Polk City is now home to the studio of a self-proclaimed "world famous" artist.
Keith Nelson of Grimes, a freelance artist, recently opened an art studio in the former gas station building on the corner of the town square, across from Kum & Go. The sign hanging on the front of the building reads "Keith Nelson Arts - Iowa’s World Famous Artist - Designer." Though he admits with a laugh that he really is not known world-wide, he would like to become well-known locally, which is part of the reason he opened a studio on the square.
"I always thought it would be cool to have a studio in Polk City," Nelson said.
Up until now, Nelson has been working out of the studio he built in his backyard. With the studio on the square, he hopes to gain more exposure and expand his clientele list.
Those walking into Nelson’s studio are immediately surrounded by paintings of cars, Marilyn Monroe and other Hollywood celebrities - all of which are for sale. This summer and fall, Nelson plans on painting wildlife and outdoor scenes from the Saylorville Lake and Polk City areas to cater toward local residents.
Nelson has been interested in the arts since he was young. He graduated from Iowa State University in 1995 with a degree in fine arts. Since then, he has held only one "real" job - as a jewelry designer. The past 13 years have been spent as a freelance artist.
Since graduating from college, he has painted murals, kids’ rooms, vaulted ceilings and even a Volkswagen Beetle. A majority of his paintings have been of cars and Marilyn Monroe. The reason for the cars is because of his love of automobiles. Prior to enrolling in college, he wanted to design cars. After realizing the amount of engineering involved in car design, he decided to draw and paint pictures of cars instead. In the past, he has often attended a classic car auction held in Arizona. This has connected him with some of his high-end clients from Arizona, Hawaii and Australia who have him paint the cars they own.
The Hollywood-themed prints, including those of Marilyn Monroe, stem from a college class Nelson took on old films. He said what was cool 50 years ago is still cool now and will continue to be 50 years in the future.
"I paint what sells, and Marilyn sells," Nelson said.
What makes his paintings stand out from others’ is the photo-realism. Using an airbrush to add details to the paintings also gives them a unique look. Nelson often uses photos and images when he is painting as reference material. Depending on the size and detail of the painting, he can spend as little as 20 hours or as much as 500 hours completing it.
"I can do anything," Nelson said. "If I can see it, I can do it."
By "anything," Nelson really means anything. His artistic abilities expand beyond the paintbrush to pencil drawings, sculptures, woodwork and soon, chainsaw creations. He loves making art pieces out of old barn wood and plans to begin experimenting with chainsaws to create works of art.
Seeing people’s reactions to a piece of art he has created for them is what Nelson enjoys about his work and makes the time he put into the piece of art worthwhile.
"God gave me the ability to do it," Nelson said of creating art. "Nobody needs what I do here; they buy it because they like what I do."
Keith Nelson Arts studio hours (subject to change):
Monday and Tuesday - by appointment or by chance
Wednesday through Friday - 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Saturday - 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
To view some of Nelson’s artwork, visit keithnelsonarts.com.