Recently, Nathan Randall Green returned to Austin with “Everyone Universe, Everyone Dust,” a solo exhibition presented by the roving gallery DEASIL at Big Medium’s auxiliary space at Canopy. The opening of the exhibition was also a part of Austin’s Fusebox Festival.
Born in Houston, Green received his BFA from the University of Texas in 2004. For many years Green was a fixture of Austin’s emergent art scene in the aughts and early 2010s when the city’s contemporary visual arts landscape began to percolate. His work with the noted Okay Mountain Collective — along with Sterling Allen, Carlos Rosales-Silva and Michael Sieben, among others — set a more cosmopolitan and rigorous tone for a city then known better for its laid-back style and regional influences.
Now based in New York, Green’s latest large-scale paintings explore big themes of the cosmos and the universe through two very personal experiences. On thickly shaped and layered panels, Green’s paintings combine organic forms within hard edge, angular compositions and create artworks that occupy a liminal place between flat planes and sculptural objects.
“Everyone Universe, Everyone Dust” is on view through May 18 at Big Medium.
Leslie Moody Castro: You lived in Austin and were an integral part of the arts community, and most of us haven’t seen you in a long time. Can you tell us about some of the things that have interested you lately? How have they come into your work?
Nathan Randall Green: I like collecting ideas from all over the place. My work is about the interesting collision of disparate objects and images around me, rather than a close inspection of a single subject. The fun is throwing ideas together from completely different spheres because they seem to make sense together, like 70’s home design and the expansion of the early universe. Over the last couple of years I’ve found visual and conceptual resources in the following non-inclusive list: interior design and decoration of the 60’s and 70’s, woven textiles, Paleolithic rock art, infographics, construction, cosmology, graffiti, and geology. My most recent body of work has been focused on collapsing cosmological ideas and the visual language of infographics.
I like to see ways that humans create the time and space they exist in, and I am presenting a new graphic space-time in my paintings. The combination of design of our home spaces in conversation with our depiction of our place in the cosmos, for example.
Each of my interests have come to me slowly and in unsuspecting ways. There isn’t a narrative or straight path, I just try to nurture my curiosities. That said, I know my recent body of work was very influenced by two events — a visit to the McDonald Observatory with my mother and the birth of my daughter.
LMC: Can you tell us some stories of these slow and unsuspecting ways your interests arrive to you?
NRG: Close to ten years ago I was visiting Los Angeles and rushing from gallery to gallery and museum to museum desperately trying to take it all in. I mistakenly set aside a block of time to explore LACMA on the day it was closed so I wandered next door to the La Brea Tar Pits to kill some time. I knew nothing about the place and the experience was awesome and enduring.
Over the last 20,000 years those pits have collected and preserved entire food chains of Ice Age animals; mammoths, dire wolves, bears, giant sloths, saber toothed cats, and an assortment of scavengers — all of that happened less than two miles from the Sunset Strip. How crazy is that? From learning a tiny bit about the giant megafauna that roamed LA, I could examine outwards and slowly learn about the migration patterns of these animals, or the effects of the Earth’s glacial past on them, or why the Earth goes through glacial periods at all, on and on.
I think my mind needs an experiential memory that creates an anchor and allows me to clump more and more information onto it and slowly build out a picture of the world. Maybe that is true for everyone. From the glaciers carving the earth to humans carving petroglyphs on mountains and in caves — all of this stuff is connected and it seems crazier and crazier the closer I look.
LMC: How do you nurture your interests, and what are some of the ways that you allow them to come into your work?
NRG: I have always considered myself a “studio” artist. I need to spend a lot of time by myself in a studio to make the work that I’m excited about. I remember years ago, my tax person telling me that movies, books, and travel are deductible as research in my field. I intuitively knew that was true but hearing it from a person who operates outside of the art world made me hear it in a new way. I realize how lucky artists are to be able to devote time to creative individual pursuits and because of that, I’ve always felt a pressure to have a solid work ethic, a blue-collar work ethic.
I’ve been a firm believer in the idea that work begets work but a few years ago I starting to realize that artistic ideas come to us from all over the place, not just in the studio. I think we’ve all had the experience of banging our heads against something at work and then the solution hits you like a bolt of lightning in the shower. I’ve had many dissatisfied days in the studio where I refuse to let myself go home or take a break…..and I’ve ruined a lot a paintings that way. I’ve recently changed my tune on that. Now I try to take the scenic route to the studio, ride my bike, go on walks, workout, or just spend a day watching movies instead of painting. I try to visit weird museums or curious spots when I can and don’t give myself a hard time if I want to spend all afternoon walking the stacks in a bookstore or sitting in a sauna. Things creep into your life and work if you let them. I don’t think any of this is novel or unusual, it’s just new to me and I have just greatly benefitted from the perspective switch. I’ve found that the more interested and connected to the world I feel, the more excited I feel about my work. I come to the studio with clarity and focus.
LMC: Do you ever discard an interest? If so, how do you decide what goes in and what is edited?
NRG: I can’t think of an example of discarding an interest. I try and only make the art that is exciting to me at that time. Because of this I seem to move around a lot but I’m sure that there are connective tissues between all my past bodies of work, considering they all came from the same brain. It’s much more exciting and fulfilling this way.
LMC: You worked for many years as part of the Okay Mountain collective in Austin. While that wasn’t your main body of work, can you explain what it was like to move from working collectively to singularly? How has that affected the work that you are making now if at all?
NRG: Working with Okay Mountain was an incredibly educational experience for me. Not only working with the collective on projects but also working with a group of artists to run a gallery space. It’s hard to work with people, and this taught me how to be part of a team. Also I realized that I am hard to work with because I like to think I know how things should be. Working with other creative and hard-headed partners taught me a ton of lessons. Some of those lessons are how to solve a complex problem on a budget, look at a question from nine different angles, generate ideas without self doubt, take risks in your work, not fear change, fight your ego and work hard while having fun. It was more difficult and more fun that almost any other experience of my life and I’m very grateful for it all.
LMC: What should we expect to see in the future? What are some of the things you want to explore more?
NRG: I think I’m going to continue on the path, probably make a lot of weird turns.