Stark white walls brought out the brightly colored art of Nelson De La Nuez on Thursday at Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank.
With signs welcoming visitors to “Pop Land,” the opening reception for De La Nuez’s exhibit and book signing drew crowds to familiar pop-culture images with unique twists — Dorothy left behind by the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, and Alice in Wonderland chatting with Humpty Dumpty and Mr. Peanut.
De La Nuez, a Hoover High School graduate originally from Havana, Cuba, has taken all the iconic pop images from his youth and splattered them on canvases in his Pop Americana series.
“You come into this world and you don’t know anything,” De La Nuez said. “You kind of just absorb everything, and that was exactly what I did.”
After taking an interest in both art and science in high school, the aspiring artist waited until he was in his 30s before committing himself to becoming a professional artist.
“I’m somewhat of a perfectionist, and I didn’t want to commit unless I knew I could do something great,” he said. “I wanted to be able to do something completely different, and that’s what took the longest.”
After finding his niche, De La Nuez’s take on popular culture garnered the attention of Michael Jackson and Cartoon Network executives, and gained the distinction of the 70th anniversary artist for “The Wizard of Oz.”
De La Nuez said he was the last artist to sell Jackson paintings before his death.
The exhibit at Cartoon Network is one of the few shows on the West Coast that De La Nuez does consistently every two years, attributing it to the connection with the whimsical nature of his work.
He returns to Burbank with a fresh crop of art every other year because of his love of cartoons and his early desire to become an animator, he said.
De La Nuez hopes his book, “Pop Americana,” will be the first of two, but he said he was unsure about what direction his art will take before his next show.
“I have no idea where I am going, and that’s the fun of it,” he said. “I love not knowing what is going to come out of my head.”