Jay Nelson is a dude’s dude. With an Instagram account that won’t quit, he is best known for his whimsical campers and elaborate treehouses all made from repurposed wood, a natural material he has been drawn to since childhood. He is reluctant to call himself an “artist” by traditional standards, preferring terms like surfer, painter, father, doodler, husband, fort builder and cave dweller to describe his process as a creative.
All journeys are definitive, whether personal or professional, and Jay has ultimately learned that all roads lead back to the Bay Area. After years of living in NYC and traveling through Europe, he realized his work moved forward when things were the least complicated. “The nice thing about OB was that it was almost like the rent got cheaper the closer you got to the beach,” he explained about his home in the Outer Sunset neighborhood in San Francisco, a foggy stretch on the west side of town where the Pacific ocean meets the city. Jay and a few friends from art school were attracted to the area because unlike the rest of S.F. it was still affordable and the waves were consistently good. They built a thriving community for themselves, anchoring the single-story buildings with art stores, restaurants, studios and shops, and carving out a little slice of residential heaven filled with local vibes and familiar faces. “No one really wants to leave and it’s great because we all see each other every day. I get coffee in the morning and then I’ll see those same people from the coffee shop surfing in the afternoon. It’s awesome.”
Jay’s life is pretty simple and he likes it like that. Most days he can be found driving to his favorite mill in Pt. Reyes to pick up lumber, hitting the selvedge yard and stopping for a surf before heading home to his wife and collaborator, Rachel, and their daughter, Romy. For The Open Pass group show presented by Subaru, Jay transformed an ’82 Subaru Brat into the camper of his dreams. Complete with a miniature wood burning stove, red cedar pop-top and bunk, he wanted it to be the “best camper he had ever built” so he could take his entire family along for the ride. While he searched all over the country for the perfect Brat to modify, he kept hitting roadblocks. Ironically, after searching high and low for the perfect car, he found one through a friend of a friend in Oakland, right in his own backyard. Once again, bringing his story full circle.
Photos by Kat Borchart, Courtesy of Subaru of America, Inc.
This post is in partnership with Subaru of America, Inc.