A first for teen artist with ‘Neo-identity’ exhibit

NEWTON — From colouring books, to creating murals, to his first solo exhibition, a talented teen artist’s controversial collection is on view at a Newton art gallery this month.

Surrey’s Thomas Nelles, 19, a student at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, is the youngest individual artist to be given an exhibition by the Arts Council of Surrey. His collection, "Neo-identity," features 26 pieces and will be shown at Newton Cultural Centre during the month of May.

"It’s another milestone for me, actually," said Nelles, noting the arts council doesn’t often present solo shows at the venue, located in a former fire hall on 72nd Avenue.

With his exhibition, he explores the relationships between individuals and their environments. Within the work there is a strong focus on the neofeminist – or "lipstick feminist" – views on these relationships.

Neofeminism embraces the traditional power of sexuality along with more modern feminist ideals.

Nelles worked with a team of five women who played a part in coming up with concepts they wanted to portray. Much of the research that went in to producing the work represents personal stories.

"They’re independent. They’re not on either side, they’re on their own side," Nelles said.

"Yes, we are critiquing western society," he added. "We’re kind of breaking the rules."

It raises questions of autonomy and hybridity within modern cultures through a series of photographs, digital images and a sculpture.

"With all of what’s happening, nothing can be categorized or defined clearly," Nelles said. "Everything is more complex."

His goal is for people to walk away and be able to "re-evaluate what we’re being told, how we live day-to-day life and how we perceive things."

While attending Sullivan Heights Secondary, Nelles discovered and developed his skills at photography, sketching, painting and sculpting. His talent also extended to digital art, exploring photo manipulation, graphic design and sketching.

Nelles’ past endeavours include placing first at the BC Provincial Earth Day art show in 2011, being chosen to design the 2012 DIVERSEcity mural in Newton and his work on the Princess Myth exhibition.

"He’s going to go far," said Leah McCullough, the gallery curator for the Arts Council of Surrey.

"A lot of his work is really controversial, which makes it interesting and exciting because people will talk about it."

Nelles brought forth his proposal to the Arts Council in October of last year. McCullough said his idea was "really different and fresh and new," and the council gave him the gallery space this month to highlight his art and support his efforts.

"I think it’s going to be a really strong, fantastic show," she said.

The artist reception with Nelles is Saturday, May 10, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the gallery, located at 13530 72nd Ave. For info, call 604-594-2700 or visit www.artscouncilofsurrey.ca.


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