I wrote about Doug Miller back in November (https://missionofcomplex.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/impressions-of-an-art-insider/). He’s a family friend who thinks the world of Nate’s artwork. I also alluded to some potentially big developments re:Nate’s art, but it would be premature to talk in detail right now. I can, and will, tell you a bit about Doug’s visit last week.
Nate was sitting at the picnic table in our kitchen drawing a shopping center. When Doug arrived, he began asking Nate very pointed questions on his process. I learned a lot!
“Nate, why do you use colored pencils instead of magic markers, or paint?”
“Umm, it’s more realistic,” Nate responded after much hemming and hawing. That was a fascinating bit of insight into Nate’s mind, because, to me, his storefronts are primitive and stylized, not realistic at all. To him they are.
“Why do you use that kind of tape?”
That took a bit to answer, and there was much prompting. Nate uses Scotch brand transparent tape (he’s a brand name junkie) to laminate his work, quite ineffectively. Water always seeps through the slats of tape. He also, to my surprise, draws, tapes, and then draws again on top of the tape. It’s a more elaborate process than I imagined, and I didn’t realize it until Doug asked Nate some probing questions about his approach to his subject matter, strip malls.
From the kitchen we adjourned to the dining room, one of at least three rooms in the house that are teeming with Nate’s documents. From left to right that’s Nate, Doug and me.
Doug flipped through Nate’s long pieces, two 8 1/2″ X 11″‘s taped side by side lengthwise. As Doug discussed the different perspectives, the variety of detail and busy-ness, the choice of color, the miniature logos of Colonel Sanders and Taco Bell, I began to see Nate’s work in a different light. It became quite complex, quite absorbing and, at that moment, I could truly see Nate as a valid artist. He may not have the chops of Gauguin, but he’s got something interesting to say about mass culture.
Nate humored us as we picked out particular drawings to discuss, but soon left the room. I think he was worried that we were looking though his stuff. When we had a question and asked him to return, he yelled in frustration, which he always does when we need him. He explained little gems we found, like a shopping center evolutionary timeline: car dealership, demolished car dealership, open field, new shopping center. Those were fascinating and new to me. Doug also liked how Nate recycled materials, taking old self-made books of fixtures – toilets, sinks and urinals from different municipalities, like The Complete List of Fixtures of Mt. Prospect, IL, and flipping them over to be used as thick canvasses.
Then there are Nate’s teeny drawings on magazine subscription cards. Doug loved them, sensing another genre within the volumes of Nate’s canon. I asked Nate if he knew who Picasso was, and he did. I explained how Pablo used to draw on napkins and other scraps.
At the end of the powwow, Doug borrowed a few of Nate’s pieces, with permission.
“Mr. Miller, you’ll borrow these for a few weeks?” Nate asked with concern. Doug said yes, and Nate seemed appeased, though he took photos on Karen’s iPad for posterity. What’s interesting is that Nate is deeply connected to each drawing, until he redoes them and throws the old versions unceremoniously in the trash. So how much do we consider his worry about the removal of a few works?
It’s a fine balance, but, if our plans pan out, it’ll be worth the stress. Days later, Nate hasn’t mentioned the missing malls at all.