The recent artwork of Nathan Reidt asks us some very direct questions about how we view beauty and challenges any societal conditioning or innate repulsions we may be harbouring. Reidt’s figurative works, sometimes depicting the forms of what are still recognisably people (albeit covered in growths, protrusions, and fleshy abnormalities), and other times bringing to life altogether more unusual beings, peel away at our conceptions of what being beautiful truly means. Rendered with an obvious love and attention to detail, Reidt’s creations skilfully toy with his audience’s emotional alliances creating a tug of war between the opposing sides of repulsion and attraction. While the degree of grotesqueness his creations adopt is firmly rooted in the eye of the beholder, many of us may end up wondering if such distinctions should be quite as obvious as they first seem.
Nathan Reidt is a self-taught artist currently living and working in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has been on a lifelong creative journey which has seen him working as a CG artist within both the gaming and film industries and more recently retracing his steps in order to rekindle the passion for creating his own personal fine art, which he has devoted himself to full time for the last five years.
WOW x WOW was super thrilled to have Nathan contribute an intriguing new drawing to our recent ‘Room of a Thousand Doors’ group show. The piece, entitled ‘Full Disclosure’ is a fascinating exploration of the complexities of our ever-evolving conceptions of beauty. We caught up with Nathan to find out more about what make this captivating artist tick. Read on!
Hi Nathan, thanks very much for making the time to have a chat, we really appreciate it. To get us started, can you give us some background on what has lead you to this point in your professional life, be it your formal training, serendipity, etc.?
I have been on a bit of a strange journey the past several years and only now feel like things are finally starting to settle and form a cohesive reality. I quit my job in the visual effects industry about 5 years ago to focus on my personal art. I’ve been moving around a lot and exploring and growing and working freelance on and off during that time. A year ago my girlfriend and I packed up our stuff and moved across the country to Detroit. Now we are in the process of moving into a house in Philadelphia. It’s been a bit of a crazy wandering ride and I’m ready to settle down a bit and just create. I have no formal training in anything, I am self-taught in all aspects of art and computer graphics.
In what ways did your childhood and upbringing affect your relationship with the arts?
I began drawing when I was about 5 years old and haven’t stopped since, so I guess my childhood and upbringing was the start of my relationship with the arts.
I remember being very young and my older sister had a boyfriend over and probably more to impress her he sat down and drew me a picture of a Lamborghini Countach. That moment totally blew my mind. That was all it took, I became obsessed with Lamborghinis and drawing right there. I have had a sketchbook on me ever since. It was early and immediate and I knew right away that that was what I wanted to do for a living.
Star Wars was also massive in my little child brain. The creatures especially, left a lasting impression on me and are basically the reason I wanted to get into film. Lately, I have been digging deeper into these early root influences and interests and trying to embrace them more and incorporate them into my art.
Oh, my family also got a computer when I was very young (a pretty rare item at the time) which definitely had a huge impact on my interests and future career. I suppose for some people, it’s an odd thing to combine such interests as monsters, drawing, sculpting, computer science, math, and cars, but it all kind of works and flows together to me.
Before we start talking about your personal artwork, we’d love to hear a bit more about your day job as a CG artist in the film industry. What kind of influence does it have on your personal expression?
I started my career in computer graphics at Cyan, a video game company just outside of Spokane, Washington. That was in 2000. After that I moved to California and got into the film industry. I’ve had a number of job titles, from Modeler to Technical Director, Creature Designer, and Art Director. I mostly do creature work with ZBrush and look development anymore, those are my two favorite areas.
Working in that industry has been tough on me though, especially in regards to my personal art. I notice a recurring trend in that line of work, where artists that grew up making art and pushing themselves to get well paying jobs at the best companies in the industry, find themselves years later, rusty and unable to draw like they used to. It’s kind of a sense of striving for a goal and then making it, being what you might call “successful” and so then exploring and pushing your limits is no longer necessary. I definitely fell into that trap, although I did recognize it and would sporadically get a new sketchbook and draw at my desk and during meetings and try to rally the troops and get a figure drawing session going or something like that.
Eventually, all of it became too much. The constant deadlines, the constant overtime, the stress, and the indecisive clients. A handful of years ago I quit and lived off of savings for nearly 2 years and taught myself oil painting. At first it was hard even making art for myself without having direction from someone else and so I decided that I was just going to work from life exclusively. That took any guesswork out of it and just let me practice and learn the tools and explore visually without having to stress about my confusions of identity and interests. Something along those lines anyway. It’s really only been the past couple of years that I’ve finally gotten into exploring my own ideas and breaking my self-imposed restrictions of working solely from life. I use photo references now and work from imagination and enjoy combining all of it with live models, whatever and whenever really.
I feel like I am finally getting to a place, or a distance from it maybe, that I want to start exploring CG more selfishly and thinking about how it can play into what I’m doing.
Where does your sense of community stem from as an artist? Do you feel part of a close-knit scene in your home city, or do you connect more with other creatives online? Is community something that is important to you and your creativity?
Like I said, I have been moving around a lot, especially the past few years. Most of my old CG friends have been forced to move around the world for work as well, so I am pretty much forced to keep in touch with all of my close friends online. I am used to this though from my earliest days in CG sharing art and information on discussion boards and chatting with software development teams on IRC. Most places I’ve worked used messaging software to communicate internally as well, so even before texting I was used to typing with people in the room next to me.
I think these days social media, especially Instagram, is becoming my main source of community. I have made a lot of friends there that have even turned into friends in the real world and I also use it as my main form of communication with a lot of friends I’ve moved away from. Seeing all of the amazing art that they are making in one place is also extremely inspiring and pushes me to try and do better.
I do feel like we are in a golden age for sharing art online. My cynical side worries that somehow someone is going to do something to bring it all crashing down, but until then I’m excited to see how it plays out.
