Roy Rogers horse, Trigger left a hoof print. Harry Potter star, Daniel Radcliffe left an imprint of his eyeglasses and B.C.’s Sarah McLachlan, a star surrounded by maple leaves. From the iconic celebrity signatures in Hollywood’s former Grauman’s Chinese Theatre’s sidewalks to Canada’s Walk of Fame, concrete has left a legacy of many indelible impressions. Diane Nelson of Brandon-Johnson Art and Design has taken the humble medium and raised the bar to include sculptural and decorative custom finishes and décor.
“Working with concrete has hundreds of creative and contemporary applications – from indoor kitchen countertops, island pedestals, flooring and walls, one-of-a-kind tiles for backsplashes, range hoods and statement fireplace surrounds to graphic art pieces and exterior architectural elements, water sculpture and outdoor furniture,” enthuses Diane Nelson. “And, it’s incredibly durable, water and fire resistant, odourless and environmentally friendly.”
You could say it was King Kong and Spiderman scaling the Grand 10 Cinema, Kelowna that lead to Nelson’s discovery that decorative concrete was her métier. Working with a team from Global Surface Solutions, she was responsible for sculpting the larger than life characters out of styrofoam, then started experimenting on her own with custom colouring , 3D texturing and finishes in concrete.
Integrating her multi-dimensional background in graphic, visual and interior design Nelson launched Brandon-Johnson Art and Design in 2009. Kelowna-born, Diane Nelson works directly with clients and interior decorators. Whether onsite for weeks at a time, painstakingly pouring and sculpting concrete on a 30-foot fireplace surround or overseeing the installation of her hand-made tiles, it’s all a collaborative process. “I listen very closely to the needs of my clients, then interpret their ideas on my computer, researching and transferring stencil images onto thin concrete slabs – an interactive experience every step of the way.”
Like a scientist in her laboratory, (in this case converted from a 600-sq foot garage attached to her home,) Nelson is part magic conjurer, mixing her own myriad of paint colours, primers and sealers and part Rosie the Rivitor. An enormous horizontal table supported by a motorcycle hydrolic lift moves thin 8-foot panels of sculpted concrete to drying racks. Her tools of the trade range from elaborate construction sanders and chisels, to artist’s airbrushes, stucco trowels, sponges – even culinary cake decorating tools used to create her intricate embellishments. Asked about a huge 10-inch syringe she uses to measure and inject laytex polymer colour pigments she laughing recounts how a sales clerk at a medical supplier asked her if she owned horses!
Nelson’s charming main floor of her home is a perfect showroom for her broad range of work from concrete countertops and faux brick and mortar walls in the kitchen to intricately textured one-of-a-kind mounted art pieces that one is compelled to touch and she encourages clients to do so. Her hand-made French Provencial fleur de lis tiles look like antique finds from an architectural ruin. Each water -jet cut tile intricately fits together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. The burnt orange abstract wings of a monarch butterfly art piece over a fireplace surround, resemble textured shot velvet and it’s difficult to imagine such delicacy is sculpted with concrete. A sample board of embossed Japanese cherry blossoms for a wall treatment , looks like piped cake icing and feels like flocked wallpaper.
She is currently experimenting with image transfers of photographs onto concrete that creates amazing depth in portraiture and landscapes evoking a moody, almost spiritual calm. “It’s like silk-screening on concrete,” she explains.
Commercial clients have gravitated to Nelson’s unique ability to capture the senses, then meld it with their own branding: a large concrete 3D painting of a water lily pond with a lone exquisite bloom, hung in the waiting room of The De Pieri Clinic, Kelowna, immediately inspires individual beauty, health and serenity. Her hip abstract illustration of a sexy hair-do on a large concrete mirror she created for Scruples Hair Design, incorporates the metallic silver striated texture of the concrete reception desk and suggests a ‘cool vibe’ to customers.
Nelson has also experimented with outdoor furniture and water features for the garden because concrete, when sealed, is the perfect foil for heat, rain and even snow. A coffee table with a concrete slab top and custom made stainless steel legs has a carved out centre cavity in which to hold candles or plants.
“For me,“ confides Nelson, “working in such a creative medium allows me to bring artful living to every part of the home and workplace.”
TOP PHOTO: Nelson created a large concrete 3D painting of a water lily pond with a lone exquisite bloom, hung in the waiting room of The De Pieri Clinic, Kelowna.