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Neltje’s paintings, like the artist, are intense, complex, and larger than life. In her late thirties, Neltje began studying Sumi-e painting, which she describes as “a highly disciplined art of essence.” This practice became the core of her later work. Her dynamic process of painting alternates between quick, expressive physical movements and intense deliberation. She starts with a single brushstroke. “From there the dialogue begins. One stroke after another, overlapping or apart, sensing a rhythm, a direction, a feel.” This exhibition features mainly paintings completed in 2016 and 2018.
Inspired by the end-of-season explosion of color in her late-summer gardens, her series, Tell Me, Why Flowers?, evokes the spectacular, fleeting, joys of life. Neltje remembers looking down at the flowers in her garden, moved by their beauty and impermanence. “They’re happy and glorious in their own identity and I thought, ‘Nobody ever paints them that way.’” Unlike traditional still-life flower paintings, these works do not represent physical likenesses or moral lessons. She says, “I wanted to do something that was cleaner, clearer, less complicated.” Neltje’s colors and patterns reflect the life and abundance she feels in the presence of nature. “When I’m looking at these individual blossoms they nod in the wind and they give me time to reflect and I come up with memories of being touched with joy.“
The exhibition is named the painting that began the series, “And Tell Me Why Flowers,” which at 10′ x 30′ fills a gallery wall. This and four other monumental paintings representing the four seasons offer an experience of sublime beauty that envelops, overwhelms, and, ultimately cradles the viewer.
Dialogue of My Mind is Neltje’s first figurative series, painted as an emotional response to the 2016 elections. The first painting, Threatened, surprised the artist with its specificity, depicting the Capitol Building alongside disembodied faces and gesturing hands. Neltje continued to imagine the human impacts of the rapidly changing political landscape as she worked through the series. Expressive faces are scattered across the canvasses, appearing shocked, fragmented, and disconnected. Heads overlap and merge with diagonal planes and lines suggesting precarious, abstracted interiors. Titles such as Unexpected, Shifts and Collisions, and Off Balance add to the mood of dislocation.
Neltje has had numerous group and solo exhibitions, including a major solo exhibition at the University of Wyoming in 2013. In 2005 she received the Wyoming Governor’s Art Award.