portraits by DASH SNOW and JADE BERREAU
fashion pictures by TERRY RICHARDSON
interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
When we asked NATE LOWMAN, an emerging star of the New York art scene, for an interview, he requested that CLARISSA DALRYMPLE take part. Clarissa first arrived in New York in 1968, and since she entered the artworld’s tornado in the early ’80s, she’s discovered many young artists. Along the way she’s evolved from gallerist to one of the art world’s grand dames. Nate, an all-American heartthrob, is one of the talents Clarissa brought to light. And they’ve been friends ever since.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I’m so glad to have this opportunity to speak with both of you. I want to first ask you what you have in common.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Well, I’m an Aquarius and so is Nate!
OLIVIER ZAHM — Aquarius — that’s a very complex sign.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — No, not at all. It’s deadly straightforward, actually. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you two meet?
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — I went to a show of the graduating painting class of NYU that was mounted at American Fine Arts.
NATE LOWMAN — It was Keith Mayerson’s Neo-Integrity class, which became almost like a cult. There was a manifesto that had a picture of Rimbaud, along with statements about integrity and sincerity.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Yes, Keith invited me to the show. Anyway, there was one very odd piece, stuck high up on the wall, which Nate had done. It was an image of a planet, with “Roc-La-Familia” written across it.
NATE LOWMAN — I had actually graduated the year before, but I still knew people in Keith’s class, and one of them suggested that I put something in the show. I also wanted to hang something at American Fine Arts — that magical place — before it moved to Chelsea. So I put a piece in the show and afterwards someone told me that a woman named Clarissa Dalrymple had liked it and that maybe I should call her up. That was seven years ago. I finished school the summer before 9/11, and we met the following spring, in 2002.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Holy mackerel, it’s been such a short time. As you get older, it’s curious how time periods seem to pass by at different speeds. Seven years doesn’t feel like it used to.
NATE LOWMAN — I looked you up in the phone book. I still remember the number. I didn’t know that much about you and I didn’t know what to expect. I had only ever had friends over to the studio. You drove your little beat-up white car over to Bed-Stuy, to my crazy neighborhood. I swear, there were more rats than people on the street. There were vials all over the place. These two really nice crack-heads always sat on my steps at night. Anyway, Clarissa looked at my stuff and she and I talked. Then she said she had to go, because she had to go to a barbecue. And I thought, “Oh no, she’s so bored and I’ll never see her again!” [Laughs]
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — That’s hilarious. I enjoyed my visit. Nate is one of the more eloquent and intelligent people on the face of the earth and can explain his work very well. But he referenced things I had no idea about — like this rap record, Roc-La-Familia, for example. The generation gap is a brutal thing. [Laughs]
NATE LOWMAN — Oh yeah, that Jay-Z record! I didn’t know what else I could reference. We were talking about the painting of mine that she had seen. I used that famous picture of earth taken from the moon, the one that looks so fake, with just a little bit of the moon’s surface in the foreground. It’s an iconic image. My friend had a copy of it laminated to Foamcore. I asked him if I could have it and I used it for what was a kind of break-through piece for me.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Yes, and you promised to sell it to me if I ever came up with the money!
NATE LOWMAN — I know. And then I accidentally sold it to the first people who ever bought something of mine! [Laughs]
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Nate is very multi-dimensional in his thinking. There’s always so much material. I remember the show he did at Marc Selwyn’s gallery in LA, seven or eight months after we met. Beverly Hills was a step up from Bed-Stuy! There was this one piece…
NATE LOWMAN — Which became a much larger piece after the show because no one wanted to buy it! Right around the time I moved into my studio, John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban guy, was all over the news. I made all these little paintings of him, just trying to understand what happened. There was no way that the American media could understand or explain it, considering how shitty most American journalism is. It was an impossible subject. John Walker Lindh had this crazy long hair and looked like Charles Manson or Jim Morrison. He also looked like pictures of my dad when he had long hair and a beard and drove a motorcycle. So I started collecting photographs and paintings of men with long hair and beards — an image from a Bob Marley t-shirt or images of criminals I found at the library. I do use things that just present themselves, that arrive naturally. So that piece included a lot of elements, like actual newspaper clippings.
