For more than 10 years Daniel Nevins’ imaginary narrative paintings were a favorite amongst Asheville collectors, and it’s no wonder given the cherubic characters he placed within dreamy landscapes of flowers, clouds and rivers. Then, nearly three years ago, in a shift that happened literally overnight, Nevins began painting large works of voluptuous shape, color and movement. For Nevins, the new work resonated with his urge to convey a direct emotional statement. “I needed to reflect a darkness,” says Nevins. “If you knew me, you knew that those narrative paintings were not who I was.”
April 6, 2009 was the day Nevins says he “left the door open and a new muse came into the room.” While he had been feeling the creative shift internally for some time, on that day he produced a charcoal sketch which he later rendered into a large colorful painting of floating shapes and shifting backgrounds.” The painting had a life and a vitality that I hadn’t painted in a while,” he says. At the risk of disappointing his large fan base, Nevins proceeded to paint what was calling him, and hasn’t looked back since.
As is the case with many contemporary paintings, Nevins’ paintings blur the line between abstraction and representation. While some may regard the work as non-objective, closer examination of his forms resemble elements of the natural world. Swirling masses and striations look like ribbon candy in one, or bodily organs in another. “It’s like seeing an animal in the forest that you’ve never seen before but you recognize it because it’s composed of parts that are familiar to you,” says Nevins.
Where the pieces begin, he says, is with a relationship between shapes or colors. His painting, Number 10, for example, began when Nevins wanted to explore the liaison between a greenish sea foam hue and dark red. In Number 7, Nevins sought to investigate the relationship between two shapes suspended next to each other, attached by a cord.
Upon establishing his initial layers of washes and brushstrokes, arrangements of shapes begin to emerge, and drips of paint are outlined — a process Nevins refers to as “fetishizing the gesture.” Working intuitively, Nevins allows the painting to take form. “In this process I get to be the viewer because I don’t know where the painting is going,” says Nevins. “The painting gets to be what it wants to be.”
Another noticeable change in Nevins’ artwork is his approach to titling. “I used to think of my paintings as one still photograph from a movie; the title of the painting would be the title of that movie,” he says, referring to descriptors like Return of the Prodigal Daughter, and The Generosity of Water used on earlier works. Now Nevins labels his paintings according to their order of inception. “I feel like anything more would be telling the viewer how to perceive it,” he says, adding that he enjoys the range of interpretation his new paintings offer when given less explanatory titles.
The cultural aesthetic of late ’60s and early ’70s often finds its way into Nevins work, and he admits that era left a big impression on him. The youngest of five children, Nevins was born in 1963 in Florida and later as a youth his family relocated to the Mojave Desert in California. He received a BA in fine arts and a degree in graphic design from the University of Florida in 1985 and went on to work in design for a variety of publications including Jazziz and Surf Magazine; his illustrations have also graced over 30 album covers.
In the early ’90s — when the graphic design field began transitioning from cut and paste layout to digital formatting — Nevins decided the time was right to leave the design world and forge his way as an illustrator and painter. He moved to Asheville, acquired a studio in the River Arts District, and began showing his paintings at Blue Spiral 1 Gallery where he went on to have multiple sold-out shows over the next decade “I was being rewarded for painting what I was painting, but I wasn’t having the kind of fun I wanted to have with the narrative work,” says Nevins. “There comes a time when an artist has to ask him/herself ‘Who are you when you take away the thing people like best about your work?'”
These days Nevins is completing a series of paintings for a major publication out of a large studio in his Asheville home, drawing inspiration from the natural world and biological illustrations. “When I was doing my figurative work I was enamored by myth and how it revealed something about human nature,” says Nevins. “Now I’m more enamored by science — what is really happening is so trippy I don’t need a story to tell it.”