Dirk Nelson is the quiet guy at art openings, standing off to the side, observing, absorbing and studying people, and rightly so, because he is passionate about drawing and interpreting the human figure. His work is not about reflection of image, but about expression of image.
But first, let me explain a little about “monotypes” to those of you unfamiliar with the term. Monotypes  began in the early 1600s. They were made by drawing on a metal plate with printers ink and then pressed by hand or press onto a piece of absorbent paper. The resulting image was singular and unique and could not be repeated. It is a “painterly “printing process that allows the artist to concentrate on being creative unhindered by technicality. Improvisation, impulse, chance and gesture all come into play, and it is this process that Nelson chooses to create his figures.
The human figure: Painters and sculptors have forever been fascinated with it, and I suppose if you were to collect every drawing or image of the human figure from the caves to present time and put them in a pile, you might end up with an object possibly, well, the size of the moon. And still, artists will endlessly continue to draw, paint and sculpt the human figure and explore its inexhaustible supply of inspiration.
However, Nelson’s work is more about the process; what goes on between the hand and the mind expressed through a chosen technique that is as transient as the artist’s models poses.
None of the figures in his show was drawn from life; they were drawn from the artist’s imagination. Nelson feels his work are more connected to poetry and sculpture as evidenced in the show's title: “Ungemmed, Unhidden," taken from a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Nelson’s explains, “My figures all express what it means to be human, to be in the process of developing, to be full of uncertainty. I think that drawing and poetry share the “ungemmed, unhidden” quality of being pared down to the essential and uncomplicated. I strive for that naivety or innocence of children.”
The sonnet ends with “Look what I have! — And these are all for you.” That sentiment echoes in his work.
Using any element or object at hand to manipulate the ink on the plate, Nelson manages to create a series of figures that are full of gesture and presence. All standing face front, these “sculpted” human forms, some with arms crossed, others open, all take on monolithic proportion, and in the process become archetypical reflections that harken back to the earliest human expression. The figures seem to emerge or recede from their space, but never allude to why they exist. They are like shadows on a foggy day where you have to strain to make out what is familiar only to have it become unfamiliar then familiar again. And it is through this process, that you slowly become aware that what you may be looking at is yourself.
All of Nelson’s work was created at Vitamin Studios in La Crosse.