Artist A.J. Nesselrod Immortalizes Our Overlooked Reality

Photograph by Trina Roberts

We drive by, around, through, and over them every day. Viewed mostly as signposts for whether we’re going the right direction in our tiny motorized boxes on wheels, the gray, brutalist concrete freeways never really register to us, even though we’re surrounded by them. While a photo is an easy reference, A.J. Nesselrod prefers to paint from the grittiness of life: “I’m drawn to what’s happening, what I see, especially now,” he says. “I’m not romantic in my painting.” Seeing the underpass on the Santa Ana-Tustin border every day, as he circumvents rush hour traffic heading home with his children, he swiftly made this oil painting despite its myriad details. Titled for the date the artist began and finished the work—“The beauty of plein air is that you can do a quick study”—it reveals an awareness of the overlooked beauty of urban landscapes, his tonalism attentively accenting the brights and darks. In the dusky passageway, he gives us a string of white pinpricks, tiny specks amid the scumbled black shadows. The tops of the roadside trees are dappled with sunshine, the light behind them pushing the muddy silhouettes of the foliage across the surface of the murky asphalt, as the fluffy tips of branches tag the lip of the overpass. The cars below go about their business, as the sepia clouds overhead threaten an onslaught.

“112215” (2015), oil on panel, 14 by 18 inches. Contact Nesselrod via email at to make an appointment to visit his Tustin studio.

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