The Limitless Possibilities of a City

In the Artistic Realm of Nathan Walsh

An artist’s eyes always remain engaged in search of visual poetry even at the seemingly unlikeliest of the places. The rhythm in massive brick structures, nostalgia associated with rain soaked streets or the irony of multitude jostling in every street corner without even knowing each other hardly ever eludes Nathan Walsh. And, the artist loyally keeps on registering every mood of a throbbing city on canvas. Be it on the Sicilian Avenue, in the Rainy Afternoon in Chicago or in New York Sunshine Nathan Walsh’s mind remains ever alert picking up the glittering verses that the city whispers into his ears. He also takes artistic liberty in fusing time and space to create paintings like 23 Skidoo or Multiverse – a playful geometric maze that can only be painted through such creative consciousness.

Nathan Walsh was born in 1972, Lincoln, United Kingdom. He completed BFA from Liverpool School of Art and then earned his MFA from University of Hull. His unique artwork has been exhibited worldwide, including in Metro Gallery, Australia 2012, KIAF 11 Korean International Art Fair, Seoul, Korea 2011, Persterer Gallery, Zürich, Switzerland 2010, Strictly Visual, Lois Lambert Gallery, California 2005 and SW1 Gallery, London. His name is mentioned along with many other prominent artists in British Artists since 1945, London: Art Dictionaries LTD by David Buckman. Learn more of Nathan Walsh as he continues his exploration of urban vista through the vocabulary he is most skilled at – art.

Tell us of your childhood experiences. How the influences of that period helped shape the artist and human being in you?

My father was a photographer and a keen amateur artist so I grew up in a home where making art was certainly seen as an acceptable or even aspirational activity. My mother too had a keen interest in art and antiques so that also fostered an atmosphere of creativity. I didn’t particularly excel at art in school but was pretty good at most subjects, especially those which had a methodical and ordered structure. I think this ties in with what I spend my days doing now, my approach, which changes from painting to painting does follow a fairly rigid strategy. There’s something appealing to me about spending my days in the studio which is essentially an environment I have control over. That in essence is what my work deals with, finding ways of fixing the chaos of the outside world and reordering it into an invented but coherent structure.

You spent your early days in the urban landscape of Liverpool. Did the contemporary art scene of the city affect you much? As an artist how much do you owe to your professional studies received under the tutelage of Clive Head?

Living and studying in Liverpool was an exciting time for me. I was able to see a lot of painting first hand at the Tate and Walker galleries and had good tutors who encouraged observational drawing and the importance of methods and materials. More than anything I remember spending time in the city’s extensive library looking at catalogues and monographs on as many different artists as possible. Again I wouldn’t say I was a particularly good student but I was keen to improve and find ways of extending what I was doing. My relationship with Clive Head is important but happened 4 or 5 years after leaving Liverpool. I’d been offered a part time lecturing post at an art college in York which was perfect at the time as it allowed me teach half the week but devote the rest of my time to painting. However, I felt at the time that what I was doing lacked any serious grounding so enrolled on a masters degree at the time run by Clive and another noted realist painter Steve Whitehead. This was a fruitful period as I felt I had two people who were sympathetic to my interests and ambitions. Whilst Clive left fairly early on to paint full time I have maintained a dialogue with him to this day which has been influential and inspiring.

How were you inspired to capture the many facets of a bustling city? Hitherto, which city has appealed to you artistic senses most?

I enjoy travelling as it helps break up my studio routine and visiting places I’m unfamiliar with. Being presented with new visual cultures, different sounds and smells often provide the impetus to make something in the studio on my return. I’m not sure I could or would even want to paint the city that I live in, although I have a greater knowledge of its structure and nature. Any city offers limitless possibilities to the artist but perhaps visually the one I’ve felt most in tune with is Chicago. It has an openness to it which is quite European but is also dominated by different levels of information and activity. I’m sure it will be somewhere that I will return to in future.

