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  11 December 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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The Texture of Nathan Anderson's Paintings

Art grabs. It soothes. It takes you by the throat… or by the hand. Good art tells you something about yourself, your world. And so, on my travels around the area, I happened across an artist who does all that, and even a bit more.

Nate Anderson’s work stopped me in my tracks. At once compelling and at the same time inaccessible. In its succinct remoteness, his work wrapped me up and pulled me in. Let me explain here. The inaccessibility, the distance he puts between the image and the viewer is what made me want to go there. It spoke to a deep-seated desire within myself to reach those places where I’m told not to go. (Unfortunately, it’s also the same compulsion that led me to many a disastrous relationship. Okay, so maybe I’m attracted to all things unobtainable.)

In one of his paintings, the torso of a man’s reflection in a fogged mirror, the image is clearly there. The skin tones slide perfectly into place. The light plays along the edges, just so. And then the textured surface throws an arm up against your mind. It is this texture, a raised and sanded combination of paints—oils and acrylics—that so beautifully fool the eye into seeing steam. Not just seeing it. Feeling it. There is an atmosphere of detachment in these paintings. The moment just before you wipe away the condensation. Mornings. A peering through barely opened eyes. A Monday yearning for clarity.

“The fog in the mirror offered enough abstraction… but still allowed me to obtain a representational image,” Anderson says. “It also gave me a lot of opportunities to play with the mark—to note the making of the process—to acknowledge the paint.”

Because representational and figurative painting is often an attempt to translate a three-dimensional object onto a two-dimensional surface, to almost trick the eye into believability, there is a kind of magic going on. Painters know this and like to acknowledge the power of the medium by making the viewer aware of the paint itself.

“I’ve always been drawn to painters and paintings where you can see the brushstrokes, the knife marks, which is all about the paint, and still see what they were painting,” Anderson says. “It’s the point where the illusion of paint becomes something else.”

Anderson is interested in pushing that place where paint and subject meet on the canvas.

“I am fascinated by the aspect that a person can simultaneously observe a representational image, like a human figure, and a series of marks on a flat surface, like brushstrokes on a canvas,” he says. “I’m curious about how far this can be pushed. How abstract and diverse of a painted surface can one create while still retaining an image true to life.”

An example of that can be seen in master painter John Singer Sargent’s brushstrokes, when viewed closely, reveal nothing about the painting. “If you look at the way he paints, it almost falls apart when you’re up close to it,” Anderson says.

The Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla also shows how the paint’s presence on the canvas, with the smallest gestures and finest strokes, can work to keep the viewer engaged in the painting. It is this tossing of opposing ideas that gives the painting a life of its own, apart from the paint, the painter and even the subjects. The interplay becomes a thing unto itself. And it is this tip that Anderson is striving to sharpen—a kind of balance between the abstract and the representational.

“I’m finding the opportunity for different ways of painting is infinite,” he says. “It’s a point of creativity—how do I get to an image? It’s a kind of puzzle.”

Anderson says that he’s always drawing in his mind. “I start everyday with some observations. But the painting is finished in my head before I even pick up a brush. I’m just trying to follow what I’ve created in my head. It may not be the best way to paint, but that seems to be the way it goes.”

The use of a fogged mirror was a portal for Anderson. “It provides the perfect vehicle for this exploration,” he says. “By using this new technique [of playing with the surface and texture], by adding and subtracting the paint, I’m really just beginning to figure it out and to see what I can do with it.”

The stippled surface is achieved by rolling on a layer of acrylic paint, the acrylic paint dries quickly, and then Anderson goes back into the surface with oils. He then sands it back and paints the figure on top of the texture, while at the same time allowing the painting to refer back to its underpainting.

“I want to keep the beautiful image of the figure in the painting,” Anderson says, “but I want the surface to be super dynamic.”

By putting so much emphasis on the texture of the painting, Anderson moves the immediacy of the image a step away from the viewer.

“There are always things you discover about yourself along the way, in any kind of creative process,” he says. “Deeper elements, psychological things that I don’t fully understand—I guess that will be the final steps of the series for me.” -TBM

Editor's Note:  Both the editor and the writer are a little surprised to note that Nathan Anderson is not currently showing... anywhere.

For a complete listing of Michele Corriel's ten profiles of artists and art, all exclusively for the Magpie, click here.

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