I also commissioned a girl to do a drawing of Jerry Garcia because she loved all that hippie stuff and I didn’t want to draw Garcia. Plus, it’s important to let things out of your hands sometimes, and then take them back in.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — But the piece is about far more than just men with beards.
NATE LOWMAN — Well, conceptual art starts with simple things that ask a lot of questions. That’s generally a good thing in art — a picture is worth a thousand words, right? The piece is large and changes in dimensions depending on where it’s hung. Sometimes the images are close together and sometimes they’re far apart.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — On the opposite wall from Nate’s painting in that show was a work by Adam McEwen that used a famous photo of Mussolini and his mistress hanging from a scaffold after their deaths. But McEwen turned the image upside down. He was actually a little nervous about you, or rather about your type of work being in that show.
NATE LOWMAN — He never said a thing!
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Then you two became really close friends.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So you’ve worked with Nate since the beginning of his career.
NATE LOWMAN — She introduced me to all sorts of twisted people. [Laughs] And nice people, too, like Keith Sonnier and Jack Pierson. Clarissa used to have amazing dinner parties at her great apartment, on Wooster Street south of Houston. It was Gordon Matta-Clark’s old place. I met a lot
of artists there.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — It was a great circulation point.
NATE LOWMAN — You always managed to grab whoever was in town. There was always someone there I didn’t know.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — People would bring their friends. And I love to cook.
OLIVIER ZAHM — When did you first come to New York, Clarissa?
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — In 1968. I came by boat, following an American draft-dodger I was in love with. We had been in Paris in 1968. May 1968, actually. You weren’t even born yet, Olivier.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Oh yes, I was.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — This man and I decided to go live an alternative lifestyle on his mother’s farm in Maine. But a few days before we were to set sail, he said he’d heard that Nixon had granted a pardon to draft-dodgers and that it would be better for him if he sailed on a boat from Italy. So I sailed to Quebec, with my illegitimate son. But they wouldn’t let us off the boat.
I finally made it to Montreal where they did let us off. I had to come to New York to get an abortion. So I sent my son back to England, came here for what I had to do, and never left. I met the great love of my life, the filmmaker Jim McBride, and the rest is … well, a long story.
NATE LOWMAN — Wow, that’s the best story I’ve heard in fucking years.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you become involved in the art scene as soon as you arrived in New York?
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — No, that was a dozen years later. In 1983 I started the Cable Gallery with Nicole Klagsbrun. New York was so exciting at that time. I felt like I was on acid for the first six years. I hadn’t really been a part of the Swinging ’60s in London. I didn’t know anything about art and didn’t even want much to do with it. I was more involved with film. But just the fact that everything was open on Sundays in New York was so great. Sundays can be murder in Europe.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Maybe more suicide than murder. [Laughs]
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Yeah! New York was open 24 hours a day. We could always go out and eat an amazing sandwich that was bigger than anything you’d ever seen in your life. Jim and I drove back and forth across America three or four times. The first time was to attend a film festival in Berkeley that Jim had a film in. After that trip I couldn’t even consider going back to the tiny landmass of England. The American landscape was just so astounding. The last time I drove back in a Peugeot with my son Joe, and we were stopped and checked out in every little town we drove through. It turned that they were looking for girls who’d been with Charles Manson. They all had these Volkswagens and I guess just any foreign car aroused suspicion. Another time with Joe, I went to see the Grand Canyon and we saw a mushroom cloud from an atomic blast off in the distance, between Flagstaff and the canyon. I thought, Oh my God, we’ll be contaminated and have to be quarantined and we’ll never be allowed to leave again! I’ll never see Jim again! But at the Grand Canyon Lodge they told us that it was no big deal, they were just testing missiles! [Laughs] Another time Jim and I got arrested by a cop who’d just come back from the Vietnam War. We had some weed in the car but managed to hide it. I was legally married but still didn’t have papers and the cop booked me. I spent a night in jail and then went up before the immigration people. They were so excited to have an English woman who could speak nicely that they allowed me in immediately! But enough about me and my experiences with redneck cops in Arizona. Let’s get back to Nate.
NATE LOWMAN — Hey, I might be related to some of those guys. [Laughs]
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — One of them could have been your dad.
NATE LOWMAN — No. My dad was too much of a nerd to be a cop.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What was growing up like for you, Nate?