Chicago in the Rain, Painting by Nathan Walsh
Sketch of Chicago in the Rain by Nathan Walsh
Sketch of Chicago in the Rain by Nathan Walsh
Chicago 7 am, Painting by Nathan Walsh
Sketch of Chicago 7 am by Nathan Walsh

[Clockwise from top: Chicago in the Rain, Sketch of Chicago in the Rain, Sketch of Chicago 7 am, Chicago 7 am, Another Sketch of Chicago in the Rain]

While developing a composition what details do you focus on to imbibe life into the geometric precision of a city’s structure?

I take a lot of photographs and make small scale drawings on site. I’m never sure what will make it into a painting as that tends to happen back in the studio but normally to more raw information I have at my disposal the better. A painting normally starts as a composite of this material, a way of ordering it in a way I haven’t seen before or something which builds on a previous work. I’m interested in suggesting dynamic and immersive spaces where the viewer feels that they can enter into and explore. I’m not that interested in re–presenting the world as we see it or duplicating a photographic document. To this end I normally make a series of A4 sized pencil drawings which serve as compositional studies for a larger work. Most of these get rejected over a period of time before settling on the one which I feel has the most potential.

In 23 Skidoo, you have seemingly erased the constraints of ‘time & space’. How big a role imagination plays for the purpose of visual storytelling?

I put certain restrictions on my painting methodology which forces me to paint in a way which is more about my vision than that of a camera or a software package that allows a user to stitch separate images together. By drawing every separate element within a perspectival framework allows me to alter its size, shape or position. It also helps to present an illusory framework from which I can add or remove information.

The drawing stage of my work is probably the most creative and open ended phase of what I do, I feel this is the point where I take ownership of what I’m working with. ‘23 skidoo’ presents characters collected over a two day period in New York in a way which is convincing not as a documentary record but according to its own logic. The space exists outside of time as a stage set of individual activity and interaction within an environment.

23 Skidoo, Painting by Nathan Walsh
23 Skidoo
Sketch of 23 Skidoo by Nathan Walsh

Tell us about a medium’s – its texture and sustenance – contribution in the successful development of a painting?

The physical nature of paint and its application is crucial to the development of my work. Oil paint is built up in layers, from initial thin washes to roughly applied layers of flake white. Over time as layers are scraped off or built upon the work starts by default to display its own history and becomes more exciting. Recently I’ve been grinding my own pigments into glazes and experimenting with adding iridescent and glass based colour. Engaging with surface and texture is another way painting can differentiate itself from other media be it photography or screen printing. If a painting could exist as another form of art making it then becomes redundant. The challenge is not to make the same painting twice or to make something the same way as before.

Is it a deliberate choice that you do not give human figures a domineering presence in a panoramic city?

In my recent paintings, figures have started playing a more important role within the urban landscape. How we relate and interact with other humans is a crucial aspect walking through a location so this needed addressing. I felt with some of the earlier paintings that the lack of a human presence led to a somewhat artificial and ‘airless’ world, so it’s been a conscious effort to introduce a warmer, more soulful description of the world around us. In addition single figures and groups of figures attract the attention of the viewer more than a building or tree and this can be actively utilised.

Sicilian Avenue, Painting by Nathan Walsh

How would you like to summarise your journey so far?

I’m always looking to see how I can extend what I’m doing, and this always comes back to finding new ways of approaching the world around us. How we experience this is practically limitless so I can see me changing subject matter anytime soon. I paint six days a week but there’s never enough time to make all the paintings I’d like to make. Perhaps at some point I’d like to put together a show of studies or preparatory drawings. Work of this nature allows for more immediacy and exploration over a shorter period of time.

Portrait of Nathan Walsh
Nathan at work in his studio
If a painting could exist as another form of art making it then becomes redundant. The challenge is not to make the same painting twice or to make something the same way as before.

What Nathan Walsh Likes …

The ‘remarkable nervous activities’ and ‘strange disturbances in the life of the will’ pique Nathan Walsh’s interest everytime he turns over the pages of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger. Mark Lanegan’s music touches his heart. A Matter of Life and Death and The Wicker Man remain his all time favourite movies. He is partial to Thai food.

Find more of his work at http://www.nathanwalsh.net/

Image Courtesy: Nathan Walsh & Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, NYC