A kiss to the homeland
One of Kim Nelson's Mountain Creek-inspired work. Photo: Supplied
Kim Nelson is as drawn to his art as he is to his sense of community. And that community is Yass, a township less than an hour away from the nation's capital - but one that could be a million miles away from the fast-paced art world.
For the past 15 years Nelson has lived at Mountain Creek, in the valley of the Murrumbidgee River, a landscape that not only inspires his art, but also that of Fred Williams and Elioth Gruner, as it did the words of Banjo Paterson. Nelson's uncle, the acclaimed landscape artist Leonard Long, was also a regular visitor.
''In my youth I ran from traditional landscape painting because I had an uncle who was famous for it and who insisted there was only one way to paint,'' Nelson says. ''It wasn't that I had a problem with the artform but my perception of the spectrum of art practice was a little wider than Len's.
Erosion in Motion. Photo: Supplied
''I do remember though, a painting of Len's that we had at the farm on the Shoalhaven flood plains where I grew up called Fitzroy Ponds with storm clouds. People used to comment on how well Len did 'those God holes'. I mean, we look at an amazing sunset or stormy sky, we see shafts of light shooting through and, because it's hardwired into our DNA, we think God or at least, sublime … sacred.''
Nelson is not alone in his love for Yass country. The Murdoch family property Cavan is not far away and, back in 1996 when Nelson took the giant step of leaving his curatorial career to become a full-time artist, he was rewarded with a commission from Murdoch for five separate artworks of the region.
There have been many more such commissions, accolades and prizes since then, but for this artist, who could work anywhere in the world, the Yass region is home. And visitors can see exactly why this beauty has captured his soul from today when Nelson opens his solo art exhibition, Homeland, at his new second-favourite place in the world - the circa 1887 Oddfellows Hall in the main street of Yass.
''My home is about 20 minutes out of town,'' he says. ''So for the last 16 years or so I have been something of a hermit, living in this beautiful environment and producing work for exhibitions. I think I was getting a bit too comfortable.
''At Mountain Creek I could paint the same spot everyday and it would look different. I've tried to capture with this new collection of work a few of those special times of day where the lighting effect is fleeting.''
Taking on the Oddfellows' Hall, Nelson says, and moving back into town for part of the week ''has caused me to call on all my skills again and that has to be a good thing''.
And, of course, there's the name. ''It's a good fit,'' he says. ''How could I resist?''
But it's not only his own work that Nelson shares with his local community. He also bands together with other creative souls in the region to get their work ''out there'', too, and ensure that Yass doesn't miss out on its share of the arts. He is the brains behind YASSarts (yassarts.org), which promotes arts and culture in the region and also initiated Classic Yass (classicyass.com), a celebration of local art and culture, which is also on this weekend.
His charity work is also well documented: from donating a major artwork, Desert Storm to UNICEF Australia for auction to Koomarri in Canberra and the NSW Bushfire Brigade. He was also commissioned, in 2003, to create an artwork to commemorate the Mount Stromlo Observatory after the Canberra bushfires destroyed the iconic structure.
Since taking over the Oddfellows' Hall, Nelson has made it the local hub for arts, both where people can see the artist at work and as a performance space for others. ''Rather than searching for events to hold here, many of them found us,'' Nelson says. ''It seems to be a case of build it and they will come - and they've certainly come.'' The visitors book at already includes harpist Alice Giles, Indian dancer Padma Menon and guitarist Jeff Lang. Music has always played a key role in Nelson's life, regularly accompanying his artwork.
''I always have music playing as I work,'' he says. ''I am a strong believer in the idea of synaesthesia - that music, poetry and the visual arts are part of a single continuum, one prompting a sensation in the other. Music is so integral in the creation of my work as to be inseparable.''
Not surprising really when you consider that this artist, in an earlier life, spent most of his days playing guitar in rock and roll bands, regularly playing support for groups like INXS, Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel.
Nelson runs the Oddfellows' as an open studio where visitors can see the artist at work. The stunning, light-filled space is filled with his pictures, from all phases of his career.
Although much of his early work was inspired by German Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer, today his preferred subject matter is his beloved Mountain Creek.
''Homeland is all about the place I live, the place that so many people live, an hour or so from the capital of Australia, yet a million miles away from all the reasons that I don't want to live in the city.
''One day looking out the window at Mountain Creek I realised it had been a long, long time since I'd simply stopped and appreciated where I live, let alone sat down and painted it.
''I ended up living in one of the most amazing places and I realised I was starting to take it for granted. I was thinking about the theme of my 2012 solo show in Yass and coming up with all sorts of ideas - my problem is I have too many interests. Then one day I just woke up and thought, I'm just going to paint some vignettes of where I live.
''So this exhibition is really me just blowing a kiss to the region in which I live.''
Homeland opens at the Oddfellows' Hall, 67 Comur Street, Yass, today. The gallery is open Friday to Monday, 10am to 5pm. The exhibition is part of ClassicYASS (classicyass.com), which is also on this weekend.