Ahh, Nolan Tredway, Lincoln, Nebraska’s “golden boy.” It can be said that Tredway is easily one of the region’s more recognizable young artists. His work over the last ten years or so has been nothing but consistent as he pushes himself to further develop what seems to be one enormous body of work.
Most days in our fair community you could throw a stick and hit an “artist” making work using drippy, straight-out-of-the-tube paints, with no real technique or style aside from perfectly copying dreamy song lyrics on the side of derivative canvases. Then, utilizing the most hopeless art-speak and hustling said “art” all over town. Either that or just taking their clothes off in the name of feminism in another tired performance piece. Trust me, they’re everywhere…emailing me as well.
The benefit of enduring this sort of activity is, when a truly excellent show does pop up, it tastes even sweeter. The great thing about Tredway’s new show, Surface Tension, at Fuse Coworking in Lincoln? It’s already pretty sweet.
Tredway has been working in another dimension for years. His low-contrast, foggy oil paintings all take place in a world of his own device that would make even Jim Henson’s ghost green with envy. Tredway’s nearly twenty new paintings feature a mix of characters, some familiar, some completely new, some a combination of both that can for the most part be broken down into two narratives: watching someone else’s dream and portraits of the creatures they meet in them.
The former is to be expected in a Nolan Tredway show. It’s what he’s known for: large format panoramas set in a desolate other place featuring one or two people, usually women, gently interacting with a space that seems foreign to them. The latter feels very new and refreshing: small to medium-format and exquisitely rendered portraits of the characters that either live in or are visiting the artist’s dreamland, a comfort zone of his imagination they all call home.
Time and space won’t permit describing every single painting in the show – you should go see it for yourself – but there are two that are worth serious mention.
The first greets you as you enter the space. Titled “atropos”, it features a young woman who seems to be failing at the one task she’s been given: capturing moths. She stares at you, the unexpected and possibly unwelcome viewer, as a moth escapes her grasp. Her slightly aloof and disappointed gaze makes one feel as if they have let this young woman down by distracting her.
To balance this, the artist has employed a new technique, splattering the painting with thick and heavily cratered brown masses. It’s like whoever stood in the same place before you had utter disregard for her feelings and flung something vile back at her. This new texture/layer is used by Tredway throughout much of the new work. Whether it’s utilized as an interruption as in “atropos” or as part of the narrative – like some sort of shit-caked cocoon protecting some of Tredway’s residents, the new addition to the work, works.
The second standout painting is “raveled planes,” a very long panoramic painting of a lonely wooded space featuring a single female subject. The woods that surround her feature pruned trees that hint at the presence of previous visitors and low, rolling knolls that expand into a foggy, atmospheric forever. The subject is rolling a ball made up of strands like yarn that appear through open spaces in the sky, active portals to another place.
This woman is lost in this space and doing everything possible to collect pieces of where she’s from, or, to counter that, she is back here on Earth frantically retaining everything she can to keep what she experienced in Tredway’s dreamscape. The use of his signature foggy scenarios, mixed with the quantum mechanical transfer of material from one place to another via windows in the sky, make this painting worth spending some time in front of.
The only major issue with this exhibition is the space in which it’s shown. Fuse Coworking is a set of rooms on the third floor of a building in Lincoln’s Haymarket District with the intention of bringing local thinkers and startups into one space. The issue arrives when trying to take some time in front of a great painting and in between you and that painting is a young man with a laptop and a French press trying to pretend you’re not there.
It’s like when RNG Gallery was still on Leavenworth and seeing a great show there often meant in-between you and a piece of artwork was some couple sitting at a table eating chilaquiles. The work has to be hung very high on the walls making it difficult to properly experience it. What is needed is for Surface Tension to be shown in another space.
All in all, this is an exhibition worth the trip to Lincoln. Surface Tension isn’t just a breath of fresh air. It’s a pat on the back with a whisper of “everything’s going to be ok”.
Surface Tension, paintings by Nolan Tredway, continues until Sept. 1at Fuse Coworking, 800 P Street, Lincoln NE. For details, go to fusecoworking.com.