A neon-hued tree stump, raccoon bones painted with nail polish: the work of Indiewalls artist Ners Neonlumberjack teeters between the morbid and the joyful, the naturally occurring and the vividly imagined. While gearing up to showcase his work at BDNY, I talked to Ners about his influences, his environmentally-sustainable creative practice, and of course, his memorable name.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. Let’s start with your biography. You're based in New Orleans, but originally from Indiana. How did you end up in New Orleans?
I'm originally from a small town in Indiana called Riverwood, just north of Indianapolis, which is where I went to college at the Herron School of Art Design. I graduated with degrees in painting, sculpture and art history. I triple majored in four years.
Wow, that’s a lot!
I take it for granted… But yeah, I took summer courses and really worked incredibly hard the entire time. After college, I left on a road trip and lived out of my car for four and a half months. Just exploring out west. I lived in Milwaukee for a number of years, and then, I lived on an island in the middle of Lake Michigan. Then Nashville for a bit, and now New Orleans.
You’ve really covered a lot of the United States. What drew you to stay in New Orleans?
Right now, it’s my day job. I'm the display artist for Urban Outfitters in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Through my job, I get access to a workshop and tools, and of course, the stability that a lot of artists love.
That sounds like a great set-up for an artist. Let’s dig into the work you’re making these days. What inspires you to create?
From year to year, my influences change. But overall, my constant thread has been an environmentally-sustainable working method. My surrounding natural environment feeds the work that I do, and I am interested in the ever-present cycle of life and death. When I am not painting on bones and feathers and things like that, I'm painting on chopped down (dead) trees. My history with clinical depression has also been a theme in my art, but a lot of people aren't necessarily seeing the work within that context.
That’s interesting to hear. I’ve been focused on the colors and patterns, which are incredibly vibrant and joyful. I haven’t been thinking about the fact that they are embellishing a dead tree. Both sides of nature—the vibrancy and its inevitable decay—coalesce in your work.
That’s why the more somber themes in my work aren’t overt. If you’re looking for it, you can find it. I think one thing I’ve been successful at is using bright colors and materials to create playfulness, even in this darker context. Seeing happiness, hope, just positive feelings when people look at my work...that brings me a lot of joy.
But the subtle dark themes are important, as well, because humans have a predisposition: when we’re reminded of dark things, our brain reacts a certain way. We're willing to take more risks. We’re willing to experience some ecstatic curiosity.
Before we end, mind if I ask about your name? How did you come to be called Ners Neonlumberjack?
Well, first, Ners is a shortened version of a nickname I’ve had my entire life. And the last name: I was once chopping firewood in a multicolored, fluorescent early ’90s track jacket. My partner at the time just said, “Wow, you look like a neon lumberjack.” At first, I just titled a work “Neon Lumberjack.” But I realized that if I made it one word, it makes a pretty good last name.
It certainly does, and I think it gives a great lens into the themes of your work. Thank you for speaking with me, and for sharing your work—the darkness, the playfulness, and everything in between.