Nathan Spoor is an incredibly prolific and original artist and painter. He creates such vast and vivid landscapes and brings to life the wonder, splendor and majesty of such sublime dream worlds. Added to this, he is a deep thinker and has a creative process I have never encountered before, in that he 'converses' with his creations.
Lloyd Harvey: In a video interview I have seen with you, you explain that you have constant conversations with your paintings as you create them. You describe the paintings saying things like: “I need, I need,” or “you should, you should,” and “I think,” as if it is giving it's opinion to you, trying to guide the way it will look.
Is this dialogue metaphorical of your thought process and how you come to make decisions as you paint your works?
Nathan Spoor: I think as far as the dialogue between the work and me goes it’s a little of both. Since I’m so involved with the work and the process of creating the paintings and accepting the ideas it sometimes seems like they’re speaking. In reality it’s my constant questioning and walking away from the situation that allows the answer to appear in the necessary space within our shared reality / conversation sphere. It’s a symbiotic relationship in so many respects, and the mind is a very complex thing to deal with. And since the work is a projection of many personal intonations it’s very possible to have that sort of chat with it.
Can I prove that we actually converse? Not really - unless you count being able to see the end result, which is the physical statement of so many shared moments.
Have you ever found yourself in an 'argument' with a piece, where you have felt strongly that you want to take it one way and the painting tries to pull in another?
I have learned to be in harmony with the work and with whatever the universe is trying to impart to me through life and the creative process. A large part of the way I work now includes a sort of on-the-go meditation, wherein I have learned to take a metaphysical step back and try to ‘hear’ what the correct next move is. A lot of the creative process is a lesson in sensitivity. So if I am not being sensitive to the painting’s needs, I will definitely make mistakes that have to be addressed later.
I don’t enjoy arguments, period. I think it’s not necessary and often feel those are the results of one party not respecting or being honest with another. I have every interest in being respectful and honest with the work, so I know that whatever the challenge is before us, we will find a way to work through it.
It’s a relationship based on great respect and love. So in that sort of rewarding and enriching exchange we find the ways to be better, or I seek to find the ways to be better and to produce the most beautiful or eloquent manner to address the message and the immediacy of the moment.
What happens when one side dominates? Are the pieces you are most happy with a result of a balance co-operation or when one side has more input?
I used to jump right in and try to work toward the idea by being totally in the moment and just painting until it seemed to work. But doing that produced so many poor and imbalanced results that I had to step back and learn that it took more sensitivity to find a harmonious and successful piece. I think life taught me the same thing at the same time about the everyday relationships and dealing with people in different aspects. When I charged in without knowing what all the pieces meant I made mistakes. That’s what happens when the selfish side dominates.
The work relationship is more about harmony than either personality winning anything. No one wins when there is an imbalance or a selfish nature involved.
Back in November 2010, I did an online exhibit of some of my smaller pieces of work. In August 2011, you did an online exhibit called Full X Moon and it was to celebrate 10 years of living in L.A.
What gave you the idea to do your own little online exhibit? Has it been a fun experience and how did you go about promoting it?
Well I do hope your online adventures went well. It wasn’t until I was talking recently with a friend and he told me that I wasn’t really taking advantage of the online medium and was neglecting my collectors and people that want a more personal connection with the artist and the work. He said that since I had been concentrating on the larger more masterful pieces I had been forgetting to keep that connection with the rest of the collectors, and that this way I wouldn’t have to wonder if some gallery was treating them well and all.
I did the first online show a few months back and released things on the full moon. So I thought it was a nice hook, and decided to just keep that up for future releases. It’s fun and energizing, definitely. I promote everything the same way with email, Facebook and twitter, since I’ve just gotten back on there.
Are the paintings that make up Full X Moon a continuation of your grand series which involves a young girl who exists in and continually builds a dreamland and a boy who navigates his way through it? Or is is a small set of stand alone works?
The smaller works that I do are pretty much prep pieces for larger works, or ways to work out ideas to see how they’ll play out in the future. Sometimes they’re stand alone ideas and sometimes they lead to new exciting things. That’s the nature of the process though, to let it unfold as organically as possible and see what’s got legs and what’s good where it is.
Do you plan to do any more exhibits online only again in the future?
Sure, it’s a good forum to get things directly out to people and not have to deal with a middleman. That’s the beauty of doing your own shows and using the new media to host and promote things. As artists we don’t always know if a gallery is going to operate in our best interest. We can only bet that they’ll always work toward their own interest and work as hard as the passion they feel for the work or as hard as the collectorship demands. With this option, artists can build their own conversation with people directly and see what works and what doesn’t. It’s a lot of common sense, but you have to approach it with a lot of patience. You can’t just throw things out there and expect anyone to care.
You create your paintings using acrylic paints. What is it about this medium that you favor over others, like water colour or oil, for instance? Do you ever experiment with digital techniques?
