Featured Artist: Nathan Skiles

Often when I’m asked if the clocks function my canned response is, “Yes, they do function, just like a painting of a clock functions” This ties directly to the question about my choice of working with representation instead of abstraction.

Golem #1; cuckoo clock with tools, 2011, foam rubber, 15 x 14 x 11 inches

Please provide a brief statement about your current work.

For my most recent body of work I’ve focused primarily on my current solo museum exhibition at the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, NJ. For the past year I have worked in preparation for this show with the intention of exhibiting 100 unique sculptures that are meant to overwhelm the museum space and exist as an installed arraignment akin to an installation.

Upon first entering the museum space I immediately responded to the rustic nature of the space. Having been a gristmill in a previous life, the museum retains many of the architectural elements that separate it from the now ubiquitous stark white cubes of contemporary art spaces.

Like many artists I start many projects by allowing my mind to wander in order for free associations to arise. I do this to mine some of my less rigidly analytical responses to a subject. The way the museum’s low-hung, wooden beamed ceiling clashed with the starkness of its manicured white walls, and the building’s direct connection to a rushing waterfall and the bucolic setting of Clinton immediately felt connected to the pseudo rustic nature of my cuckoo clock sculptures. There’s a true synthesis of the old and the new in both the museum and my work that I feel harmonizes nicely.

For “The Clockmaker’s Apprentice” I tie together ideas of the relationship between the creator and the created with the presence of the aforementioned architecture. Having toured the United Kingdom looking specifically at architecture with a focus on embellishments such as gargoyles and grotesques I’ve found a I have strong response to the act of purposely creating pathetic and tortured imagery. As a conceptual thread I made connections from the architectural grotesques to the stories of dubious parentage such as Pinocchio, the Golem, and especially Frankenstein. The 100 sculptures in the exhibition represent my own dubious parentage of art object as conceptual descendant.

Golem #2; cuckoo clock with tools, 2011, foam rubber, 13 x 12 x 6 inches

Can you discuss the intention behind your recent sculptures as art objects rather than functional devices?

Function is a fertile subject when discussing representational sculpture. Often when I’m asked if the clocks function my canned response is, “Yes, they do function, just like a painting of a clock functions” This ties directly to the question about my choice of working with representation instead of abstraction.

Why do you choose immediate associations within your work instead of abstract representation?

In my understanding of the relationship between representation and abstraction they aren’t exactly polar opposites, representation exists as an unobtainable absolute and abstraction is a form of representation through the often-misguided intention of a less mediated response.

I feel representation is used to specifically represent the creator’s abstract relationship to a subject. When responding to an image we’re responding to its relationship to representation. As an example, when considering the highly rigid act of “photorealistic” painting our response is in direct relationship to the artist’s mastery over an image, if that isn’t an abstract relationship I don’t know what is.

Golem #7; cuckoo clock with tools, 2011, foam rubber, 14 x 12 x 12 inches

What are your influences and aspirations for being an art creator and educator?

Obviously as an educator one can trace their inspiration back to former instructor, having been lucky enough to attend both the Ringling College, and the New York Studio Residency Program, I was at no loss of inspiring role models. To be a bit more specific, I hope everyone reading this interview had the opportunity to see the recent exhibition of Leslie Lerner’s work at Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art gallery.

As a creator the source of inspiration becomes a bit harder to clearly define. I can easily cite artists whose tenacity and studio engagement helped define my sense of responsibility to my personal practice, but to be honest they play only a partial role in defining my creative aspirations. I think that while we all respond to the power of engagement differently we all know when we feel we’re in the presence of the “real”, someone or something that is so dedicated to its purpose that it challenges our personal sense of commitment.

Golem #13; cuckoo clock with tools, 2011, foam rubber, 18 x 12 x 11 inches

How do you see the societal role of the artist evolving?

I don’t see the societal role of the artist evolving much, what I see changing is societies response to the artist. There’s an ebb and flow to the way society expects artist to engage in the world around them and it’s imperative that artist be aware of this.

That said, I don’t think that artists should remain in the hermetically sealed vacuum we call our studio with the intention of existing beyond or outside of society. Intentionally or not we are in a direct relationship with what is happening in the here and now, and no matter how fervently we strive to displace ourselves from this “here and now” we can’t will ourselves in to the past or future.

How important do you think authority is in contemporary art now?

Authority is a complex idea, especially when considering the power we grant to ownership. Off the top of my head I’d say that I’m naturally distrustful of authority when it’s coupled with an individual and supportive when it’s connected to the actions of an individual; what I mean to say is that authority is best granted to a practice not the practitioner. As this pertains to the art world I think we’d be better served by focusing on how contemporary art practice affects us over focusing onus on who did what.

Golem #19; cuckoo clock with tools, 2011, foam rubber, 16 x 14 x 9 inches

One of the most complicated aspects of being an art maker is the
“Life Work” balance: making important decisions on when to start and when to stop and where to separate things. Do you have any advice for other artists, based on your own methodology, on how to balance a life’s work?

For each of us there’s a personal and knowable ratio of how many things we can do to how well we can do those things. This isn’t meant to be a cop out but there is no recipe for studio practice. You can find artists with any combination of healthy studio practice, exhibition career, non-art career, family life, and social engagement to name a few, but rarely anyone who can manage all things equally and successfully. Inversely I think it’s healthy to want everything as long as you temper your expectations with a healthy dose of pragmatism. Know your limits and know how and when to challenge them.

Golem #25; cuckoo clock with tools, 2011, foam rubber, 26 x 14 x 6 inches

What does your current music selection consist of?

I’m not a musicophile and music doesn’t play a major role in my creative practice. As an artist I find music, talk radio and audio books to be far less engaging than movies and television. When in the studio, I watch on average at least 3 to 4 movies a day. I select a list a movies that tie together in some thematic or aesthetic way with a direct connection to the sculpture I’m working on. I enjoy how the visual experiences of movies or television shows tend to subversively affect the aesthetics and attitude of my work.

What aspects of current contemporary art would you change, if you could?

As with most things I think we need more patience and transparency.

As an outsider the contemporary art world has many facets to its face. We see contradictory elements ranging from grassroots earnestness to the haughty glamour of celebrity. As spectators we need to find the patience to spend a great deal of time with art in an attempt at acclimating ourselves, it’s a challenging but ultimately rewarding task.

Golem #31; birdhouse with tools, 2011, foam rubber, 13 x 11 x 5 inches

Contemporary art practice and market allow for many subcultures to exist in tandem. Some assurance of a dominant movement may alleviate any immediate angst towards a fluctuating market but is ultimately counter productive to the open forum that is contemporary art. I truly believe the art world is one of the few institutions that support fringe and radical thought without the express desire of monetary capitalization.

As a member of the art world we need to open up and provide more disclosure. Many artists do struggle, but quite often that’s directly related to the choices made by the artist not a corrupt system intent on hindering progress or perpetuating naval gazing. Unless you’re only concerned about the happenings of a select few galleries in the heart of New York City I don’t think the art world is small enough for a select few to pull off such Machiavellian machinations. As articulate and invested as galleries and collectors are they make decisions based on rational and irrational impulse just like the rest of us.

My fellow Hoosier Bruce Nauman once wrote, ““It is said that art is a matter of life and death; this may be melodramatic but it is also true”, and having worked with wonderful gallerists, curators, collectors and exhibition director’s this sentiment is felt truly and earnestly by all.

Golem #37; cuckoo clock with tools, 2011, foam rubber, 17 x 11 x 7 inches

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