Nellie King Solomon and I have been orbiting around each other for years. I first met her while working at Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco. From there, I’d hear about her projects, meet mutual friends, or run into her in Marin. I’ve been a big fan of her work since I first met her and, when we sat down to chat, it became clear why. She shared her history openly and honestly with me, including why she makes work and her experience as a woman in the field. She’s a lively spirit who commits fully to her vision and art practice and it was an honor to interview her. ~Calder Anderson, 2022
“When everyone zigs, I zag,” says Nellie King Solomon when reflecting on her twenty-year art practice. The San Francisco-born artist is known for her towering and energetic paintings that hinge on an obsession with materiality and motion, specifically how movement drives her medium. King Solomon fully engages her body with her materials – approaching her art practice as she would a sport – moving paint across massive Mylar fields and making her own tools that act as extensions of her small physical frame. To her, art requires the testing of her own limits, a certain level of grit, and, what she calls, “the honesty of hard work.”
Ferociously dedicated to her craft, the artist has spent years authentically making work, but it hasn’t always been understood. She’s felt that when she has something to say, people aren’t ready to hear it, and, once they are ready, she’s moved on to something else. Or that people find her too aggressive when she should be soft, or too soft when she should have more of an edge. The omnipresent “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” phenomenon of simply existing as a woman is similar to what King Solomon describes as the “zig-zag.” It is no surprise, though, as the artist grapples with the ambitious and typically masculine subject matter in an industry that is notorious for scrutinizing women in its field. Fast cars, fast thoughts, surf culture, architectonics, and the impact of space are just a few forces that guide her. These interests coupled with her position as a both woman and mother in the systemically sexist art world make her a quandary for some. For others, this combination of power is exactly what we needed.
Nellie King Solomon’s work is often more energy than it is object – it isn’t about the way a thing looks but instead the way it feels. Typically abstract and fluid, she uses her background in dance and surf to incorporate movability into her paintings – correlating the same compulsion to jump in the ocean to that of pushing huge swaths of paint, grit, and glitz along a substrate of Mylar.
She currently works out of the Bendix Building in Downtown Los Angeles where she easily moves through the large light-filled space – fabricating tools, climbing ladders, pouring and pushing paint. The process is physically exhausting as she continually negotiates how and what her body will allow her to do. In her 2021-22 “U” series, she rakes viscous paint onto Mylar in repeating and conflating U shapes. The work is reflective of the brightly lit studio, mimicking the gridded and curved 1920s industrial windows and architecture, and blown-out color palette that – similar to the building – looks like it was bleached by L.A. sun.
This is typical of the artist who trained as an architect at Cooper Union in New York City. Her mother, Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, educated in Switzerland by Arnin Hofmann, is known for her highly influential Supergraphics that were installed at Sea Ranch in California in the 1960s and 70s. Absorbing her mother’s inclinations and mastering these skills in her own right, King Solomon always considers space – subconsciously or otherwise – when navigating a composition. However, she takes this classical rigor and swiftly rejects it – working within a set of rules that she ultimately breaks and allowing the work to move freely, without restriction, in whatever way it wants to.
It’s curious that the artist simultaneously participates in and rejects the very system that built her. These cultures (art, architecture, printmaking, graphic design, academia, ballet, surfing) breed perfection and decorum with a focus on outward appearances and assigned roles that are under even more scrutiny when you’re participating as anything other than a man. Her reactionary work is a knee-jerk desire to break free. It embodies her lived experience in these spaces and their exhaustive effects on her body. It describes the physical and emotional labor demanded of the artist as she’s asked repeatedly to “measure up.” So though you see a grid, a repeating shape, or ghosts of rule running throughout her paintings, you also see its ultimate freedom – in organic shapes and places where the energy just couldn’t be contained.
Calder Anderson is a writer and poet focusing on art, psychology, and socio-cultural trends. She currently works as a consultant for a wide range of clients mainly in the arts and non-profit sectors. Her background is in Fine Art, previously holding positions at Pace Gallery and Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco. She lives in Oakland, CA.
Additional information :
Solomon studied architecture at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City and holds a BA in Art from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an MFA from California College of the Arts, San Francisco. She has taught art at Stanford University and California College of the Arts worked as an artist assistant to David Ireland, as well as provided architectural restoration on the Palazzo St Polo in Venice. She lived in Paris, Venice, Barcelona, and New York City before returning to California.
Solomon recently mounted an extensive exhibition of her works up at SMoCA Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Solomon has had solo exhibitions at Brian Gross Fine Art, San Francisco, CA; Ochi Projects LA, Los Angeles, CA; Ochi Gallery, Sun Valley, ID; Melissa Morgan Fine Arts, Palm Desert, CA; and N’Namdi Contemporary in Chicago, Detroit, and Miami. Group exhibitions have featured her work at The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA; and Bolinas Museum, Bolinas, CA, among others. Solomon’s work has received extensive critical acclaim; featured in Art in America, Huffington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Art Practical, Hyperallergic, Wallpaper, Harvard Review, ArtBlitzLA, Zyzzyva, NYTheatre, and Architectural Digest, among other publications. Her work is in the collections of SMoCA Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, BAMPFA Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Steve Wynn: Wynn Las Vegas & Wynn Macau, Yves Béhar, Sabrina Buell, Blue Shield, Visa, and Google.
Solomon lives in an LA bungalow with her daughter and bunny and works in her sun drenched studio in the Bendix Building DTLA.