I started painting with acrylics and really like the quickness that you need to address the medium. Plus it’s fairly nontoxic and is pretty reliable with color fastness and viscosity. I’ve always used just one brand and they’ve stayed consistent throughout - same with brushes and canvas. It works so I stick with it.
I don’t have any interest in working digitally. There are a couple artists that do digital work that I like, and I see it growing as an art form. But it lacks that soul that hand made work brings to the table. That’s not to say it isn’t beautiful and relevant. It’s just not for me.
I use the creative suite to work out whatever logos, layouts and type setting that I need to do. Mostly it’s just whatever design elements that need to be created for websites, promo materials, vector art and such.
25 x 32 inches / acrylic on canvas
I see this segment having an ending or a conclusion in the near future. There are a few important ideas that need to come to fruition for it to transition into the next stage properly or cohesively. The series is called The Intimate Parade for the very reason that it is unfolding as it needs to, in real time with what I experience and am able to understand and receive from wherever the ideas come from.
In that respect, due to the way that I see my work arriving and unfolding, there is no real endgame in sight. I’ll stay dedicated to painting or making art throughout life. I can see how this series could go on forever but that’s not what I see or would intend for it to do. It encapsulates a certain part of life and then there is another on the horizon. It talks about that a lot, about evolutions and transitions and becoming the next version of yourself and being comfortable with the new day and the realities that the next step brings with it.
You're currently working on a handful of children's storybooks, can you share anything about those yet? What can we expect?
I’ve been working on several stories for a while now. I’ve learned that you can’t just pitch a halfway finished idea to a publisher. You should have a finished work and then bring that to the table. One of the ideas has serial potential, so I’ve been building that out a bit. It’s difficult to fully concentrate on those though, with the pressures of life and other work and all that. I’ve had more interest in the paintings so far, but I continue to work on the stories along the way.
Question Set 2 – Questions for every artist
1) What has been your career highlight to date?
At this point I think every morning that I wake up and realize that I get to paint is a highlight. The latest big deal was the Suggestivism museum show at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, CA and the gorgeous book that came out with GCAC and Gingko that shows the work from the show and interviews with each artist with studio shots. That was a long time coming and an idea that I’d worked with since grad school. So seeing that come together was pretty huge.
2) What was the best piece of artistic advice you have received or can offer?
Just stay true to your voice and keep working toward your goal and making the best work that you can. I don’t know who’s said that or when, but I feel it’s the best thing I could say to myself or anyone else. I had a lucid dream a while ago, after Joe Strummer died, where I was in the crowd at one of his shows and he looked right at me and said “You have a choice. You can either be a part of the crowd or you can be on the stage.” There is no middle ground when you’re an artist. You have to work hard and get to the stage, you can’t just stay in the middle of the masses and hope it will all work out in your favor on accident. It’s hard work, you have to commit to it.
3) What do you think is the most effective way you market yourself and your work?
Don’t be an asshole. Don’t assume everyone knows how good you are or wants to hear anything you have to say. Be humble. Do amazing work. Put everything you have into what you do and don't listen to anyone trying to tell you to stop or that you can’t possibly do it. You can do it. The most effective way to market yourself is to be yourself. Be interesting and be honest and direct and don’t compromise what you have to offer for someone else’s gain.
4) As an artist, what are your biggest challenges that you face?
Everything is a challenge. You just have to decide that you’re going to do it and that you will succeed. The biggest challenge is yourself. The self will sneak up and psych you out if you fall out of balance. Stay healthy and choose healthy and positive people to be around. Once you set up healthy life choices and solid boundaries for where the rest can go you’re on the path to doing something.
The Random Question Section
Do you prefer the weather when it is, by definition, too hot or too cold? (granted too much of anything isn’t good)
I like the moderate weather of Southern California. My allergies really like it here. I’m nostalgic about winter time and snow, but I really can’t stand the cold.
If you had to give something up for the good of man kind, what would that be?
I think hate and ignorance could be given up for humanity. Greed would fall right in with that one.
If you could interview one of your artist heroes, who would it be and what question would you like to ask them the most?
I’ve interviewed most of the people I’ve wanted to or met them. I don’t really want to interview people when I meet them or hang out with them. I want to just have fun and laugh and relax with people. If we vibe well then maybe I’ll get to ask them questions about their lives or work. Otherwise I don’t know.
What food can’t you stand/repulses you?
I don’t like food with no flavor or boring textures. Flan, meringue, sometimes eggs weird me out. But I’ll eat eggs with other things involved.
And finally, What is your favorite sound?
I really like the sound that a relaxed and happy girlfriend makes. I like the sound of happy kids playing. I like the sound of someone that’s truly excited to see me. I like the sound that nature makes when you’ve gotten out of the city. I don’t know if I have just one favorite though. Or maybe the sound that the mysteries of the universe make when they’re being whispered in my ear.
Check out more of Nathan Spoor's incredible work via his website here:
And follow him on Twitter via @NathanSpoor
Interview by Lloyd Harvey