We’d love for you to share some thoughts about the current themes you’ve been enjoying exploring through your art.
A lot of what is happening in my art right now is roughly based on thoughts of neglect, overgrowth, decay, and our societal definitions of beauty. These are themes that my brain continues to come back to, is fascinated by, and is also tormented by. A simple benign example of this would be someone’s yard, that has been left unmanicured to return to some natural wild state. Is there a specific point where it stops being beautiful? A more extreme example would be, say, a person with a rare fungal infection left untreated that has left their body nearly unrecognizable as human and covered in plant like fleshy growths. I am intrigued by how society’s evolving definitions of beauty interpret scenarios like these and how they relate to our own individual tastes. Mix in a bit of a science fiction and dystopian cynicism and you have some idea where I’m going with all of this.
Alongside your darker, imaginative creature based works you have also been nurturing a figurative series of pieces. How do you view these two unique sides to your creative output? What ties them together and what sets them apart?
Like I said earlier, figure drawing was a crucial part of my development. I spent years working solely from life doing figure drawing, portrait painting, still life, and sculpting. I specifically kept this separate from CG and anything related to drawing creatures or working from imagination. It’s really just the past year or so that I’ve finally been embracing my creature interests and trying to incorporate all of it into a cohesive art bubble. I’m pretty excited for them to be friends.
To what extent do you think about the viewer when creating your art and what do you hope that they take away with them after interacting with your imagery? What are your thoughts about the conversation cycle which exists between artist and audience?
That’s kind of a new concept for me. I don’t really know. I feel like I am the viewer still, just trying to make things that I find interesting. Maybe once I’m more comfortable with all of it I’ll think about the viewer and the ‘experience’ more. This could also explain why I suck at titles.
Have you ever created something that surprised you? That you didn’t know was in you?
Hmm… I don’t think so. I think the closest thing would be sculpting. I have always been interested in sculpting and always wanted to do it but for some reason never did. It wasn’t until my mid 20’s when I finally did some figure sculpting and was surprised that it felt very natural to me, like I had been doing it all along. I still get that feeling every time I sculpt with clay, it feels so natural and I think “this is so great, why don’t I do this more, this is all I want to do”. And yet, I always seem to forget that afterwards and go back to what I was doing until the next time it pops up. Someday I am going to get a lot more serious about sculpting and may just leave everything else behind when it happens.
As a self-taught artist, what have been the greatest breakthroughs you’ve experienced that have allowed you to take those next big steps forward in honing your craft?
I remember a specific moment a number of years back. At the time I was spending most of my free time sitting in cafes or bars drawing everyone I could in my sketchbook. At first it was just a matter of capturing the rough shape of the person before they moved, and as I got faster it got into details and shading. One day I had this moment of clarity and I could actually see the lighting on the person I was drawing, like it was paused for me and I could actually observe it. I could see the direction that the light was coming from and where it was hitting their face and casting shadows across their body and the secondary light bouncing off the forms and reflections of their surroundings. This is all stuff I already knew about, it wasn’t new to me, but being able to stop and observe it and think consciously about it in what was usually a frantic race against the clock was a very new thing.
That’s kind of how our brains work, after doing something over and over enough, our brain learns how to optimize those tasks and offload them as background processes and this lets us use our main processor to break down new tasks.
This happened a lot when I was learning to paint. I remember at first being unsure of how to even physically mix paint with the palette knife, and when I was first mixing colors it would take me a long time to get even close to the color I wanted. Eventually that part became second nature and I was able to observe the colors with more clarity and mix the colors more accurately and in turn spend more brainpower observing other things.
Seeing is also a skill that we can improve with practice. Observing, pattern recognition, discerning subtleties, etc. we get better as we practice, kind of like how our eyes adjust to a dark room.
Recently the big thing has been getting over some of my self-imposed restrictions. Things like not using an eraser, not starting over or redoing pieces, or not using photo reference. Those things took effort on my part, it was a real internal struggle.
Being an artist who works within the visual realm, can you shed some light on some of the most important inspirations and influences on your work that aren’t visual?
I guess music is a pretty obvious one. I usually need music playing in order to make art, in order to focus, so it’s pretty important to me. I also like to play the guitar and twiddle with synthesizers.
My anxieties and worries and depression are also pretty strong influences.
I’ve always been kind of a strange kid… a little bit of an outcast, a little bit of a punk, not one to go along with the crowd or try to please others. I was also heavily into skateboarding in my teens. I suppose those things have had a pretty big impact. I mean everything that contributes to who you are as a person has an effect on your art. Art is kind of a visual manifestation of your unique programming. That is why I think every artist needs to embrace themselves more and not try to follow the herd and fit in and make art that is acceptable. Everyone is already an infinitely unique individual and if they used their differences to their advantage we would have a lot of really interesting art to look at. Right?
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, possibly one who’s memory you find yourself returning to for inspiration, or maybe just a tale about a hardship you’ve overcome which has helped define the person and therefore artist that you are now?
Well, I did go through a divorce recently. That kind of helped kick off this whole journey of self-discovery that I’ve been going through. Sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone to grow, and sometimes you need to be forced out of those comfort zones. I have definitely grown in a lot of ways since then.
If you could own one piece of art from any of the world’s collections what would it be and why?
What’s next for Nathan Reidt?
As I write this I am unpacking my belongings and setting up my new studio in Philadelphia. I’m very excited about this. I’m excited about the art scene here, the museums, and the proximity to those same things in New York. I’ve been on the west coast my entire life so this is a pretty big change for me and I think it will have a positive impact on my work.
Moving to Detroit and being isolated for a year was a good break, a bit of a reset that let me finally dig inside and explore myself. Now I’m ready to dig in and just make radshit every day.