Artist Jay Nelson injects a sense of wanderlust into everything he touches

Artist Jay Nelson injects a sense of wanderlust into everything he touches

Voyages of discovery — Jay Nelson’s spectacular wooden builds turn mass-produced cars, boats and scooters into beautifully whacky exploration vessels.

Wandering through the forest in San Francisco’s Bay Area, you might just walk right past artist Jay Nelson’s work without even noticing. Jay’s sprawling treehouses melt into the wild, their geometric, but playful and organic shapes weaving themselves into the surrounding woodland.

Jay’s first ever build was a make-it-up-as you go-along treehouse, but over the years he’s refined his craft to transform cars, surfboard-carrying boats, vans and even scooters into incredible wood-panelled wanderlust machines.

What does adventure mean to you?
Honestly it doesn’t mean a whole lot, I think it’s over used, but I remember Yvon Chouinard saying that an adventure doesn’t begin ’til everything goes wrong. I think sometimes things aren’t worth doing unless they ask deep questions. I always start a project with a ton of optimism. About half way through there’s usually a period of despair and then I have to work through that. The despair is important because that means you don’t know where things are going and you’re scared. It’s humbling and it makes you ask important questions: what is this about, why is it important, what am I contributing. The only way to get over the despair is to work through it. Ideally in the end you answer these questions and the work reveals itself. I imagine a great adventure is the same.

When you get jaded by life, what helps you get your head back in the right place?
Surfing is about escaping from human problems (unless it’s packed). I find that if I’m feeling negative it’s probably cause I haven’t been surfing. If I’m not working on art enough I can get negative so working brings me back up.

Do you remember the first thing you ever built? What made you decide to follow that path?
The first thing I built was a treehouse, I worked on it for years with no direction just nailing up wood as I found it, I think I eventually killed the tree.

I’m very thankful for a group mentors I had in my early twenties and still look up to today. To name a few Keith Aderholdt, Alex Kopps, John McCambridge, Thomas Campbell, Luke Bartels, Jeff Canham, Danny Hess, Barry Mcgee, Chris Reardon. Nobody gets anywhere on their own and I’m thankful for for my Bay Area community , we all help each other.

What have been the biggest challenges on your journey as an artist?
Probably dealing with the money side of things. I’ve struggled a lot with how to value my work and how to not let money get in the way of relationships. When I was younger I would just not talk about it and do things for free or for very little compensation, I felt and feel like friendships are the most important thing. But then I would feel resentful and unappreciated. I’m still learning.

The photos from this story come from our friends at Freunde von Freunden. Head over to their site to read an extended feature with Jay.

Check out more of Jay Nelson’s work.