NATE LOWMAN — I grew up in California, in a little town in the mountains above Palm Springs. People go rock climbing around there. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through my old town. You can hike from Mexico to Canada on it. Bikers hold rallies there. Every kind of weirdo passes through. Only about 2,000 people live full-time in the town itself, but people from LA have weekend homes there, so the population can double on weekends.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Has it become all artsy, like the desert?
NATE LOWMAN — Yeah. There are lots of artsy-crafty galleries. I didn’t really want to go to art school. I wanted to go to a real university — although I did try to get into Cooper Union, because it was free and prestigious, but I wasn’t accepted. I know people who went there, but like most of my class at NYU, none of them wanted to be artists by the time they graduated. Or they realized it was just too unrealistic, which is really depressing, because it’s not supposed to be realistic. I remember Nancy Barton asking my graduating class what we were all going to do. Out of maybe 50 students, only two of us said we were going to try and be artists. It was awful — everyone was thinking practically, like their parents did, saying, “I think I’ll get a job in graphic design.” Which was crazy, because in 2001 the economy was recovering. If you went to Gavin Brown’s and saw just one super-cool young artist making a living, you’d think, “Why not give it a shot?” Gavin created a whole culture. It was a place for weirdos to go. There was a bar called Passerby, and the floor was like at a disco floor, but it was really an artwork.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Gavin Brown’s Entreprise is more than a gallery. It’s like an American Fine Arts for your generation, right?
NATE LOWMAN — Yes, Colin de Land and Gavin Brown were both artists, and I always liked the feel of artist-run galleries.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Colin was exclusive and he intellectualized his arena. Gavin is really a healthy English boy who likes the odd drink and has a sense of family, which makes it all very inclusive.
NATE LOWMAN — I used to joke that Gavin and his artists were like a functional version Manson Family.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Getting back to your classmates at NYU — what was art for them, then?
NATE LOWMAN — I don’t really know what they were there for, but then NYU isn’t really an art school, it’s a university where you can major in art. I went there to get a real education, to read books and have someone to tell me which books to read and then to talk with me about them. My father runs a really small non-profit art high school, with music, dance, theater, visual arts, and now even film studies. So I’ve studied art since I was a kid and knew I wanted to be an artist. I just hoped that someday it’d pay my bills. I took some academic courses, like history, to get a broader education, which I think is important. I didn’t move to New York to learn how to draw.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Clarissa, do you see a big difference between the young artists you knew in the ’80s and those of Nate’s generation?
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Absolutely not. It’s still all about how one’s ego works. Either you let go of your intention to be an artist or you don’t — although sometimes that intention is belied by the fact that your work doesn’t have a critical arena. The ratio of the people who go to art school thinking they’ll have a career in art to those who don’t hasn’t changed.
NATE LOWMAN — But back in the Clinton era the economy was great. Everybody had money. When I went to art school there were thousands of art students. For parents to send their kids to art school back then seemed pretty reasonable, unlike today.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Now if parents see that their kids really want to go, perhaps they’ll find a way. I’m thinking of the artists in The Pictures Generation show that was up at the Met. John Baldessari, one of the teachers of those artists, never made a penny, and I think he prompted his students to envision themselves in the world, to take the initiative, to not sit around waiting. Also, through the ’60s and ’70s there were much fewer dealers, galleries, and collectors in New York, but they made up a real cognoscenti. They were deeply involved with art. Now exhibitors may learn about art and the art market, but they don’t necessarily have a profound connection to art. That’s what’s changed. I don’t say this critically, because I myself am a latecomer and I’m largely uneducated about art. But I do like the energy level in those moments of transition and transformation, when one sees whether one can develop or not.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I have the impression that since the beginning of this decade there have been too many artists, too many galleries. But in the early ’90s, most artists didn’t expect to make money.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — That was a temporary situation. The mobility of artists — the thing that allowed them to move up through the galleries and get bigger — started in the beginning of ’80s.
