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Monsters and Victims
Nathaniel Evans (born 1985), an alumnus of the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, loves painting “ghost stories of faith and ideology”. His work is inspired by his strict religious upbringing in Appalachia (region in eastern United States) and employs a minimal pallette – of dull blacks, whites, greys, blues, greens and purples – that quite resembles those “found footage” horror movies. The spaces depicted in these photorealistic paintings are compressed and claustrophobic in mood. They are haunting visual documents of a community that has remained stagnant in thought and limited in reach for generations. Here we find glimpses of eager congregations, fiery sermons, rituals of accusation and healing. Maybe even nightmares of demon possession. The members sometimes look credulous and pitiable but the group, as a whole, is too self-contained and confident – unwilling to open itself to or be challenged by those with different sets of beliefs and values. Nathaniel says that his scenes are pretty mundane, the terrors are subtle. Not obvious or heavy-handed. It is just that something isn’t quite right here.
Nathaniel has been drawing since he was old enough to hold a pencil. Painting came much later. He says: “I got into painting traditional realism because I was drawn to the ability to create a space and atmosphere. As I moved closer to what I do now, I realised that traditional realism had limits on what sort of emotion and effect it could create, and I started looking at artists who make works with a similar psychology. Victor Man, Justin Mortimer, Marlene Dumas, Brett Amory, etc. I took some cues from their technique and applied it to my own subject matter. I was also really into film and the German Expressionists had a lot to offer.
“I didn’t start out with ghost stories, but I was always after some feeling and psychology in my images. Working and analysing it over time, I realised that I was trying to reach my own anxieties from my childhood. I didn’t want to make biographical work, so I decided that I would make sort of little tableau scenes about the area and character of the real thing. That’s where the idea of “ghost stories” came in. It matches the spirit of folk tales in the area.”
Nathaniel understands the dangers of fideism and excessive ideological fervour. Faith which is not anchored to reason can be seductive and intolerant. It “dissociates us from conscience”. He explains: “My scenes always come from the midst of people lost in their ideologies. These people were probably lost and trying to find meaning in their life, found some idea of a purpose and gave up their worldview and conscience for that ideal. Ideals can be great, but when you try to fit the world into the narrow scope of an ideal, things get lost and distorted. Often, people think that their ideals can overcome the obstacles of reality: pain, injustice, grief, fear, etc. But disconnection from these inevitable parts of life blocks our ability to change and react. Conscience can help us empathise and help each other through difficult times and lighten the burden of our obstacles. I don’t propose any simple solutions and I try to be skeptical of them, but holding on to laws from thousands of years ago or assuming logic and cold methods justifies any atrocity (or that they can be ignored because somehow they weren’t truly a part of the ideal) is dangerous and should be exposed.”
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