Studio Visit: Nate Lowman
Nate Lowman has been a true American artist since his emergence in New York’s “Warhol’s Children” circle during the mid-2000s. (Think about it—he was born in Las Vegas!) Looking no further than the grand mass, and mess, of iconography that American life generates, he has amassed a vast pop-culture archive that includes clippings, articles, paparazzi photos, and ads. Brewing the good, the bad, and the ugly of consumerist modern life in his masterful paintings, Lowman draws a portrait of the times that is equally mischievous and somber. His characteristic renditions of celebrities or everyman types combine the dramatic effect of traditional European painting with the grunginess of mass-media print. In his current exhibition, Nate Lowman: Before and After at the Aspen Art Museum, the New York-based artist creates a dialogue between his figurative works and semi-abstract paintings on canvases in unconventional forms. I visited the artist in his spacious Tribeca studio while he was putting the finishing touches on the mockup of his museum installation.
Osman Can Yerebakan: We can’t say this is a survey or retrospective. You worked with Aspen Art Museum Director Heidi Zuckerman to select works to represent different threads in your career. Can you talk about these upside-down heart shapes?
Nate Lowman: The exhibition combines new works with loans from different collections. I had an exhibition in 2014 at Maccarone where I showed these upside-down heart shapes. I have been fascinated by these ready-made shapes, some of which look like air-freshener trees or Swiss cheese. They are rendered as generic templates, and the artist’s hand has no presence. The image registers in a way that is not about authorship, similar to clip art. I enjoy the idea of attaching my own languages of painting to these anonymous forms. As I added more from myself, I realized these ready-mades started to hold these languages. That’s when I started to worry that the process had gotten too formulaic, as if I was working on autopilot. I decided to work with a group of shaped canvases from my own drawings. First, I started with scribbling and playing around, and I circled back to drawing these hearts. Anybody can draw a heart in a number of interesting ways. One can draw 10,000 hearts and choose one favorite to isolate from others. Out of all the reasons why, there is no real answer to why that specific heart is the best one. I eventually ended up with all these heart shapes. Some of them have images and weird shit painted on them. For example, one of them looks like a stylized drawing of a mushroom or a hyperbolic rendering of a penis—formally these images go to interesting places without really doing anything.