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Nathan Abels: Expatriate

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader

2009-02-24


Employing the most of the unnoticed everyday icons of life through the eyes of a Midwesterner, visual artist Nathan Abels has created a very strong body of art, and gained great levels of success. Abels, a Fort Wayne native and University of Saint Francis BA graduate, earned an MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 2005 and is currently living in Denver, Colorado, represented there by Rule Gallery. Rule Gallery is a well-established contemporary art gallery, which shows national and emerging regional artists. While very much enjoying his relationship with Rule gallery, Abels would also like to expand his market to galleries outside of Colorado, and in addition to this Abels plans on increasing the scale of his works, while also doing more works on paper.

“My work is primarily landscape-based representational painting, mostly having to do with the human habitat,” Abels says. “Since moving to Denver two years ago I did some work as an aerial survey photographer that crept into my works about the suburban landscape. My most recent show Stills took place at the Rule Gallery here in Denver and just closed. This show consisted of nine works that were less directly suburban-based and more diverse visually and with added atmosphere.

Nathan Abels’ work has evolved since finishing graduate school, but has stayed very true to the conceptual and historical threads of landscape paintings, post-neo-expressionist painting, and minimalism (some of his favorite artists are Otis Redding, Edward Hopper, Toba Kedoori, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Vija Celmins). The themes have consistently been space and place related. Open spaces, quiet places, and a sense of uneasiness and mysterious origins permeate his images, be they of houses based off of aerial photographs, or a lone burning barrel at night. When asked about the quietness of his images, Abels said, “Everything else is noisy enough. I suppose my work acts as some kind of balance. In a lot of ways I think I can make work more real or honest when it is quieter.”

While each image tends to lack an obvious narrative, the work, especially when viewed en masse creates a very palpable, almost seething sense of loneliness, folly, and wonder. I tend to think of Abels’ work as being very complicated temporally. His paintings especially evoke 19th century Whistler-like images, early 20th century Regionalists like Grant Wood and Andrew Wyeth, and share many commonalities with low and high millennial artists like Ross Bleckner (including the beautiful piece entitled “Without Haste, But Without Rest”), Luc Tuymans, and others.

“Somnambulism”, another very Ross Bleckner-esque, smart, smoky, virtuoso painting that is modestly sized, and tightly cropped. The image is of a smokestack, which can be seen through the links of a chain fence. “Somnambulism” means sleepwalking and the image like much of Abels’ work is based on an initial photograph, this one being a Polaroid taken by a friend of his. “It had all the things I liked in it – repetition, muted colors, environmental concerns (with the smokestack), and contrasts of organic and man-made forms (there is a faint tree branch at the top – easier seen in person).” This painting differs from much of Abel’s older work, which relied much more on a refined sense and use of color, although still muted. The intense cropping places the image, conceptually, in a photographic context and creates a sense of voyeurism. The viewer of “Somnambulism” takes on the more literal role of the viewer in the image, giving this painting much more depth and character than the formally simple image allows alone.
"Nothing is Fair or Good Alone" is another Abels painting representative of his newer work with a darker palette complimenting his natural creation of spacious environments. “The painting is of a small barrel with a fire in it. I was thinking of my Grandparents who used to burn a lot of leaves in barrels out in Leo and it also reminded me of cookouts we used to have in Savannah. I think the title can refer to the positive and negative effects that any action may have in relation to other actions or inactions. For example, wildfires are a constant threat in the arid climate here in Colorado– but fire is the only way some kinds of pine trees can regenerate.”

“Untitled”, a great example of Abels’ ability to reproduce images, nearly mechanically, is a work of graphite on paper. This is one of many images of homes entitled “Untitled” relaying even further the monotony of suburban sprawl that has taken a stranglehold over most major cities in the United States. Through these images, and upon further inspection, many of his paintings, Abels has mastered the vignette, giving a faintly bordered glimpse of what is sure to be a sea of grayish blue and beige boxes being constructed throughout the Colorado landscape. Abels’ ability to replicate such exacting details, and his access to aerial views through his job create these almost toy box looking subdivisions, all ignorant of each other, while being nearly identical.

Because of Nathan Abels’ extraordinary talent and good business head, his work is already part of prominent collections throughout the United States, including New York City, and his work has been seen in numerous contemporary art galleries and art fairs. At 28 years of age, Abels’ is right on track to have a very nice career, being that a general rule of thumb is “representation at 30, museums by 40, making money in your 50’s, and retrospectives soon after”. Hopefully Fort Wayne will be lucky enough to see more of Nathan Abels work in the future, and we can revel in the gorgeous works of one of our expatriate artists.

You can find more images and information on Nathan Abels by visiting Rule Gallery (www.rulegallery.com), or the artist’s personal website (www.nathanabels.com).

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