Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom
Visual Arts: Painting, Visual Arts
Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom’s work reflects Cape Cod’s distinctive traditions of both representational and abstract art inspired by nature. Importantly, in her unique approach to depicting and celebrating the natural world, Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom not only embraces, but also moves beyond, her artistic heritage.
Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom’s paintings are clearly representational, yet the canvas plays an additional role as a stage for the interaction of color, shape, and positive and negative space. In representing nature, while at the same time drawing our attention to the formal elements that structure our perception of it, Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom’s paintings are influenced by such earlier painters and teachers as Sam Feinstein (1915-2003), Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), and Wolf Kahn (b. 1927), all of whom, like Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom, drew inspiration from the natural beauty of the Cape.
As described by Patricia Stark Feinstein, the curator for CCMA’s landmark 2008 retrospective on Sam Feinstein, “Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom’s radiant landscape paintings offer a rich experience for the viewer. Dramatic contrasts of dark and light open into subtle shifts of glowing color to create imagery that is both real and surreal. Silky swirls in a sky form one of many rhythmic patterns as fluid brushwork enhances the painting’s surface.” In addition to her work with CCMA, Patricia Stark Feinstein is an independent curator, painter, and teacher of art and art history; she taught for many years with her husband Sam Feinstein.
The freeness of Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom’s artistic spirit carries even to the physical rendering of the canvas itself. The artist pushes beyond the conventional boundaries of the four-sided canvas to recapture and revitalize the diptych and the triptych, forms used commonly for altarpieces in medieval and early Renaissance art. In Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom’s 2009, Cape Cod Museum exhibit, “Altar-ing nature”, the object of reverence is nothing less than nature itself.
As noted by Ms. Stark Feinstein, “In her unusual two and three-part compositions (diptychs and triptychs), Nelson Dahlstrom challenges our relationship to space as defined by the single-window effect of traditional landscape paintings. Her multiple vistas of vast space, painted on separate panels and then combined, simultaneously diverge and unite before the viewer’s eyes to create unique compositions.”
Arts writer Debbie Forman, author of a forthcoming book on the Provincetown artist colony, also lauds this aspect of Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom’s work: "Using multi-panels in different sizes is an imaginative way for Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom to depict her landscapes. It adds dimension to the images. The large central panel with the towering tree gives a sense of grandeur to "The Sentinels." The subtle contrasts of color and light in "Day's End" evoke a feeling that all is right on this bit of land."
Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom’s ties to the Cape’s artistic heritage are strong. She studied with Sam Feinstein, the noted teacher and painter whose outstanding body of work was the subject of a retrospective at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in 2008. Sam Feinstein was himself the student of Hans Hofmann, master of abstract expressionism, famed educator, and subject of an essay by artist Frank Stella (b.1936) titled The Artist of the Century. Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom also studied with Wolf Kahn, who was himself a student of Hans Hofmann and an assistant in Hofmann’s Provincetown studio.
A graduate of Boston University and the Massachusetts College of Art, Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom has taught classes at the Cape Cod Museum of Art since 2001. The recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom has exhibited her work in galleries and museums in Massachusetts and throughout New England. Her works are included in the permanent collections of such museums as the Cape Cod Museum of Art (Dennis, MA), Duxbury Art Museum (Duxbury, MA), and Heritage Museum (Sandwich, MA), as well as in many private collections.