Catalogue essay 2017 ~ Aidan Quinn

Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation. ~ Graham Greene

Given events in his life since his last solo exhibition two years ago, the question of what preoccupies Nathan Ford in his latest body of work, for me prompts a more fundamental inquiry. Why does he paint?

Though far from being inarticulate, Nathan seems not to fully trust his ability to describe the whys or wherefores of what he does, at times stopping in mid-explanation as if he has let himself down, swimming energetically in the wrong direction and becoming tangled in tangential verbiage.

He is as an artist neither purely a planner or a discoverer. His large urban paintings have a purposeful and careful architecture, whilst the small portraits are underlaid with idiosyncratic skeletal patterns. Paintings large and small may include random-looking marks and smudges, or meandering lines and boxes. At times preliminary measurements and calculations are pencilled along the edges or near to the face of a portrait subject.

It seems when painting there is a desire to preserve a record of every visit to a canvas; the ground-work, the plan, but also the serendipity, the wondering and wandering which is sometimes neat and quick, or occasionally lost in battle near the finish-line. Nathan’s mother attests to his slow writing and ponderous reading, and at an early stage of his childhood he was conscious of having to develop strategies to get around this. It is not hard to see how a natural facility for drawing would be encouraged and amplified.

So there is initially a definite structure, but no fixed destination. He revels in finding threads, visual resonances, in his own way and in his own time. Though it perhaps seems like a habit of the contrarian, it may simply have germinated from a response to dyslexia, and gives him a very singular rationale. At times I think of Nathan as a painting version of the E.M. Forster character who exclaims, ‘Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish! How can I tell you what I think till I see what I say?”

He has developed a flowing visual language with a pronounced, unashamed accent, reinforced by the graft and craft of years of practice. His paintings are effervescent yet finely balanced, here spare, there sharp, always suggestive rather than insistent, encouraging the viewer to seek out more, to look more intently. It is this that gives the work longevity.

Painting is Nathan’s prime mode of communication, a means for talking about his life, as well as to condense information into visual form. We see his children growing up, going out into the world, wandering through city streets, dwarfed by square urban building complexes or huge walls of graffiti. We see the children’s bees, their hulking monsters, their ragged-toothed fish, their flying pigs, informing the more expansive streetscapes, and standing as their own discrete works in the Grey Hope series.

There are portraits of people he is very familiar with, among these, of course, his parents. However the fulcrum of the show is 20 paintings of similar format which were included in a recently published book, How to Make a Proper Alien. The book was in part prompted by the death of two friends. However the major driver was the terminal sickness of his children’s closest friend, Nathan’s 10 year old nephew Thomas. It is Nathan’s response to the inability to impart suitable or relevant words of comfort to those nearest to him. These paintings are also a way of being, a creative pathway out of the interstices of grief; an act of something from nothing that allows one to be made new, to move forward.

The sense of renewal is pertinent. By the time his exhibition at Beaux Arts begins, the artist and his family will have moved house. The 3 studio window paintings in the show are lined with coloured bottles left from the previous occupant, unearthed from the garden years ago on moving in. They have contained plants that grew in the garden, placed in the bottles as momento mori. The objects in the window sill paintings appear to shimmer and fade, presaging change.

In order to say something meaningful about one’s life it seems necessary to shut out as much as possible any fear, doubt, or discomfiture that might ensue from the act of personal revelation that a solo show may involve. It requires confrontation, experimentation, a willingness to fail, a fair share of creative inertia, and simply keeping one’s eyes open despite the urge to look away. The bi-annual focus of a one man exhibition has given Nathan a rhythm to work within. He uses the cycle of time in the only way he knows; instinctively, with purpose, in a manner that will I am sure engage his many admirers, whether they know a particular work’s inspiration or not. In spite of the seam of precious mortality that runs throughout, these are not melancholy paintings. They are touched with a mature sense of skill and awareness, a child-like ingenuity, and most importantly of all, the subtle harmony of authenticity.

Aidan Quinn 2017