By Yohanna M Roa – Curator
Nelson A. Gallardo (Colombia 1981) had the opportunity to approach the visual arts from an early age, thanks to his parents who are both linked to the art world. They taught him the use of oil and other artistic techniques, and at the age of 11, he won the gold prize at the 7th International Biennial of Kanagawa, at the World Exhibition of Children’s Art. He received a scholarship from the State Institute of Fine Arts of Cali, for four years (1996-1999) as part of the Young Artistic Talents program. In 2000 he began his studies in physics at the Universidad del Valle – Colombia. Nelson moved to the United States in July 2002, where he joined the United States Army as a Specialist in Biological Chemistry and Nuclear Weapons and was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division in Vilseck Germany. He graduated from Berkeley College with a degree in administration. In 2017, he joined the FSG team as a project manager to start working on improving bridge and tunnel lighting. He has lived in NYC since July 2012 where he has continued his artistic studies independently.
Into the Light: Behind-the scenes in NY City is his first solo exhibition, composed of pictorial pieces all made in oil on canvas, in which he brings together his work on lighting improvements in the city and his artistic training. It is thanks to both perspectives that in his paintings it is possible to visualize the great daily work in the transformation of New York: bridges, tunnels, airports, workers, and all the efforts involved in that process and their effects on the daily life of the city. Nelson is directly immersed in the processes of improvement, so he knows them in detail. This gives him knowledge of a more intimate order of spaces and constructions that for us are often only places of transit, the so-called non-places.
The views or frames that the artist presents to us come from a photographic record that he captures night after night and that only a person, immersed in the process of working on these large structures would have the possibility of observing so intimately; not in a distant way as an alien passer-by, but within the greater physical proximity to work directly in its transformation. In this way, Nelson knows them, and appreciates and observes the effects that those changes exert upon the city. For example, in the paintings “Lane 3”, “lane 6”, “lane 11”, and “Dyer Expressway”, all the elements of the composition—road, walls, street, workers, machinery—seem to come upon us, the composition is enveloping, the weight of the monumentality of the constructions, their materiality, texture and colors are perceived. Nelson is actually in his midst, so he works, observes and depicts it in the painting. Even capturing that composition would be almost impossible under other circumstances, since the traffic in the tunnels and bridges does not stop at any time, except for a couple of hours at night when they are closed to make improvements. This gives him the opportunity to visualize the places from such an immersive position.
With the city of New York as a stage, in his paintings, we can recognize workers, equipment, tools, machinery, and security elements that make up the nocturnal city landscape at the time of work on the improvements. There are two groups of paintings that approach this perspective. In the first we can observe, from a completely open shot, the total scenery of the work that is done in the city. In Pieces such as “Tower 1”, the triptych “The towers” and “lane closure”, the landscape is made up of enormous machinery, means of transport, and security systems, and always a piece of the city where big and small nocturnal lights alter the natural color of the sky. In the work “Center Tube”, in a completely open shot and thanks to the verticality of the frame, we can observe, from a high-angle shot, a kind of landscape with everything required for carrying out the activities scheduled in a night of work. In the second group, we can see several workers doing their jobs. For example, in the work “Tony”, the clothing and tools required by a worker to do their work are shown in detail; vest, mask, and pockets that contain a number of tools. In “The Inspection” we see a group of workers receive instructions right in front of the tunnel.
The light occupies a preponderant place in this group of paintings. This is because a large number of jobs that are carried out are during the night, between 9 pm and 3 am. For this reason, in most works we can see the light is nocturnal. One of the main transformation projects has been the replacement of conventional sources of incandescent or fluorescent lights by LED. Nelson has the trained eye to see those changes, the way in which the electroluminescence of LED light produces colors and reflections on the materiality of buildings, streets and everything that makes up the urban landscape. In paintings like “No Turns”, “The Bus Stop” and “The Terminal”, the reflections and bodies transformed by night lighting are clearly visible, including the different types of lighting between the interior and the exterior. This is the case with the air terminal, where colors and types of light are only possible at nighttime or in completely closed spaces with artificial lighting. In the work “Lane 6” what we observe is a group of laborers working specifically on Line 6, located at the Trans-Manhattan Expressway, changing the lighting system during night-time hours.
In this exhibition there is also a historical aspect of relevance: work in these public spaces is undertaken, almost non-stop on a daily basis. Often people do not see or understand the implications, procedures and people that are required to make the required changes and that subsequently contribute greatly to our daily life and its quality. Through art, it is possible to visualize the changes of the city. In this particular case, even our way of recognizing the city has been transformed in a profound way with the change of lighting. This series of paintings work as documentation or record of that transformation, capturing the moment in which it takes place, and doing it from within since Nelson captures the images and transforms them into pictorial material from his experience of daily work. Throughout history artists have addressed both issues -on the one hand, the work during the transformations of the city and the other the lighting and its effect. Edward C Tiffin depicted the work of NY laborers in pieces like Building a Skyscraper, 1925-1930, oil on canvas, or the illumination of the city in photographs by Alfred Stieglitz, such as the image of the intersection of 5th Avenue and 59th from 1897, or the painting: “East River view with Brooklyn Bridge” of 1983 by Ivonne Jacquette.
His paintings have the clear intention of offering us an approximation of the human experience that both he and his teammates have every day during their work, and they also allow us to see the transformation projects of the Office of Environmental Projects of the Port Authority of New York and of the city of New Jersey and they provide the viewer with a window for each conservation effort.