Now that the statute of limitations has run out on aiding and abetting escape from an institution of higher education, I can make it generally known that Bruce Nellsmith was my mentor and art professor at Newberry College.
For three semesters, Bruce and I drank Chock full o’Nuts from the all-day pot and discussed philosophy, the nature of art, and the artist’s challenges. Mixed aromas of burnt coffee, turpentine, and linseed oil filled the studio, and Lou Reed jangled lyrics over guitar rhythms, while I pushed thick paint across canvas and plotted evasion.
In those days, Bruce painted over-sized pieces, which only galleries could accommodate. The artist justified the choice, “This isn’t the kind of thing somebody’s going to hang on a wall over the sofa anyway.”
Indeed, critics raved about the abstract images in earth tones until, looking closer, they understood the subject matter. Then they were outraged by the socio-political themes and wanton violence.
Bruce’s art has evolved since then. These days he spends a few weeks in France every year, touring the country and drawing inspiration from meandering streets and shady avenues, crowded markets and bridges over languid rivers. He winds up the tour in Paris, where he and I got to catch up last month over drinks at a terrace café in the Marais.
I asked him what happened to the enormous canvases and grim topics.
His reply: “Eventually, I decided to paint what appeals to me, what moves me, and let go of the political statements.”
Bruce told me about his current exhibit, “A French Connection,” at Ellis-Nicholson Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina, which showcases work from his tours in France. It’s more colorful, less controversial, and it fits conveniently on a wall above the sofa.
The images here are from that show.
Bruce Nellsmith is Professor of Visual Arts at Newberry College, South Carolina. He splits time between teaching in Newberry and working at a studio on the beach in Edisto, where he lives with his wife, Kathy.
An art degree stuffed inside his shirt, Stephen Wendell escaped from Newberry College over 25 years ago. Now a writer, he enjoys working with more talented artists to make beautiful books. His latest collaborative endeavor, The Way to Vict’ry: Haiku Illustrated by Cristina Basile, is available this month in ebook and paperback editions.