David Nielsen Returns, Again

The strength and influence of the Door County art community have pulled David Nielsen here time and again. Four years ago, this pull aligned with a desire to stop painting houses and focus on painting canvases. 

“I came to the conclusion that I need to focus on making art and stop painting houses,” Nielsen said. “That’s the trap that always happens with artists. You have to make a living, and you end up putting all your energy into a job instead of making art.”

With plans to stay in the county full time, and new work and shows lined up, 2020 would have been his latest debut in the local art scene. Then the pandemic hit, canceling gallery showings and halting Nielsen’s plans.

He earned a BFA at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, apprenticed with Mia Lin in New York during the first semester of his senior year and spent a year at the Institute for Foreign Cultural Studies in Hamburg, Germany. In 2002, Nielsen was selected for the Emerging Artist Program at the Peninsula School of Art and spent 10 years in Madison creating, teaching and working. 

“The Passenger” by David Nielsen

His work was the subject of a probing article by Peter Sloma in Door County Living in 2006.

“Nielsen depicts fractured figures in abstracted forms familiar to the tradition of Cubism,” Sloma wrote. “The difference is that rather than trying to show all the way around the subject, here we are being shown different pieces of the frame. Color is also employed to dictate spatial relationships and to lead the eye through the painting.”

Now after a few years of reduced artistic activity, Nielsen’s finding a way forward from the Martinez studio in Jacksonport, where he has some of his recent work on display.

“I can’t thank Sandra and Wence enough for letting me spend time here because I get to look at their work and soak it all in, and they’re giving me a little bit of space to get my own work up on the walls and bring people around to check it out,” he said.

Nielsen had moved into abstraction and returned to fundamentals, working only in black and white. Once satisfied, he reintroduced color and the figurative element.

He said he’s fascinated by what viewers see in his work.

“I realize my work is a little different,” Nielsen said. “I’ve noticed that it takes people a little time to get used to my language, and once they start to see my work consistently, then they seem to understand where I’m going with this stuff.” 

Untitled work by David Nielsen

But even with considerable intentionality, people will see in art what they will. 

“One person might find something romantic, and somebody else might find it super sad,” he said. “People bring their own ideas to the work.”

Nielsen said he’s working about 40 hours a week, drawing and painting and refining until he finds what works together. The extra time he’s had during the pandemic has also allowed him to reflect on what he loves most about the Door County art community: the way artists here are willing to share ideas.

“The biggest thing for me in Door County is the fact that we have all these people who are masters of what they do, and I have access to them. I can sit down with them and run ideas past them, discuss what it takes to make art, and that’s amazing to me,” Nielsen said.

It’s very different from his experience while living in Los Angeles or Madison, where other artists were not inclined to share. Here, he has worked through ideas with artist Craig Blietz and on how to present his work with artist Sandra Martinez.

“We just talked about framing and presentation, how to go about it and when to make a piece of paper an object,” Nielsen said. “That’s just great stuff for me. It’s inspirational.”