Ten Prominent People | Craig Nelson

Painter • Santa Rosa, CA

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in the art world during your career? I have seen it swing back toward realism. There is a lot more interest in the figure than there was 20 years ago. There used to be a lot more strange, conceptual art. Also, I’ve been teaching at the Academy of Art University for 22 years. When I came here, the goal was to take the school toward more traditional art. And when I first came here there were 49 students. Now we have 1,100 students.

Where do you find inspiration for your work? Travel.

What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years? Just to paint better, do larger and more ambitious paintings. When you are teaching, you are creating your own competition. It really keeps you on your toes.

Central Park Serenade, oil, 24 x 18.

Any regrets? That I didn’t pursue gallery work sooner. I waited. For a time I was illustrating, creating movie posters, and making good money. I did posters for Broadway shows and movies like Slap Shot. I was painting on the side but not pursuing it from a professional point of view.

Describe yourself in one word. Energetic.

If your studio was on fire, what one thing would you save? My images—my slides and my computer.

What advice do you give your students? Practice. Practice. Practice. Get good. You are never as good as you need to be. Sometimes artists get into a gallery and they think their career is made. I tell them to look for other galleries and look for [other] sources of income. I tell them to see great art and to keep their minds open. I tell them to look at great contemporary and historical painters. Don’t be afraid to look at people like Wayne Thiebaud and Alex Kanevsky. And also look at artists like John Asaro and Dan McCaw as examples of artists who don’t stay stagnant. Dan has a line I tell my students: “Every artist needs to learn to make frustration their friend.” It’s not always going to go well. It’s during the struggle that you make your greatest leaps. Don’t be too satisfied.

People would be surprised to learn that … I love sports. And I love nice clothes—expensive suits, shoes, and ties. I have a huge collection of ties, even though I don’t wear them that often.

Featured in May 2012.