Immersive, bright colors and wide-open perspectives. Unusual urban landscapes that come to life from a precise graphite sketch.
Nathan Walsh is a contemporary British painter, born in Lincoln. The purpose of his continuous research is the application of new techniques and pictorial experiments.
We asked him some questions to understand something more about the creative process of his giant and very complicated paintings. We invite you to get lost in its details, not just for NYC lovers.
How did you start portraying NYC in its many facets?
I believe some people are born with a desire to respond to their environment by making things. This might be a piece of furniture or jet engine, but the initial impulse is the same. I’m not sure I ever made a conscious decision to try and become a full-time artist, but I certainly had a desire to develop and improve the paintings I was drawn to make. The notion of improvement is essential to my activity in that it’s very difficult to justify spending time on something which I already know how to do. I’m excited to see how far ideas can be explored and how I can find more elegant and complex solutions to visual problems. I studied drawing, painting, printmaking and typography all of which have left a mark on my current activity. Whilst realist painting is not particularly popular in the UK. I was fortunate on my Master’s degree to be taught by two exceptional realist painters, one of whom, Clive Head I have remained in dialogue with till today. Head is one of the most significant contemporary figurative painters and his works and writing have been a significant influence on me. I started showing my work in NYC in 2012 and have been exhibiting my work there ever since. As I make two or three trips there a year its made sense to use each visit as an opportunity to find new subject matter.
Your paintings follow a complicated and very precise process. Do you want to explain it?
Before I visit a city, I tend not have a clear idea of what I’d like to paint, I just tend to amble around, very much like a Flaneur waiting for something to connect with. When I do find something of interest, I’ll take numerous photographs of a location and normally a series of thumbnail drawings in a sketchbook. Of late I’ve found the sketchbook to be on increasing importance even for notes on colour or whatever I happen to be thinking about at the time. This immediate personal response to the environment plays an important role when I’m back in my studio in the UK and reliant on the photographs taken.
Back in the UK I will sift though the raw material I’ve collected and make a series of postcard sized drawings which suggest potential paintings. I pin these to the studio wall and live with them for a while, most get rejected but whichever one I eventually chose must have the most visual potential to make a dynamic full-scale painting. Once I’ve decided on the size of the painting, I start to draw elements in a fairly loose and organic way. Freehand drawing is fundamental to all of my work allowing me to take full ownership of photographic material. Rejecting the mechanical transfer of imagery forces me to construct each object from scratch and allows for a fluid and inventive approach. Fixing pictorial elements to separate vanishing points allows the construction of a space independent of both reality and any photographic record of the scene. A shifting horizon line allows to viewer to look up and down into the space, and question their position in relation to the scene.
This drawing stage can take up to a month for a large painting, in some ways it could be argued as the most creative part of my activity. Once complete I brush over a glaze of oil paint and begin blocking areas of colour with heavily diluted washes of paint. Over the subsequent months paint layers are built up and sanded away. The goal is not to mimic the flatness of a static photograph but to make reference to a rich linage of European and American painting, seeing my work up close reveals a personal system of mark making and investigation of the physical properties of oil paint. Surface and texture have becoming increasingly important to me, finding new ways of applying and manipulating paint leads to richer and unexpected outcomes.
How did you approach hyperrealism and which artists have influenced you the most?
I’m influenced by hundreds of other artists from different movements and time periods. The first generation of photorealist painters have certainly been an influence on my activity. However, anyone who takes the time to view my work in person would not label me as a photorealist. My work is built on a personal visual language where drawing is key. The use of paint and colour is also explorative and makes reference to many other artists.
To be fully appreciated the first and perhaps most inventive generation of photorealist artists need to be viewed in real life. I think part of the problem with the work that has succeeded it or been inspired by it has been based on viewing it in reproduction. For example Richard Estes and John Salt were painters first and foremost, the strength of their work rooted partially in the personal exploration of methods and materials. Their work is dependent on expressive mark making and creative thinking, too close an adherence to photography or digital imagery I believe can lead to overly mechanical and artificial outcomes. When I make work I understand that the success of a particular painting will be dependent on my decisions not the solutions a camera or software package might offer me. The more it becomes about my decisions the more it moves away from objective reality, not perhaps where it becomes dreamlike but certainly the best work I’ve made has a hallucinatory quality. It will be interesting to see where this new exploration leads us, there are certainly signs over the past couple of years that some artists are making leaps forward.
I try not to make the same painting twice nor make a painting in the same way or my studio life becomes uninteresting. I’m excited by the idea of the work becoming more complicated, more expansive spatially and equally more immersive for the viewer. These aims are likely to find form through being playful in the studio, setting more difficult challenges and then searching for more elegant solutions.
‘Oculus’ is the first of three works which celebrate the energy and dynamism of NYC. These paintings explore a combination of interior, exterior and reflected space. They are not documents of a specific location or particular time, but propose a new painted reality.
This approach to picture making is very different from holding up a mirror to our own world and duplicating what we see. I would argue that it is closer in spirit to the modernist painters of the early twentieth century, particularly the Futurists. However, instead of a fractured reality I propose a coherent and convincing alternative. These are paintings which are complex and multi-faceted in nature, they speak of the experience of being within the urban landscape.
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