Urban Visioner

Anton Nelessen is a noted urban visioner, but he is first and foremost an artist. “Eco City,” made from recycled computer and cell phone parts embedded in tar, is his vision for the future of cities.

“I’m preserving the residue of the last era for the next generation as an expression of where we are now,” he says. “Eco City” is a cityscape formed of discarded parts, and is a sort of urban planner’s forecast for the future. “It’s surrounded by fields of food production,” he says. “When cities broke down, they were surrounded by farms.”

The Eco City “recycles and feeds itself,” says Mr. Nelessen. “The roads are gone. In order to be self-sustaining, wind has to be harvested.”

“Eco City” took nearly two years to complete, and Mr. Nelessen used parts from his own obsolete computers, wires and plastic. He used tar as a base because “it is one of the last organic compounds on Earth.”

“Eco City” is part of

Two Painters, One Sculptor, Three Visions, an exhibit on view in the Nelessen residence at 49 River Road, Belle Mead, Oct. 15, 4 p.m.-dusk; Oct. 16, 4-8p.m. and Oct. 17, noon-4 p.m., and by appointment through Nov. 7. 908-874-8770.

Two Painters, One Sculptor, Three Visions will feature a thoughtfully displayed selection of the abstract realism of Mario Torroella and the earth-based sculpture of Jonathan Shor, as well as Mr. Nelessen’s own paintings, reflecting his interest in and great knowledge of urban planning.

The contemporary house on River Road in Belle Mead not only makes a spacious gallery but is itself a work of art. The original one-story structure was built in 1964, designed by architect William Thompson, who later became known for his New England style of colonial architecture.

Originally planned for a family who lived next door and needed to house an Indonesian art collection, the house later sold to a Swiss pianist. When, in 1999, Hurricane Floyd covered the dwelling with mud, some might have called it a disaster. The Nelessens considered it an opportunity.

Having previously restored a 1799 farmhouse in Franklin Township and a Queen Anne-style house on Princeton’s Bank Street, the couple was ready to take on the challenge of the Belle Mead house.

Mr. Nelessen – a professor at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, as well as founding member of Princeton Future, the downtown Princeton advocacy group — has created downtown redevelopment plans for Milwaukee, Cambridge, Mass., and Atlanta, among many others.

Ms. Nelessen taught at the Waldorf School of Princeton from 1991 to 2005 and retired so she could focus on other projects, although she has recently returned part time. She has run art workshops and classes in the 30-by-70-foot glass-enclosed space that also houses a magnificent 30-year-old fig tree.

The Nelessens met Mr. Torroella through an architect Mr. Nelessen worked with who happened to be married to Mr. Torroella’s niece. Mr. Nelessen and Mr. Torroella had much in common – both earned degrees in architecture at Harvard, and both are passionate artists.

“Painting is a wonderful frustration reliever,” says Mr. Nelessen, who manages a staff of 58.

“It’s cheaper to paint than to pay a psychiatrist,” says Mr. Torroella, who recently sold the shares in the architectural firm he founded with Harvard classmates in the 1960s and now works as employee for the firm. “I’m working just as hard as before, but without the responsibility,” says the Cuban-born Mr. Torroella. “As a partner, when push comes to shove you don’t get paid. And as an employee I don’t have to worry about politics.”

Painting and architectural design feed each other, says Mr. Torroella from his home in Cambridge, Mass. “Painting keeps my mind active and out of the box so I don’t get stuck in one way.”

Raised in Havana, Mario’s mother, an artist, encouraged his ability to draw and paint. His father worked in architecture and construction and inspired Mr. Torroella to study architecture.

At Harvard, he took a leave of absence during the Cuban Revolution and returned to his homeland for a year where he was influenced by Cuban artists, directors and architects. “The cultural effervescence in the Cuba of the time polished my art while the rude awakening to the political realities and the tragic aftermath matured my vision,” he writes.

After earning his master’s in architecture, Mr. Torroella’s artwork was exhibited in one-person shows in Puerto Rico, France, the U.S. and Spain.

“I paint in order to communicate or alleviate an alienation brought about by coming from a country where extreme beauty and natural abundance have been the backdrop for a society which has often erupted in self-violence,” writes Mr. Torroella.

There are roosters, cages, goats and clouds in Mr. Torroella’s otherwise abstract images.

“I consider myself expressionistic, whether abstract or realist,” says Mr. Torroella. “Goats and roosters, in Cuban culture, are always there. They are very important. The rooster is macho, king of the barn, and has been used in Afro-Cuban culture as a sacrificial animal, as is the goat. Besides being pretty pictures of animals, they carry a lot of baggage.”

The colors are tropical, but Mr. Torroella hasn’t been to Cuba since his leave from Harvard in 1960. “I doubt I’ll ever go  back. When the current system collapses, it will be years before the country is restored. But it will always be with me, and it is why I paint.”

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