NATE LOWMAN — You showed tons of people back then, right? And when artists didn’t make any money with you, they’d move on to another gallery. [Laughs]
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Right! But there was a bit of a crash in the early ’90s. I remember that I was going to do a show with Matthew Barney, who I consider to be one of the revolutionary figures of the ’90s. There was this really nice man and his wife who owned Petersburg Press. They’d worked with Hockney, Johns, Lichtenstein, Hamilton — you name it. In the last part of the ’80s they decided to give up publishing and go into trade works with Japan, where they’d had success selling artists’ multiples. But then the yen suddenly died. The couple invested a lot of money in a gallery that would represent new artists and also show secondary market work. I was put in charge of it. We had a gestation of exactly nine months and then came Matthew’s show. A week before it was supposed to open my boss told me his bank had called in his loan and that he could no longer continue with the gallery.
NATE LOWMAN — Holy shit!
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — It shattered Matthew. But I had asked Stuart Regen to come and see Michael Joaquin Grey’s work at the studio he shared with Matthew. When Stuart saw Matthew’s work there — the refrigerator, the wax, the Vaseline, the this and that — he found a slot for him at his gallery in LA. It was a miracle. The show was more than ready and they shipped it all out to LA. And, guess what? It was the best thing that ever happened to Matthew. Regen invested in him in a way that my boss and I never would have had the imagination or capital to do, to make films. Stuart was a genius.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It seems that the art scene of each decade has its own characteristics and that in the ’80s the dealers were very powerful. In the early ’90s the gallery system collapsed and it was as if artists began rebelling against it. They became more open to the idea of doing shows in unusual settings, like hotels and public spaces, and doing collective shows.
NATE LOWMAN — Well, I thought it was cool that Nancy Spector, the chief curator of the Guggenheim, did a show with all the early ’90s guys you’re talking about. Because now the economy has fallen apart like it did in the early ’90s, when those guys started making that great Invisible Art, or whatever it’s called. Half of that art scene was invisible — it was just about people hanging out and being around each other. I studied that art, but I hadn’t experienced too much of it because it was before my time. So I didn’t realize just how much the economy had to do with it until I saw Nancy Spector’s show. It had all seemed purely philosophical to me. Like nerds and DJs were just hanging out and making art.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — I think when the economy is strong art becomes more of an industry, like publishing is. Art’s value is regulated only by the desire for it.
NATE LOWMAN — It’s pure capitalism.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I found myself becoming tired of the art world in 2004 or 2005. How does one keep up with it all, to know who the good artists are? And the art fairs in Basel and Miami — they were so horrible. All the work looked the same.
NATE LOWMAN — Well, they’re not exhibitions, they’re trade shows.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — I don’t understand how recently kids who have literally just graduated are putting on shows everywhere.
NATE LOWMAN — I know. Kids who work in the studio Dan Colen and I have, who are still in college, are getting studio visits from all sorts of people.
OLIVIER ZAHM — New York seems like such a jungle for artists. Only so many of them can find the right connection and survive. The art world may be huge and diverse but there are very few great artists out there now.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — No fewer than there ever were — it’s just that now there are more job applications.
NATE LOWMAN — Being an artist and making art is about being alive and finding a way to communicate with people. I try to make the best things I can, exactly how I want to make them, which is complicated enough. I don’t give a fuck about masterpieces. I mean, museums are great storage facilities and they put on exhibitions. But after you’ve made your living, the number of people who forget or remember or rediscover you really doesn’t matter. It’s actually okay to be forgotten for a while. Hopefully, there are great artists from the ’90s who will be rediscovered. And hopefully they can still make a living. Like, where is Jessica Diamond, who was so fucking awesome? It’s like, history is written by the winners, you know?
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — But how long do you think it takes to decide whether something’s crap or not?
NATE LOWMAN — Who knows? It depends on cultural moods. Maybe some day people will have forgotten John Currin and they’ll remember Jessica Diamond — not that they’re comparable artists. It’s all just another part of the unregulated, hyper-capitalist art market — the value that’s placed on art, what’s remembered as important, and what it all distills down to. The issue of quality has always been there. You just have to go for what you think is the most interesting, what you like the most. I can get really cynical about it sometimes. There are so many galleries, so many artists. But it’s because I’m in New York and it’s in front of me all the time.
It’s actually kind of cool that, no matter what you think about it, an artist like Getty can staple a piece of carpet to a piece of cardboard and that’s it. It’s what he wants to do and he does it whether you like it or not. And then someone will exhibit it and Time Out New York will write it up and you can go look at it when you’re visiting New York. It is kind of great, even if the quality of it all is questionable. When you have too much of it, though, it can be a pain — I mean, some days it’s like I don’t like any artists anymore, and then I remember someone that I really do like. But if you go to the wrong show, with a hangover, you can think you’re going to hate the artist forever. Then you forgive him when you see his next show. You may even get to rediscover him.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So Clarissa, you had to close your gallery. Didn’t you want to open another one?
