Uff Da Gestalt, an exhibition by Nathanael Flink just recently wrapped up at SooVAC and though we are are patching and painting for our next set of exhibitions, we were able to reflect on Nate’s show, painting process and thoughts behind the work while his paintings still inhabited the gallery.
Tiffany Lange: Tell me a bit about your show?
Nathanael Flink: My show is of work that is both sculpture and painting - or sculpture and wall-based works. They encompass a time period from 2015 to now. Some of the older pieces are the oils on canvas. Working on this series, I began to utilize collage with a variety of fabrics by sewing together and utilizing more of a mixed media approach. As the work began to evolve, the pieces began to grow into a larger awareness of three dimensions - so there’s an interplay between these sculptures and paintings.
T: Much of your pieces use a variety of materials and I’m curious if you can tell me a bit more of the importance of these materials.
N: I used to go into an art supply store and fill up the shopping basket with tubes of oil or acrylic paint, which had always been necessary to my artistic process. I wanted to get away from this sort of commercialism so I began to really get into finding scrap materials. I do a lot of dumpster diving and collecting pieces of wood and fabric. There's some spots that I frequent often and if somebody's giving stuff away in an alley, I'll throw it in the back of my car. Most of the pieces that were made within the last two years were made from this collection of materials that I have accumulated. So almost everything in the show is recycled or found materials with even some recycled paintings – old paintings that didn't work out become new paintings.
T: The name of your show is Uff Da Gestalt and I would love to hear a bit more background on the show title and why you chose it.
N: To me, Uff Da Gestalt is a kind of wry joke in a way because I’m combining two opposite ideas, but also in a way, they aren’t that opposite either. ‘Uff Da’ is a sort of Minnesotan phrase that derives from a Norwegian or Swedish word and it was something my grandmother would always say which has stayed with me. “Gestalt'' is a school of psychology that was started by Fritz Perls who was a practitioner of psychotherapy in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. In art school I was introduced to the idea that creating an artwork is the emergence of one’s intuition and imagination. This related to this push-pull idea of Hans Hofman and formal modernism.
T: Are there any artists specifically from that era or beyond that have influenced your work or that you are thinking about as you are making these pieces?
N: Absolutely! Recently I have been following Jenny Brosinski who is a German painter and she currently has a show in Antwerp. I take a guilty pleasure looking at bluechip painters like Sterling Ruby and Wade Guyton. Albert Oehlen. I saw a Jessica Stockholder show in Sante Fe that was very influential. I am influenced by all kinds of art. Japanese woodcut and ink painting, Land art. Photography. Gorilla Girls. Many of my friends' work. Basquiat. Rauschenberg. Twombly, especially his sculpture.
T: When you begin your painting process, how do you enter into a painting?
N: Each process is unique to the specific painting. In general, there’s a rule that Gerhard Richter said that I always keep in the back of my mind - ‘Painting is a process of making decisions and following those decisions until there is nothing left to do. Doing one more thing would destroy the piece.’ Deibenkorn also said something that I consider when I start a new painting - ‘Sometimes an initial state is reached that becomes kind of a novelty. For the artist something is revealed and oftentimes that state is almost always an illusion and so the initial state must always be discarded.’ As I am making these pieces, I’m relying on an intuitive process of collage by cutting things apart, reattaching and/or painting over, a push and a pull. In the sculptural work, it’s breaking apart and rebuilding until there’s nothing left to do.
T: A lot of these paintings span over a few years and I’m curious what was the first painting you’ve made in this series and where are you going?
N: The paintings that are straight oil and canvas are from 2008-2018, I believe.
This painting (Uff Da Gestalt) was an outlier, started about five years ago. I completed this lower section with these large gestural marks, but the rest of the painting never really could come together and so it’s one of those paintings that kind of sat in the corner and then it came back a couple years later.
Uff da Gestalt
This painting (Plus Equals What?) actually has an underpainting that was completely different. I was having trouble because it never really connected to anything else so I decided to go back into it. I found myself just dumping an entire tub of this peach house paint on it and I was skating around in the studio as it was dripping all over the floor. I was just full-on committed at that point. It was either going to live or die a horrible death. As an artist there needs to be some times that you just destroy something when it’s not working.
Plus Equals What?
T: In the beginning you referred to yourself as a painter and then you said you’ve made sculptures that hang on the wall. How do you feel that these painting and sculptures begin to talk to one another?
N: There's a sort of implicit idea that a painting is flat and there's pictorialism to it. And one of the things I'm interested in exploring is the three-dimensional qualities of what a painting is and conversely how painterly a three-dimensional sculpture can be. I’m constantly experimenting.
Fortress (Front and Back)
T: I think that’s super intriguing. This piece (Fortress) specifically as I have been looking at it, I’ve been able to find little hidden moments of pleasure like this purple buckle attachment and the reflective moments where light is hitting and helps exaggerate reflective color. All the components that make up a painting can be found in this smaller sculpture.
N: Yeah! When I began working in three dimensions, it wasn't easy to do. I spent a number of years just experimenting with form by casting material. I’m thinking about sculpture with almost the eye of a painter.
T: In a lot of your paintings you use fabric other than canvas and as someone who loves texture I am curious why? For example this piece has the glossiness of the oil paint but then you add black velvet that plays with light alot.
N: I’m also someone who loves textures and I love how different sorts of fabrics interact with each other. I originally started working with fabric because I wanted to expand the palette with different coloristic qualities. Even if you are the best photorealist painter in the world, you’re just never going to be able to reproduce a texture like a real piece of fabric. I also love utilizing textiles because of the play with space.
T: What are some future endeavors for you?
N: Well, I'm curating a show in March at the Northeast Sculpture Factory Gallery in the Casket Arts Building. There are six artists that will be involved: Ruthann Godollei, Josh Meillier, Mark Rode, Carla Rodriguez, Noreen Tyler, and Michon Weeks and the show is called Contempo Tempo. The exhibition explores contemporary experiences that these artists are dealing with over the last year and in the present while also exploring how current events are shaping their lives. The show will run from March 5th to April 3rd.
Link to show:
N: Other than that, my plan is to get back to the studio and start a new body of work.
T: Heck yea! Well thank you so much for chatting with me!
Nathanael Flink was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. He earned a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1994. Flink has been the recipient of the Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship (1999) and the Knight Arts Challenge Grant (2016). He has exhibited his work in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont, New York, and South Korea.
To view more of Nathanel’s work from the show virtually please visit: https://www.soovac.org/uffdagestalt