Taking Inspiration From Animals With Nelson and Dynan
By Laura Christman
Barnyard ArtMay 2016
Story by Laura Christman
Photos by Manda Reed
A friendly donkey set against pink and orange hills under puffy clouds. Teens texting in a London modern art gallery, oblivious to the large painting behind them. Two sociable sheep with coats of colorful swirls standing beneath a cheerful yellow sun.
The artwork of Phil Dynan and Anastasia Nelson is bright and bold with plenty of warmth and wit.
That figures. The same can be said of the two Red Bluff-area artists. Each is an established professional. They also are a creative force together, collaboratively painting many pieces.
“We work on something until we are tired and then pass it to the other person,” Dynan explains.
Nelson describes the back-and-forth process as a multiplication of ideas, building on what the other has done. Through collaboration, two individual styles become a new, distinct style.
“There is rarely any discussion,” Dynan says. “We’ve never had a disagreement.”
A series of their animal paintings is titled “Animal Prescription.” The charismatic cows, cats and other creatures are an Rx for joy.
“People tend to break out laughing and smiling when they see them,” Nelson says.
The animal art is big in Red Bluff, where it is featured in an 80-foot-long mural on the side of Dynan and Nelson’s downtown business, Red Bluff Art Gallery.
“I think it involves the community in a way you otherwise can’t do with your art,” Dynan says of the popular mural painted with the help of children and adults in Red Bluff.
The mural images feature animals the married couple knows. A lot of them live at their home on six acres in the rolling-hills, big-sky, blue-oak countryside west of Red Bluff. The menagerie includes a donkey, five goats, 15 cats, seven dogs and a bunch of chickens. Many were abandoned.
“We’re an accidental rescue and care center,” Dynan says.
They didn’t set out to paint animals, but the quirky traits, stories and spirit of their companions inspire art.
“We’re identifying them as beings,” Nelson says of the paintings. “I’m trying to discuss the personality or story of the animal with the color around them.”
The two artists paint – usually in oils and acrylics – in a large studio near their home, and have multiple projects underway.
An ongoing collaboration is “Electronica,” a series of paintings about people and their electronic devices. It’s not condemning devices, but exploring people’s connection to them, Nelson says. “Are we using them as tools or are we becoming tools of them?”
Dynan has been making a living as an artist since 1967, beginning with technical drawing for the U.S. Army. He attended Western Illinois University, where he had his first art exhibit in 1970. He has created posters and cards and written and illustrated books. The longtime runner gained international recognition for his serigraphy, notably artwork commissioned to promote running and cycling events, including the Tour de France, San Francisco Marathon and Los Angeles Marathon.
An offbeat pursuit was running for state Assembly in 2006 as performance art. “When I ran for office, I literally ran through every town in all nine counties,” Dynan says.
Nelson attended the University of California at Davis to pursue veterinary medicine and veterinary illustration. “Eventually the art took more and more front stage,” she says.
She graduated with a degree in studio painting and art history, and she is an award-winning photographer who strives for emotional realism in her works. Her art has been featured in numerous shows during the past 20 years. She leads art sessions at Red Bluff Art Gallery and teaches art at Tehama eLearning Academy.
Nelson enjoys encouraging people who claim to have no artistic abilities. “I say, ‘Come on in and play.’ They walk out with a smile, proud of their first painting.”
Nelson and Dynan met at a Davis art gallery, where she was working and his work was on exhibit. They moved from Sacramento to Tehama County in 2002.
“We were inspired by the natural beauty,” Nelson says.
“There’s no end to places to explore here,” Dynan adds.
Whether it’s a portrait of a barnyard cow, an abstract of the Sutter Buttes or a photograph of lupines at Lassen Volcanic National Park, the individual and collective work of Dynan and Nelson evokes feelings of place and purpose.
“It’s a sense of joy and inquiry into the world and how lucky we are in life,” Nelson says.
Red Bluff Art Gallery • 601 Walnut St., Red Bluff
Hours: 11 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Friday;
noon to 4 pm Saturday