Steve Locke: I have been following your work since we met at Skowhegan 2009 (and I’m lucky enough to have one of your works on paper). I have always felt an affinity for your work not just because of the subject, but because of the qualities of the paintings themselves. You have a way of making images that appear to be simple but upon deeper investigation reveal themselves to be complex and layered in their realization and, by extension, their possible meanings. In an era when so much of painting is directly informed by the digital and the photographic, your paintings don’t just require a slow looking, they demand it. Because of this, your work rewards the viewer not just with an image but with a sensation. I mean this in the way that someone like Bridget Riley is interested in the effect of the painting on your eyes and your body. I get a sense of air, light, energy, heat, and physicality of space from these pictures. That does not happen a lot in contemporary painting the fact that it does in your work is a testament to your practice. In the current moment, you are making paintings that reveal and foreground their process without losing their integrity or importance as pictures. Pictures that illuminate the body as a site of contemplation, disappointment, extremity, or disbelief. Which lead me to my question:
In your painting practice, how do time and light (in both a real way and in a poetic way) influence the choices you make in depicting the body, its movements, and its locations?
Nat Meade: Light is another player or character in my work. I want it to be as tangible and, in a way, as physical as the figures and forms.
Around the time that we met I set out to change my approach to painting. I no longer wanted to make paintings that were referential and dependent on an external source. Instead I wanted to invent a painted moment- performative in its small and inward way. It was important that the images were discovered through their execution. The transition was difficult and for a long time I struggled to make anything satisfying. I needed parameters to make what I was doing challenging and tangible. I came up with a set of self-imposed rules and light became the constant player, a means of focus that also allows for playful discovery. Along these lines forms and figures have been reduced to simplified shapes in a shallow space. I can (hopefully) (more or less) predict how light might rake across the things I paint. I treat everything- light, color and form as a thing-just a stupid thing.
(Photos from Nat Meade's studio by Jean Paul Gomez)
James Ensor has been described as employing an allegorical use of light. I only know what this means intuitively. It has to do with light asserting itself as a persistent actor. I see it in his work and want it in my own. There is directional lighting in all of my paintings-overly defined beams cutting through the composition, splitting figures, casting shadows, indifferently raking over faces. Color and light are closely linked. I like to assign the light areas a color and dark areas another: make the light areas yellowish and the dark areas green. My friend and artist Michael Brennan has said that "...[t]ime and light are made manifest in [my] work as color. Color as crumpled light." I think I understand this intuitively as well. I like to build up opaque areas of light and emphasize the literal ridges of light and shadow. It is like repeatedly saying, "Here is the light AND here is the dark."
Light can add drama and brevity. It can also conceal and ridicule. There is something inane about the cast shadow from a nose or a pair of eyeglasses. I like to zoom in on these moments. My subjects are meant be contradictory: elevated or beatific and buffoonish or absurd. I have been painting these bearded figures at three quarters view, a wedge for a nose, sometimes with gaping mouths like a hollowed out tree. They are these male stand-ins. I have recently realized that this goes back to an Antonio Frasconi print that was in my childhood home, a minimal woodcut of a bearded Walt Whitman with a triangle nose and series of dashes for a beard. It looked just like my dad. In my head the image was both God and Father, which were probably the same thing. On some level my work deals with this kind of elevated personage and its frailty.
I feel like this doesn't exactly answer your question. Light is the constant character. Time and setting are frozen. And the body is reduced to its dumb, tangible parts so I can play with it like a Mr. Potato Head toy.
Thanks again for asking, Nat
Find more of Nat Meade's work at www.natmeade.com.