Birdsong for Willie

by John Randall Nelson


Peoria, Arizona


May 2020


IN FLUX Cycle 9 recipient John Randall Nelson created the sculpture Birdsong for Willie (pronounced Wiley). This sculpture graces the entrance of the Peoria Main Library and will be on display through Spring 2021. Watch a studio visit with artist John Randall Nelson and an interview about this sculpture.

The following is an essay on Nelson by Deborah Sussman

Nelson embraces the concept of artist as story teller. His symbolic amalgamations, which often consist of a central image superimposed over a collage of symbols and text (anything from art criticism to nursery rhymes), make intuitive sense of the inundation that we experience in what Nelson sees as our “over-communicated, how-to world.” Bits and pieces from daily life are placed, layered, painted, sanded and repainted; in this persistent, almost obsessive editing and rearrangement we find the grammar of Nelson’s private language. And because the constant reworking of the surface and the rearranging of form describe the process of discovery and creation, the paintings end up being narrative in two ways: they ask us to invent our own stories based on the images and messages that Nelson uses, but they also present the “story” of their own creation and invite us to share the restless, somewhat anxious journey of the art-making process.

The strength of the work lies in the terrain between the narrative and the abstract, between what is immediately accessible to the viewer and what remains obscure. Masked in Nelson’s faux-naive style is a complex formalism designed to both present and obscure meaning. “Ambiguity and metaphor are central to my work,” says Nelson, “I think the ambiguous is more interesting, more engaging. Because there is always something more to discover it reveals itself more slowly and it has greater longevity.