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Yes, but it was too economically hazardous. I didn’t know how to do it. I had no money.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you still visit the studios of young artists, Clarissa?
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Well, I can’t imagine another way of doing it. It’s a way for me to learn things.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s important to remain open to the new.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — Yes, absolutely. But there is a lot of one-dimensional art out there right now. I don’t understand how it can take people three years at school to learn how to make it. I just don’t get it. But now I really have to get going — my cat hasn’t eaten in 36 hours! [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — Thank you so much.
CLARISSA DALRYMPLE — You’re very welcome. It was my pleasure.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Clarissa is really something, isn’t she?
NATE LOWMAN — I know. Do you know that great photograph of her and Nicole Klagsbrun in the back of a limo? It’s called “The Dealers.” It’s not a candid shot — it’s a really posed, totally constructed photo-graph, but it’s really good. She was super foxy in it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Didn’t Robert Mapplethorpe photograph one of her children?
NATE LOWMAN — Yes, her son, Jesse. There was that big controversy when Jesse Helms, the conservative Senator from North Carolina, didn’t want the National Endowment for the Arts giving money to people like Mapplethorpe, because he thought they were degenerates. Helms used Mapplethorpe’s photo of Clarissa’s naked, two-year-old son as an example of child pornography. It wasn’t, of course — it’s just a beautiful photo of a kid. But there were hearings about it, because Mapplethorpe had received grants from the NEA and then used the money to photograph gay people, naked people, and black people — all the people Helms didn’t like. He said it would destroy art, destroy life. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — What are you working on now?
NATE LOWMAN — I’m doing a show of portraits for Pauline Karpidas’s Hydra Workshop. Pauline’s done the show every year for ten or 12 years. I know how to paint a little bit and can do portraits. Not oil paintings. I use all sorts of different kinds of material and techniques. I made some out of concrete and bits of painting, and some with ink on canvas and crayon. Some of them are in acrylic paint, some are in latex paint, some are airbrushed. A piece of newspaper or a brushstroke are just different kinds of language.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you approach the tradition of portraiture?
NATE LOWMAN — Portraits are difficult because they’re a solution, an answer to a problem. When rich people want portraits of themselves for posterity, that’s a particular problem. Art is the opposite of that — it asks questions about things. It’s not just about problem-solving, but about expanding possibilities of stuff, of life. So the only way I could make interesting portraits is to approach it backwards. I’m painting portraits of people I’ve never met. I’m also doing portraits from photographs by Johnnie Shand Kydd, the awesome English photographer. They’re beautiful. Maybe half of the portraits will be from his contact sheets. He agreed to let me use a lot of them.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you meet Johnnie?
NATE LOWMAN — He takes pictures of Pauline’s guests every year. Last year he and Clarissa and I went to the exhibition on Hydra, an Island in Greece, a few days early and I got to know him. He’s like a walking cocktail party, super-smart and funny.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you paint from observation?
NATE LOWMAN — Not really. I pretty much always start with a picture or an object. It’s like entering in the middle of a conversation, as opposed to starting one from scratch. Like I made a structure out of bulletproof glass just because it exists and it’s interesting. You re-contextualize it, re-examine it, change it — do whatever you want to it. I try to give a new beginning, a new meaning, to things that already exist.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you and your artist friends like Dan Colen, Dash Snow, and Ryan McGinley influence each other in a conscious — or unconscious — way?
NATE LOWMAN — I think so. A lot of us make things that, in their physical essence, are basically the same, but they’re completely different conceptually. I’ve made a number of pieces with holes in glass and so has Dan. But they’re coming from completely different places. His are about basketball and mine are about banks. Or maybe that’s not what they’re actually about, but that’s what they start from.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s interesting, the friendships between artists. Your generation seems different from Jeff Koons’, many of whom started off close but later became distant from each another.
NATE LOWMAN — Like backward magnets. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — Some of them even stopped speaking to each other.
