Interview: Nathan Spoor @ Bold Hype NYCJuxtapoz // Sunday, 29 May 2011
It’s been a busy year for LA-based artist and writer Nathan Spoor, and we’re only halfway through ’11. After curating the Grand Central Art’s anticipated Suggestivism exhibition in February, Spoor opened his first solo show in two years, aptly named The Phantom Passport. The show runs through June 4 at Bold Hype in New York, where new paintings buzz with activity, detail, and color, while maintaining a placid stillness amidst the chaos.
Interview by Marisa Ware
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you said you grew up in Texas. What was it like being a creative kid in that environment? Did you feel like your creativity was encouraged and supported?
Growing up in Texas was pretty cool. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hot as anything there, but people are super friendly for the most part and there are lots of areas with 360 degree views of open skies with amazing cloud formations. My parents are very loving and nurturing people, so they recognized that I was focused on drawing and imagining early on. Being a creative kid was always fun in that kind of environment. My dad would give me stacks of paper with typing on one side and I would draw stories on the backs of them. Sometimes I would get paper that wasn’t white, and I realized that I didn’t like to draw on green or orange or yellow paper. It wasn’t the same; my ideas were stubborn about that.
What type of reaction do children have to your paintings? The worlds you create would be very fascinating yet familiar to kids.
Kids seem to really like the colors I work with, or the effect that the combined colors produce. But I also think kids pick up more on how their parents or adults around them react to things. They have strong opinions, but adults bring them to the situation and that means that they probably live in a pretty creative or fun environment. Young and old seem to have fun finding things in the paintings and making stories about the scenes. The paintings are really interactive in that way, it’s a part of their function in my opinion.
A dreamlike quality exists to all your paintings. How much of that is inspired by your own dreams? Do you have a vivid dream life? Any recurring dreams?
There are a lot of ideas that come from dreams or from pre-sleep states. I seem to get a lot of ideas between lying down and falling asleep. It’s as if I get on an elevator and then start seeing into different worlds as I descend into the dream state. While in the dream state I usually travel to different places and watch or participate in weird adventures in places I’ve never seen before. That’s a really fascinating place, dreamland. I don’t know what makes dreams or what I need to do to make it happen; it just does. I do have recurring dreams. The most vivid ones involve large multi-stories houses with lots of rooms and usually lots of happy people. I usually know these people and know where to go and what to do, but they generally just leave me be and at times I wonder if I’m invisible or just a quiet observer. It’s really strange because these places are very detailed and usually in the same huge house, a recurring scene and the people are always glad I came back. I dream in color, smell, and can feel things there too. It’s really like I passed over into another dimension and am visiting people that I can’t remember when I wake up.
What else inspires your work?
Life inspires my work, and the work itself generally dictates where it should go next. I started this series about 10 years ago when I moved to Los Angeles. My intent was to allow the work to unfold at its own rate of evolution and pursue it organically. I thought it would be a circular journey, but it’s starting to take on a life of its own in a way. It’s beginning to feed itself and tell me what will happen next. I really like that relationship.
I’ve noticed that you have a lot of recurring characters that populate your paintings. Where did these characters emerge from and what’s your relationship like with them? Do they change and evolve?
The characters began with the basic male and female characters and their interest in discovering new things, that adventurous youthful love for seeking new places. In the beginning the boy was only able to communicate with the girl when he was asleep. The girl lives in another dimension or dreamland. When she daydreams or stops thinking the land around her starts to grow and populate. The boy character has since crossed over into this world and interacts with the myriad of characters that have sprung up around him.
At first I thought the boy and girl were going to meet up and live happily ever after. But after seeing so much of this unfold I’m now under the impression that she is his interpretation or expectation of what the female is, or his female conscious component. We’ll have to see how it all goes, though.
Along the same lines, you also seem to use a lot of recurring symbology, like umbrellas or bell jars. What are a few of your favorite symbols to use and is there an intentional meaning behind them?
The umbrellas are symbols for safe passage. Any time one of the characters sees an umbrella they know that that route is the safest way to get through this bizarre and wonderful maze of architecture and creatures. The bell jars are used to keep certain elements safe until it’s time for them to be released, or safe from something encroaching on their hiding places. The little gifts that appear on the ground are the girl’s memories, past, present, and future. She can open one and be transported to another place through those, and it occasionally happens. There are also long armed nurses that are the caretakers for the architecture and other items that appear. The bubbles that often float around are portals to other places in the greater scheme. Lately the most interesting development is the tree movement. The wise trees are now collecting their favorite things from the landscape when it becomes too crowded and setting off on magic boulders to cross the sea to uncharted lands.
What’s the one question that you’re bored of answering about your art?
Where did the title for your show, The Phantom Passport, come from?
I really felt that this collection of work, taking a little over two years to complete, really worked well as a cohesive unit. And that set of works all showed a peek into someplace that was vibrant with a bizarre and poetic kind of life. So for me, it made sense that looking at these paintings gave the viewer a secret pass to step through a portal to that world and still get back through safely.
How has your work evolved and changed over the last two years? What’s new and fresh about this set of paintings? Where do you see your work going from here?
That’s a fun question, because the challenge of keeping the consistency of the work throughout the series has been one aspect to consider. But with time I’ve realized that I didn’t have to keep it in line. The work has been growing at its own rate, and thoughts such as those would only hinder it from growing properly. What’s noticeably different in the new paintings is the amount of detail, character, and structural building that has appeared in the land. I realized that while these are somewhat conservative in size, the narrative needs a little more room to breathe. So the next works are a little larger in scale to allow us both the leeway for more creativity.
Your paintings seem to marry stillness with chaos, while simultaneously holding opposing emotions such as joy and sorrow, and all the varying shades in between. Do you intentionally play with including opposing forces in your work? How do you find a way to harmoniously blend them?
I think your mentioning harmony is the key. I admire balance, and strive for it in my own life. I think that an artist’s intentions for living and their true nature manifests itself in their work. So when you view my work you see the joys and struggles through a fairly positive and playful point of reference. Is this intentional? Well, I intentionally paint, so I’d have to say yes. But it’s not my full reason for doing so. I play with the flow and balance of the piece, because I feel that a well-produced painting is much more enjoyable to experience. Each one is a new challenge and a new way of communicating with the painting and the viewer, so that’s also considered too.
Are we talking about your children’s books, or is that under the radar for now?
They’re sort of emerging, thanks for asking. I’ve been working for the last few years on a collection of storybook tales—more narrative works with direct characters and story arcs. They’re fully drawn out and I’m doing final versions of about five of them, working on potential cover paintings at the moment and choosing my favorite scenes to start painting as well. These stories add a little background to some of the characters in the painting series, so it’ll be fun to see how they’re received. I’m not sure if they’re the same audiences, but the books are a fun read and allow me to be more direct with narrative works.