EK Interview: Nathan Spoor

art blog - Nathan Spoor - Empty Kingdom

We were so impressed by Nathan Spoor‘s art (previously featured here) we asked for the contents of his brain. We present to you the mind of Nathan Spoor.

Tell us about yourself, your name, where you’re from and your favorite fruit.
Hi everyone. My name is Nathan Spoor, and I’m an artist living in Los Angeles, CA. I’m originally from Texas, born in Dallas and grew up in Houston. I think my favorite fruit is grapes, but watermelon is a contender. I’d like the grape technology to be applied to watermelons, so I could have little mouth explosions of tiny watermelons with edible skin like grapes. You guys can have some too, but mostly I’m going to eat as many as I can get through before you get here and help out.

When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
I don’t think it’s a question of wanting or “want”. For myself, and a great many artists that I’ve met, it’s a reality. It’s a question of “how to”. How to fulfill your destiny as such a person, and what form will it or you take along the way. I’ve always been an artist, and I recognize that my parents were instrumental in helping me be myself and realize that potential from the very start. My brother’s an artist too, but with music mostly. And kids. He and his wife are making kids now. That’s kind of a bizarre and beautiful art. I’m sure those kinds of healthy nurturing environments, as well as being told stories my whole life, helped me accept my role as an artist, a storyteller, a handler of the visual tradition.

art blog - Nathan Spoor - Empty Kingdom

Did you play with different mediums or pick up painting immediately?
I didn’t start painting until college, late first year or early second year. Earlier in life I was all about doing drawings on paper. Dad would give me paper that had been typed on one side but was clean on the other. I loved getting a new stack of papers. Sometimes they were different colors, which was an interesting turn. I preferred white, because I could make pictures on that snowy empty plane. The colored papers made me address the process from a different angle. The white paper usually brought on storyboard type narratives, while the color paper either got practice drawings or throw away ideas. Usually, I wouldn’t use the colored paper unless it was absolutely necessary or I was out of white paper.

Are you self taught or did you did you go to school?
Well, yes. I was off and running on my own interests with drawing and stories since day one. I was a few steps ahead visually, so I was put in art classes and private instructions. But those usually lasted one or two classes at best. They just weren’t meeting me on my level and finding out how to develop what the kid was interested in. In middle school and especially Jr. High I was always in the art classes or hanging out with artist kids. We would flip out if one of us figured something new. Like shading, or how to use a different pen.

After grade school I majored in Art in college. The mindset in college was pretty much abstractionism combined with conceptual. The basics of art school training are ok, but I was trying to find something that came up in a 2D design class – painting. Not just painting but narrative art. We had an assignment to illustrate a weird phrase, pulled from a hat no less. Before that moment I was really intimidated by painting. What, all that blending colors and making sense of mixtures and all? But it was more of a rush than a tedium. In fact, it was bliss. I loved it so much that I pretty much spent all my time doing it through college. I was granted a studio space early and started painting on anything that didn’t move too fast. School was a very interesting time. It taught me a lot about lots of things. But what I learned was that if you’re a painter you paint. Maybe I realized that later, but it started there. No one can tell you what to paint or not to paint. You’re going to explore as much as you can and never want to stop. So artists are both self-taught as much as schooled, probably more so.

art blog - nathan spoor - empty kingdom

Your paintings look incredibly fantastical and incorporate a lot of color, tell us about your creative process, where do you find inspiration?
Well, I moved to Los Angeles about 10 years ago to start doing serious work. Let me say “serious work” with a smile. I started on a body of work that’s been going on since moving here, with the intention of letting things unfold organically. So the process begins with the interest in just allowing the work to arrive and unfold and dictate its own best narrative or story. Usually an idea will arrive when I need something new, and sometimes ideas just come bit by bit. I’ve grown more accustomed to not trying to force ideas to come around. They come through whether I ask for them or not. Sometimes they arrive as I’m relaxing for sleep, sometimes when meditating or being quiet. I think the best ones are the ones that show up when I’m on the elevator descending into the sleep world. They’re vivid and force me to wake up, get up, and write it down or sketch it out. Then there are the ideas that arrive because I’m completely enveloped in the painting at hand. I think that once we allow enough layers to fall away from us, the more vulnerable and honest we become, and the truth is just present.

Is there a specific message or story are you trying to tell through your work?
I think there is a message. Well, there would have to be several messages. In the larger sense, the work as a series is opening up a narrative about a world being created and explored by a young boy and girl. I see the girl creating the world around her as she sleeps, dreams, thinks and grows. The boy is more or less discovering the land and engaging its mystery. I am starting to see it as more than a simple boy meets girl story, which is how I’d begun to see it the first few years. Well, either I’m going to over-explain what I can’t really explain, or we just admit that my mind travels to some other amazing place at night and these are images that I attempt to faithfully capture from those times.

art blog - nathan spoor - empty kingdom

Tell us about your artistic process, how long does it take for you to finish a piece?
The part where I actually make the painting is labor intensive and takes a while. I get the idea, work it out a few times and make a really solid sketch. I used to just go directly onto the canvas and work there, but I wasted too much time redoing things that I could have just had ready if I took the time to draw more. So when the drawing is working I start to get an idea of what size it should be. I work only with my Dad on the stretcher and panel building, as well as the framing. He’s been the woodworker for all wood projects since before my time. And his dad before him, and his dad before him, and all the way back to Holland it seems. Probably long before that. A family of woodworkers, engineers and people that really like to work with their hands and heads. So I get my frame from Texas, stretch the canvas and gesso it up. Then I do a sketch under-painting until it looks like the drawing, hopefully better. That’s a key thing, the idea gets better and more polished with each new phase. Once the line work all flows well I start defining the major solid elements and get right to it. It takes a while to finish a painting, a year or more. The ones I’m working on now have been two or more years in the making. Some of the larger ones take longer. Sometimes it’s because they’re really detailed, but usually it’s just because I work on several at a time. And we have to account for the happenings of life, that takes time too.

Did you pretend a lot when you were a kid? If so, what kind of pretend?
Sure, I loved pretending. I remember seeing Star Wars for the first time. I’d go to bed hoping that I dreamed in Star Wars scenes. I would obsess about it and remake the movie parts with other kids and their figures. Then we lived near a field for a while and I would adventure off through nature. I must have been a frontier explorer, or maybe a soldier. We weren’t allowed guns, so sticks were a big hit. Oh, I was a knight in daydreamland a lot as a kid too.

What does the future hold for you, tell us about your next series.
The future is unwritten, as Joe Strummer says. I have some ideas for new work and some ideas outside the main body of work. I plan on getting into some new pieces this summer.

Do you have any upcoming shows you want to tell us about or any announcements for the future?
This weekend is the opening of the museum show I’ve been working on curating for the past three years. Suggestivism opens at Grand Central Art Center, a major a survey exhibit of 53 groundbreaking artists. That exhibit runs Feb 05 – April 17 and will be accompanied by a gorgeous text from Gingko Press and GCAC.

Then the paintings that I’ve been working on for the last two or so years will debut at Bold Hype Gallery in Chelsea, NY. That show is called Phantom Passport. I can’t wait for you guys to see these new ones. They’re easily twice as intricate as the last paintings, maybe three times. Definitely. That show opens May 12. Oh, and a Post It show in Barcelona at Atticus. That should be a fun one too. Again, can’t find white post its, so I’ll have to concentrate hard and not see the yellow paper and get the work done.

So there he is. And in case you’re interested in seeing these awesome works in real life you can check out his show.

art blog - Nathan Spoor - Empty Kingdom