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Nathan Green: “Building Pictures” at Art Palace
by rachel hooper
May 2014

Wood, nails
60" x 50"
Photo: Kevin Todora
Courtesy Art Palace Gallery

Nathan Green’s 2011 solo presentation at Art Palace featured sculptures made from Nerds candies and paintings on supermarket pizzas. By contrast, his current exhibition systematizes his sculptural paintings. Green’s use of construction materials in the eleven, large-scale rectangular reliefs in this exhibition seems metaphorical, as if he were laying the foundation for a new way of making art. The two largest artworks in “Building Pictures” consist of blobs of spray expanding foam painted in even, controlled color gradations and placed in approximately six-foot square boxes of shallow wooden shelves. Only hints of chaos enliven works such as Cumberland Valley Drop, with its gestural marks of Kilz paint, or Euclid and Snow Angel, whose rectangular frames contain cascading jumbles of geometric blocks.

In revisiting formal languages of modern abstraction, Green riffs on the history of art with his grids, stripes, and dots. Yet, he makes such lofty references without bravado or bombast. Indeed, his sculptural paintings are more in the tradition of women artists of the 1960s and ‘70s—such as Georgia O’Keeffe’s Sky above Clouds, Louise Nevelson’s architectural fragments in wooden boxes, Agnes Martin’s serene grids, and Eva Hesse’s latex studies. Such Post-Minimalism informs the most absorbing work in the exhibition, Warm Skies SW. In it, a soft black moving blanket is held on the wall with an array of white thumbtacks dispersed in a regular grid of white enamel dots. The blanket’s quilting stitches are a subtext to the array of marks, which fill the viewer’s visual field and alternately appear to hover above the surface of the blanket or are pushed back to blend in with the white wall. A small tear in the lower left corner is a sweet touch, an idiosyncrasy that gives the work personality.

Many Texas artists have explored intersections of painting and sculpture over the last five years, a trend recognized by the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston’s recent ambitious survey of contemporary abstraction, “Outside the Lines,” which included Green. He is known for his sense of humor, absurdity, and no-holds barred experimentation, especially in his work with the Austin-based collective Okay Mountain. But in “Building Pictures,” he turns his irreverent questioning of assumptions in on himself and begins to address sculptural painting with found materials on its own terms.

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