NATE LOWMAN — Well, we were insanely lucky in that we all began exhibiting at a time when there were lots of opportunities for lots of artists. I think now is also a good time, even though the economy’s supposedly so horrible. I just did a show and ended up selling all my work. It took a little longer to sell, but the transactions were more meaningful because people could only buy one piece, not ten. As Clarissa said, kids have to figure out their own way to make exhibitions happen. There are plenty of artists I don’t like and whom I’d feel competitive with if they got this show at that gallery, but I don’t feel that way about my friends. I know Dash Snow through a weird set of circumstances. We had a mutual friend who was in the hospital, and we met there. I became friendly with Dan because of art. We knew each other for years, but we didn’t know what each other did. He was just another guy I’d see in bars or clubs. But when we realized what we each did we got into the artwork and we become close, really fast. And I didn’t have anywhere to live for a while and so I lived with Dan and Ryan McGinley. We don’t only talk about art, but that’s why we became friends.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think someone will come up with a label for your group’s art one day?
NATE LOWMAN — I hope not. One would only do it out of disdain. But we’ve been labeled in different articles by Jerry Saltz in New York magazine and Roberta Smith in The Times. First they called us The Boys in Black. Then they realized that there were girls in the group so they called us The Boys and Girls in Black. Then it was The Boys and Girls in Black and Silver. Maybe in six months we’ll be The Boys and Girls in Technicolor Fucking Dreamland. Or maybe Boys and Girls and Midgets and Aliens and Animals. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — Art critics have a hard time defining any new scene, so they use the dismissive clichés of the night, the drugs, and the attitude, right?
NATE LOWMAN — Maybe they thought we were all fuck-up drug addicts or something, and that we wore black all the time, which isn’t true. It’s like saying we wear sunglasses at night and have this crazy attitude. That’s the closest thing to a label anybody’s ever given us.
OLIVIER ZAHM — But your work is controversial.
NATE LOWMAN — I never thought it was controversial.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Or, rather, your success is controversial, because you’re also very fashionable. So people say it’s all just a trend.
NATE LOWMAN — This relates to what I was saying about Gavin Brown really creating something. If people feel like they’re on the outside of something, they’ll start saying things about the people they think are on the inside. But there’s no reason for anyone to feel on the outside of anything — that’s just how it feels when you don’t understand it. If you thought that Elizabeth Peyton, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Rob Pruitt were too cool for school, you might say nasty things
OLIVIER ZAHM — But labels can be positive when they simply try to capture what groups have in common.
NATE LOWMAN — Yes, that can be wonderful. But it’s so strange that I barely know any young writers — not that they have to be young. I don’t even know who’s interested in us. Maybe it’s because they saw us in a fashion magazine that they don’t want to write about us, because of the hang-ups of academia, or whatever. But that’s all fine. I actually hold deep respect for art critics and curators because they have such hard and thankless jobs. I feel like they’re doing what I’m doing, in essence, except that my job is easier because there’s more of a reward.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And it’s more fun!
NATE LOWMAN — Writing is excruciating for me. Most of the people I know who write really well struggle with it and hate it. Writing about art is basically like being a poet, because it’s so hard to do it well. Writing about art is to actual art what art is to music. That is, music is way better than art and art is way better than art criticism. You can have music on all the time. It’s the best thing in the world. Art could never compare to it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you like to read art criticism, in Artforum, for example?
NATE LOWMAN — I haven’t read a piece of art criticism that’s got me excited in fucking forever. I can’t read too much of it and still do my job. I try to read everything that’s written about my friends, but even then I become bored by it. I think a long time ago art critics had this awesome power over an artist’s market and career. I don’t think that really exists today. I think critics can only help artists. You can write a really bad review of someone but if the shit looks good over somebody’s couch, people are going to buy it. The more people buy it, the more people exhibit it. The more people exhibit it, the more people see it. There’s no Clement Greenberg deciding that an artist is bad and ruining their career. Sometimes I think that the only people who read all the art magazines and newspaper articles about art are people in the industry, people in galleries. The people who tell me, “Oh, your art was reviewed,” or “I saw that thing about you,” are never artists or just random people. It might be my parents — my dad follows my career obsessively. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — You incorporate a lot of pop culture into your work, but you’ve really stuck to the visual arts.
