Byron Nelson Talks Chemistry, Complacency and Creativity
Updated: Aug 10
Jason Byron Nelson is a local artist with a near cult following of art lovers and collectors who seek out his iconic works at every chance they get. Nelson has established himself commercially as a graphic designer and illustrator by day, locally famous for designing the infamous Flying Tiger Brewery beer can labels through his boutique design firm Trick Button. By night, he is a mixed media artist who paints bold pieces that explore human shadows. Nelson was recently invited to collaborate as a founding artist member of Courtyard on Cotton, an art gallery and creative collective within a studio-esque setting opening later this month in downtown West Monroe. We couldn’t think of a more fitting way to kick off the opening of Courtyard on Cotton than by featuring Nelson’s eye-opening collection of current works during an artist’s reception at Courtyard on Cotton on Thursday, August 31 from 5pm-8pm. Recently, we were able to catch up with Nelson to do a little “easeldropping” on the artist in his studio, to gain some insight into the creative energy he generates daily and to share a behind-the-scenes look at the process behind some of his recent works. Courtyard on Cotton: We love celebrating local artists and seeing Louisiana through their unique perspectives. Can you tell us more about how your relationship with your hometown can be seen in your fine art? Jason Byron Nelson: I have lived here in Monroe since I was a wee lad. It’s definitely home. Growing up in Louisiana, all my life, there are some stereotypical interests, like hunting and wildlife, that I never connected with. At the same time, it was all around me. Because I didn’t connect with those pursuits or aesthetics, I never felt the need to include them within my fine art. Recently, it dawned on me. I thought, let me take all that influence and repurpose it through my lens and tastes, rather than avoiding it. So I started by doing these hybrid animal people, mostly deer in a suit or a person with antlers. And although I’ll be showing a few of those pieces at this show, I’ve mostly left the animals on the cutting room floor…my new work is still figurative but more abstract with a stronger spiritual thread than what I’ve created before. COC: Can you tell us more about the technique you used for your latest series of works? JBN: I developed a technique where I use wood stain and acrylic paints together. It’s a mad chemistry project. The chemicals don’t like each other so it’s fun making them cooperate. For this latest series, I have brought that technique to the foreground. It is more about the approach. Before, that technique of applying the wood stain and acrylic was more of a background component with the subject on top of it in an illustrative way. Now, I’ve been able to get the materials to conform more to my vision. It’s a mutual frustration and relationship.
A favorite work of the artist: A Chemical Winter by Jason Byron Nelson. COC: What is the best piece of art you’ve created? JBN: There is a small piece that’s not even that impressive, but it showed me I could work with different mediums and be less strict with what I wanted. It’s called Chemical Winter. I never sold it and I don’t think I have ever even shown it. It’s one of my favorites because of what it means to me. It taught me that I don’t need to have a plan. The commercial work I do is very controlled, so this was an important lesson for me to learn in my journey as a fine artist.
The Baptism, 60 x 60 inches, mixed media on wood, by Jason Byron Nelson is now owned by a private collector. COC: What was your favorite piece in the Southern Gothic series that was featured in your most recent solo exhibition last October at Neville House? JBN: The Baptism was the first piece I did where I tried to use this method of wrangling angry paints and chemicals to do my bidding and it actually worked. And by “worked,” I just mean that the final piece resembled what was in my head. It’s not my favorite because of how it looks but it’s definitely the centerpiece of the show; not only because it’s the biggest painting, but again, it was the start of something new. And I need new, I get complacent if I stick to the same thing for too long. It was also the first in a small series within the bigger body of work that explores religion.
Now in a private collection: Bird Over Our City, 36 x 48 inches, mixed media on canvas, by Jason Byron Nelson. COC: We’ve noticed that your methods and mediums are often varied. Where does this unexpected and unconventional style come from? JBN: The answer is pretty simple. I easily get bored with my techniques and like to change it up. Like I said, I get complacent. The best example in this show are the two large paintings that feature birds flying over our downtown. They are completely different in style and technique from The Baptism. Most of the time I paint on the floor using nothing but my hands and paper towels, but these two pieces were made in a more traditional manner using an actual brush, and on an easel no doubt. These two pieces are more illustrational and much lighter in mood and tone. COC: Where do you find inspiration? JBN: Everything inspires me. I read something and it inspires me. Somebody says something and it inspires me. I see art and I’m inspired. It comes from every angle.
A behind-the-scenes look inside artist Jason Byron Nelson’s creative hub. / Kelly Moore Photography COC: We’re curious to learn about your creative process. What is your studio like? JBN: I work in complete chaos. My studio is a complete disaster. That aids in helping my approach. Sometimes the best color is literally the color I’m going to trip over next. When I’m working, I listen to music with an aggressive vibe. I usually try to listen to new people who are on the cusp, and usually that’s a bit more chaotic and I’m ok with that. I’d rather you try to do something new and fail than repeat the same stuff. COC: There’s a darkness to some of your work that’s surprising because you’re such a kind and light person to meet. JBN: If you see the work I put out, you might think I’m a dark, troubled person. The truth is, I’ve always been interested in the dark side of human nature. I love the duality of man. Everybody has something they’re going through — demons or whatever — and not everybody has an outlet. But my outlet is my work so there is a bit of darkness there. I can’t say it’s not intentional because I’m very aware of it. I like to walk out of the theater or close the book and wonder what the creator meant. I don’t like it wrapped up in a bow. COC: Tell us about some of your current available works that will be on exhibit at Courtyard on Cotton. JBN: I worked within the same theme, my own take on Southern Gothic, for around 6 years… maybe longer… which is, by far, the longest I ever worked on the same theme… and I may go back to it at some point because I still feel like I have more to say, but my latest work ditches that tone completely. Recently, I did a couple commission jobs that relied more on my graphic design background, mixing in illustration and words and a different eye for layout. These two pieces were fun to do and put me in a different direction, albeit probably a temporary one. This new direction has more color, more humor, more kitsch. I’ve been playing with the ideas of masculine and feminine, taking imagery from vintage advertising and putting my spin on it. Honestly, it’s so early that it’s hard to explain - I’m not sure I’m clear about my own intentions yet. But folks can judge for themselves when they see the work next month. COC: What’s currently on your drawing board? JBN: I have another commission. Which is unusual because I don’t do many but I’ve already had 3 this year. But this new one is big – 7 feet tall big. I hope to start on it within the next couple of weeks. I’m actually waiting on a camera mount I just ordered because I plan on filming the process. So that should be interesting. And actually, speaking of video, I think I may dabble with a projected video piece to incorporate with my newer paintings. I’m influenced a lot by movies and music and I’d like to try and bring those aspects into the room when my work is shown, but something custom… something that enhances the paintings or at least gives the viewer a more heightened perspective when taking in the work. It all sounds pretentious when I say it out loud, but I think it could be fun… and it breaks the monotony – which, for me, is an inspiration killer.
Jason Byron Nelson lives in Monroe, LA with his wife Maggie and their two talented sons, Trouper, a 11-year-old fine artist and Asher,16, a talented singer song-writer with his own Spotify channel. / Kelly Moore Photography To view Jason Byron Nelson’s works, please visit the gallery at Courtyard on Cotton (102 Cotton Street in Downtown West Monroe, Louisiana) or for an appointment to view, contact gallery coordinator Rebekah Lawrence, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or directly at 318.348.6045. Nelson’s latest works will debut to the public at Courtyard on Cotton's opening artists reception on Thursday, August 31, 2023 (5pm-9pm). Gallery Hours: Thursday - Saturday from 11am-5pm or by appointment. lead image / Kelly Moore Photography