Studio Visit: Nate Lowman

Studio Visit: Nate Lowman
"Untitled" (2011), Nate Lowman.
Studio Visit: Nate Lowman
"John Deere" (2010), Nate Lowman.
Studio Visit: Nate Lowman
"Dirty Martini" (2011), Nate Lowman.
Studio Visit: Nate Lowman
"Dirty Dancing" (2011), Nate Lowman.
Studio Visit: Nate Lowman
"P-I-Z-Z-A" (2011), Nate Lowman.
Studio Visit: Nate Lowman
"Original Ray's" (2011), Nate Lowman.
Studio Visit: Nate Lowman
Nate Lowman

The American Academy in Rome inaugurates its fall exhibition calendar with a show by the prolific, young American artist Nate Lowman. Presented by Galleria Massimo de Carlo, the show is part of Three Amigos, a multi-venue exhibition, which also includes artists Dan Colen and Dash Snow.

Culled from recycled images ranging from newspaper clips to dollar bills to promotional stickers, and readapted as icons that become both the subject and object of his art, Lowman’s works are often dispersed in structure-less installations, in which found objects become giant totems of Americana and the cult of celebrity. According to Art in America, Lowman's “catalogue of images suggest a desire to say something, repeatedly, about culture that goes beyond words.” For his show at the Academy, Lowman created approximately 30 new pieces. We met with him at his Manhattan studio in Chinatown to discuss the exhibition, which opened on 20 September, 2011.

Can you tell us about the show’s title, Three Amigos?

Massimo de Carlo came up with a really good idea to do three shows scattered across Rome of my work, and that of Dan Colen and Dash Snow. When he asked us to title the shows, we didn’t know how to begin to give one title to three different shows in three separate locations so we began brainstorming in a light-hearted way about how to tie these events together. So we went back and forth, listing things in threes like three blind mice, the third eye, etc, and took it from there. I made a painting using images of motifs of threes, and I glued our faces onto the Three Amigos image* and when the gallery saw it they suggested to use that image and title for the show, and we felt it really worked. This trio motif is also where the subtitle for my own show originated: Gift, Ghost, GAP.

[*Editor's Note: The film Three Amigos is an American slapstick comedy shot in the 1980s, which portrays Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Martin Short as three unemployed actors mistaken for real heroes in a Mexican village that is under siege by real bandits.]

Can you tell us about the Dash Snow piece that will be exhibited at MACRO?

We consulted with Blair Taylor, who runs Dash’s estate, and she agreed to screen this short film by Dash, Sisiphus, Sissy Fuss, Silly Puss, which has never been publicly exhibited. We went to see the space at MACRO and Blair felt strongly that instead showing a series of his collages, it would be a more interesting gesture to screen this movie featuring Dash's girlfriend and their young daughter, which he completed right before he died. 

Can you tell us a bit about how the show came together?

The show at the American Academy in Rome is my first solo exhibit in Italy and most of the works for it are new and were created this summer. The way I work, I tend to appropriate images from source material and use them over and over again, bringing images back into my work after many years. There might be one painting that I’ve never shown and no one has ever seen from 2003 or 2004, which has been re-appropriated because I made something new to accompany it. My last show [at Maccarone and Gavin Brown Enterprise] was really focused and I knew for over a year exactly what I wanted the works to be, so at the Academy I wanted the show to be different - more improvisational and more intuitive. To me the whole show is one piece, and that’s how I approached it.

In order to do this I thought I’d take the title of the show very literally. One of the only ways that my art will ever come to deal with losing a friend is in a roundabout and less obvious way so the works themselves became about threes and something from the three that was missing. So you may notice that there is always a missing part, a part that’s gone, something missing, or a prosthesis or a ghost.

One painting in particular is very ghostlike, the Untitled work that we chose for our website.

I’m glad that you chose that image. The works look like silkscreens but they are actually hand painted works after photocopied images. The source for this painting comes from an article about human trafficking. The image is from an x-ray photo of a truck that is carrying illegal aliens from Guatemala into Mexico or maybe Mexico to the US. When you look closely you can see the individual people outlined in there. I made another version seven years ago that I entitled The Last Supper, because that’s what it reminded me of; I was really drawn to this image. There is a huge sadness to the image knowing that if this picture was taken then those people got caught and never made it to their destination. All of these images I chose because they are topics that I want to engage with and it was about coming around to doing that at the right time.

You work with a range of mediums and techniques and produce paintings, sculptures and installations. Can you talk about one of your processes?

I’ve been working on a series of very large works, which are in the show. These are made from dropcloths that are left on the floor to keep it clean while you work on other things, and this one specifically had these marked off areas that are quite prominent, almost like stencils because things had been painted on top of them and I chose this one in particular because it had a strong quality of absence. In another one you can see footprints and also where an extension cord had been lying. I sprayed the background of some with a compressor and an airbrush to create an orange mist.

How do you know when they are finished?

They are finished when they are finished. I like the way they just happen organically and you can’t make them quickly, or in a formulaic way. They are really about time. It can take anywhere from 10 minutes to five years to create one of these paintings. I keep some dropcloths around town at some of my friends’ studios, including Dan Colen’s, and I go around and check on them periodically.

It is so interesting how you have chosen so many different types of works to be shown together.

I like it when those things can get as disparate as possible. Some of the works don’t make obvious sense together, but it’s about walking into a room and taking the time to be with these objects. I like it when the viewer has to take logistical leaps, and open up the possibilities of what things can be because in the end it’s all paint that dries.

I hear that you hang your own shows.

Yes – I am getting to Rome early with a couple of my assistants so I can put the show up. I always curate and hang my own shows. I don’t title everything until the show is hung, which frustrates everyone. So I have made pizza [paintings] for the show. Pepperoni pizza, which I think is the most iconic and the most fun to make. I have also made separate slices.

Nate Lowman’s exhibition at the American Academy in Rome runs until 11 October 2011. Dan Colen’s exhibition will be at the Palazzo Rospigliosi until 9 October 2011, and Dash Snow’s work will be at MACRO until 11 December 2011.

All images courtesy of Nate Lowman.

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