NATE LOWMAN — Well, I used to play the guitar but I’m not really that good at it. And if I’m not as good at something as I am at art, I don’t really want to do it. You find the thing that you see the least limitations in. Making paintings or sculpture is totally limitless for me, so that’s what I want to do.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you know when a work is finished?
NATE LOWMAN — I don’t know. I try to work on a lot of things at the same time. Some things can take an hour, others I have to work on every day for two weeks. But it does come to an end. If it sucks, I just have to throw it away. [Laughs] Sometimes I’ll just make a little change in something and I’ll leave it for a week and then do another little thing to it. Sometimes a small painting can take six months or a year to finish. But it’s rarely just, presto, it’s done! But when it is, it’s a like a little mini-orgasm, like a sneeze, and it just feels so great. But usually, when that happens, the next day I realize I was wrong about it, and it’s like, “What the fuck!” I feel so stupid thinking I’d made something that looks like art, when, in fact, it just looks like somebody else’s stuff, or it just looks like an idea of art, something I’d seen before.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I like the way you use all kinds of found materials and techniques, and mix them in your own way.
NATE LOWMAN — Yeah. Maybe I’ll make a painting and then add something else to it, so it becomes more like a wall-collage, maybe with a found object, a photocopy, a photograph, and a painting. It’s a build-up of all these different languages, sometimes in an unreasonable way. I convinced Dan [Colen] to give me one of his paintings to use in one of my pieces. Whether people know Dan made it or not doesn’t matter. It’s a cool way of working. People send me stuff, sometimes people who have nothing to do with art. Leo Fitzpatrick and Dan are so generous like that. You walk a crazy line, making art and selling it. It’s like love, in that it’s hard to say which part is selfish and which part is generous. Lust, on the other hand, is pretty straightforward. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — When you install a work in a gallery, does it always look exactly the way it did in the studio?
NATE LOWMAN — I’ll make mock-ups or drawings for certain pieces to guide the curators, but if I can install myself I’ll do it differently every time, depending on the specific character of the space. It’s kind of fucked-up. It’s fun and exciting for me to re-install pieces. It’s a new thing every time. To think that they’ll always be installed exactly the same way seems a bit morbid. The bonus of being a living artist is that you can install your own stuff. After I’m dead someone else can do it, by looking at a picture or something. Doing something specifically for a site is an open-ended problem I haven’t totally solved yet. Some people I’ve sold installations to must think they just own a mess, a pile of paper and canvases, with a photo to tell them how it should look. It’s like, “Good luck, bitch!” [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — Richard Prince is one of your favorite artists, isn’t he?
NATE LOWMAN — Sure. I was always into him. This crazy thing happened — in the last six years or so that I’ve been exhibiting my art Richard has become a household name. He’s a prolific workaholic, such a re-maker, such a machine. He must get up at five in the morning and work all day. I’ve been meaning to go up and visit him but I’m almost scared to see what it’s like. I mean, I make a fucking lot of art, but that guy — wow! So, yeah, Richard was a big influence, among many others. I love Baldessari and Llyn Foulkes. My first hero was Cy Twombly. He’s one of the heroic figures of art and one of the reasons I wanted to become an artist.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You contributed something to a Richard Prince catalogue, didn’t you?
NATE LOWMAN — I did an essay for the catalogue of Richard Prince’s show at the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo, Norway. I’m doing a show there in September. That’s how I met him. They asked John Kelsey, who is a fucking awesome writer, and me to write something for the catalogue. I didn’t know what to write because at the time Richard was everywhere, in every magazine, and had been for two years or so. He has an amazing, constructed history that is so intriguing and mysterious — I mean, is his last name really Prince? I don’t know. Anyway, I just did an homage using pictures of people with the names Richard or Dick — Denise Richards, Keith Richards, Richie Rich, Richard Reid. There was that great record by The Dead Milkmen, “Not Richard, But Dick.” I found a t-shirt with a picture of the cover on it and used that. I used pictures of dicks, a picture of Dick Nixon, of Dick Van Dyke. It was just like a language thing of the pictures and names, but it ended up being 50 pages long. I was so nervous. They flew me to Norway for Richard’s opening. I had never met him. I thought, What if I’ve ruined his catalogue and he hates it? Because that would be such an asshole move to make, especially to someone whom you really admire as an artist. But he liked what I did for him. He’s been really friendly and supportive ever since.
[Table of contents]
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