Artist Interview with Skidmore Contemporary Art
Skidmore Contemporary Art: If you could choose a different medium to work in, what would it be and why?
Eric Nash: I currently work in the simple and classic mediums of charcoal and oil paint. Both are messy but worth it for their versatility and richness. I would have to choose graphite and acrylic paint for their speed and ease-of-use. Or I’d go in a totally different and more contemporary direction and get deeper into computer animation.
SCA: How would you describe your creative process?
EN: It’s slow and long. I take thousands of photos every year as a reference or inspiration for my paintings and drawings. I separate the images with potential into folders and from there I zero in on images that have a certain iconic simplicity and magic. Some images might sit in a folder for years before I use it. Once I commit to an image I edit out unnecessary information and get to work on actually painting or drawing it. In a sense some paintings take years to complete due to this slow gathering and fermentation process.
SCA: Has social media impacted your work in any way? If yes, how? If not, why do you think that is?
EN: Yes, social media has exposed my work to so many people who would have never known me otherwise. I’ve made many sales as a result. It’s a wonderful thing for artists to have such wide contact with potential collectors or admirers. I believe in quality over quantity in social media. As a result I have a high engagement level with a smaller number of authentic followers. To me there’s nothing more sad than a frantic over-poster with 10,000 disengaged or phony followers who feels that the more they post the better. In fact it becomes annoying and repetitive to anyone who might truly be interested in their work. Too much of a good thing is too much. Social media is a double edge sword. Be careful. It can create erroneous perceptions or make you seem trivial and desperate or worse yet, look like a tone deaf narcissistic egomaniac. Less is more, at least for me.
SCA: What is your most memorable museum experience? Can you briefly describe it?
EN: I had a very early interest in Edward Hopper through library books. He inspired my earliest work very deeply. At age 14 my parents took me to The Art Institute of Chicago to see a huge retrospective of his work. I was mesmerized. Seeing his work in person for the first time and relating to the lonely imagery inspired me to commit to being an artist. Hopper said so much with so little. He captured moods and feelings with light that were universal and iconic. His work has a quiet and deep power. Those first impressions still influence my work to this day.
SCA: What is something unexpected that has impacted/influenced your artistic style?
EN: Two things. Cinematography, particularly the use of an establishing shot to give a scene context. Often it is a still shot which somehow says so much about a place or impending action with just one key image. Those shots always stood out to me in film. I’m always looking for that iconic shot that tells a story. Secondly, would be California light and color. The purity, clarity and deep blue sky have become a signature of my work. It appeared as a result of my unconscious desire to infuse my work with a distinctly California vibe and collectors have responded to that intuitively.
SCA: If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing?
EN: I'd be a poet or writer. Words have such power. Stories and ideas painted in words are the foundation of all culture. If I couldn’t draw I’d use words instead to create, enlighten, inspire or inform people.
SCA: What city/town/geographical location has provided the most inspiration for you?
EN: Los Angeles. From watching TV and film in the 1970s and 1980s to living there as an adult. It has always fascinated me and inspired me. Its light, its sprawl, its freeways and its uniquely modern and American look made Los Angeles into my most prominent source of inspiration, my muse. I’m originally from the flat prairies of Illinois. Those vast and laconic horizons also inspired my foundational interest in the power of plain simplicity.
SCA: Were you professionally trained as an artist? Tell us about that experience.
EN: My town had art classes for children which I attended beginning around age 7. During my high school years I took adult education classes in the evenings. I ended up graduating from the University of Illinois with a BA on a talented student tuition waiver. I’m glad I had so many classically trained teachers who gave me such a strong grasp of foundational techniques and ideas. I was taught by a generation of artists who knew their stuff. Women and men who deeply respected quality, craft and concept and who would roll their eyes at the lazy de-skilling of technique and the shallowness of ideas that are so prominent in the art world today.
SCA: If you could sit at a dinner table with 3 famous artists, who would they be? Why?
EN: Jean Micheal Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman. Each artist was operating at the highest level of their craft. Firstly Jean Micheal Basquiat is a once in a generation super nova of an artist, a radiant light which pulled us into a totally new world. The first time I saw his art in a book I could not believe it. It broke every rule and it felt so right, so now, so primitive yet so sophisticated. He burned bright and fast and now his myth and work is the gold standard. Similarly with Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman who did so much with very simple tools, ideas and iconography. These artists showed me that an artist doesn’t have to be powerless and poor living in an unheated garret, a victim. They prove that an artist can be an in-control and strategic business person who is an active shaper of culture, a socially able soul who manifests their own destiny by virtue of their intense passion, focus and talent. For me they shatter the much repeated and totally untrue myth that art and artists are so precious, economically unfeasible, over-wrought, over-thought, and remote. Instead they were so all intensely alive, direct, simple and unforgettable with no apologies.
SCA: What challenges do you face as an artist that people might not expect?
EN: There’s always the challenge of staying fresh and engaged. Often artists get caught in repetitive success, never growing. You have to keep digging, you have to keep alive and fresh and sometimes that gets harder the more you build a successful reputation and people want things similar to what you’ve done in the past. That’s why I always try to do experimental shows in front of new audiences to keep growing and finding new directions.
September 18 – October 16, 2021
As an artist, I seek out singular and iconic scenes. Stripped of unneeded information and presented in a documentarian yet idealized way, I work to elevate and preserve highly familiar but often overlooked moments. Within this context, freeway signs and pools become the true monuments of Los Angeles. The signs are more than destination markers. They are graphic and bold icons emblazoned with the names of legendary places rising over the connective tissues of our city — freeways and boulevards. “101 Los Angeles”. “Sunset Blvd”. “Hollywood Blvd”. In a city built on hopes and dreams, they stamp the beginning of countless stories and memories of people from all backgrounds and from all places. The pools at night become emblematic of the mystery and possibility of Los Angeles. Together they create a portrait of a legendary city that is so strongly defined by the car and water.
A lifelong artist, Eric graduated with a BFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He began his career in Chicago while working as an advertising art director. This experience cemented his interest in universal and iconic imagery. He works in oil and charcoal and is known as a West Coast Realist. Important influences include Pop Art, American Realism and Cinematography.
Drawn to its iconic landscape, Nash relocated to Los Angeles in 2000. His work is in many private art collections in America and Europe, as well as corporate collections inlcuding Delta Airlines. He has been the subject of a wide range of print and online media articles. In addition to numerous solo gallery shows his work has been featured at Laguna Art Museum, Tucson Museum of Art, Palm Springs Museum of Art and the Riverside Art Museum. He currently lives and works in Yucca Valley, California.
Watch: A short film about artist Eric Nash and the West by filmmaker Joe Taylor.