"Dueling Longnecks" 48.5 x 36 Acrylic on Wood Panel
"Birds of a Feather" 20 x 48 Acrylic on Wood Panel
Nelson was born in Nashville, Tennessee where he learned a love for entertainment and creative expression through the performing arts of choir and stage. He moved to Alabama as a teenager and was captivated by the beauty of the state’s landscape. He became interested in photography, and eventually art school. It was in art school that Nelson found his passion for sculpture. He earned a BFA and an M.Ed from the University of Montevallo and has been teaching in the public schools since 1996. His professional career as a sculptor compliments his role as a teacher. Through hard work and his love for art, Nelson’s sculptures have continued to evolve and grow with each passing group of students. He sees the students as an inspiration. “Teenagers live in an imaginary world,” he says, “and it’s that imagination that inspires me”. Nelson is known for his whimsical and entertaining animal sculptures and paintings. He has had multiple corporate and museum purchases. When the magazine Ceramics Monthly featured Nelson’s work, viewers were encouraged to “look a little closer” in order to “see that the work is about the child living on in the adult.” Nelson’s work is, in fact, inspired by a child’s play of building with toys such as Legos or Lincoln Logs. Through a process of creating his own ‘custom legos’ or components, he then assembles the parts together, and in this way, explores his uninhibited childlike imagination. “Everything is fresh and new each time I come into the studio. I bring out my parts and pieces and just build. It makes me feel like a child again”. It is Nelson’s hope that when you meet one of his pieces it will make you smile, make you laugh, and make its way into your heart and home.
‘Making things and building stuff’
By Jessica Spradlin
Published Sunday, January 1, 2017
Sculpture becomes Nelson Grice’s passion–and avenue for connecting with students
Story by Grace Thornton
Nelson Grice says he was kind of saved through art in high school.
“I was kind of a mess,” he said, “into a lot of stuff I shouldn’t have been. And this art teacher really just changed my life through her encouragement and seeing something in me that kind of validated who I was as a person.”
Grice had taken that class — a photography course — because, as a senior at Berry High School, he’d thought it would be an easy A.
“It was just a switch that went off,” he said.
And it changed the course of his life.
Grice went to the University of Montevallo to get a degree in photography, but when he got there, “if you’re getting a BA in fine arts, you have to do it all,” he said.
And when he got into sculpture, he knew he’s found his love.
“I’ve had my hands in clay since 1990, and I haven’t stopped,” he said. “Since then, I’ve done sculpture work almost every day of my life.”
And he’s using it to connect with students who might need a little extra hand, much like he did.
“When I did my bachelor’s, I decided I would go back to high school to connect with those kids who fall through the cracks who I think are like me, like I was in high school,” said Grice, a longtime visual arts teacher at Hoover High School. “I get a chance to really connect with those kids here in high school. I feel like I owe society a little something because a teacher changed my life.”
He loves “making things and building stuff,” and he loves being around teenagers, so his job is perfect, he said. The imagination of teenagers inspires him and his work.
And his sculptures have continued to evolve and grow with each passing class of students across his 21 years of teaching, Grice said. “I’m always learning something new.”
He paints. He does ceramics. And just recently, he got into bronze and won Best in Show in the Shelby County Art Council’s 8th Annual Adult Juried Art Show on Sept. 30.
The piece, called Storytime, beat out more than 100 pieces of art submitted by 25 other local artists. Forty-four of them were selected for the show and judged by Ted Metz, a retired University of Montevallo professor and artist.
“Storytime is about 80 pounds of bronze, and it’s about 30 inches tall,” Grice said.
The sculpture is a jester with a monkey face who’s “telling a story and he’s got this giraffe in his hands,” he said.
Monkeys and giraffes are recurring themes in Grice’s whimsical work, he said.
“Monkeys are fun. They are so close to human that you can do something comical with them,” he said. “When you put a human face on a sculpture, it takes on some other feeling. So I take the monkeys and put them in situations that are adult and human.”
And jesters are his signature subject. His sculptures are often kind of like self-portraits, he said.
“In this piece (Storytime), he’s sitting in a chair telling a story like a teacher would do,” Grice said. “He’s the jester, the one who always brings the comedy or entertainment into the king’s court.”
The pieces are always pointed in a humorous direction, “albeit dark at times,” he said. “I’ve had mixed comments over the years. Some people think it’s a bit too scary, others think it’s pretty sublime.”
His work has been shown widely on a number of occasions — most recently in Andre Kohn Fine Art gallery in Scottsdale, Ariz., and notably in a one-man show in New York in 2010.
Grice said he hopes that his pieces make people smile and laugh when they see them.
And the magazine Ceramics Monthly said people who encounter Grice’s work should “look a little closer” — if they do, they will “see that the work is about the child living on in the adult.”
Grice now has several children of his own in addition to the ones he teaches every day, but that only encourages him in indulging his own inner child in his art. He builds “custom Legos” and makes things with Lincoln Logs in order to exercise his imagination.
“Everything is fresh and new” that way, Grice said.
Mary Martin, who has displayed Grice’s art in her galleries in Charleston, S.C. and Naples, Fla., said there is “something magical in Nelson’s work.”
“It takes me to realms beyond. For those of you with vivid imaginations and a love of art, come in and spend some time with his unbelievable iconic pieces,” Martin writes on her website. “And then there is Nelson himself, a handsome unassuming loving family man, who is inspiring in many ways.”
Mary Martin Gallery I is located on 103 Broad Street, Charleston, SC 29401 843-723-0303
Mary Martin Gallery II is located on 122 Market Street in Charleston, SC 29401 843-640-3324
Mary Martin Galleries have been selected as the best galleries in South Carolina for nine years in a row and in the top 25 in the nation, Also, selected as the best gallery by several local publications.