Nate Cardozo is a multidisciplinary artist primarily working in a technique he has dubbed "parched paint". His work is inspired by catharsis and the cacophony of life. It is an intuitive exploration of texture, color, and dynamic movement. The pieces he creates are seldom titled, instead using dates like entries in a journal. Nate's collection with Artfit is set to come out on Saturday August 26, 2023. Ahead of this release we did an online, text-based interview to explore some of the concepts at play in this collection.
What sort of art did you start off creating?
Illustration was my first love. I have always been drawn to comic books, I love the idea of telling a story with more than words and more than one art form. When I was 7 or 8 my Dad and I did a book together called The Adventures of Bigfoot and Ironclaw, I might even still have it in storage somewhere. When I was 11, or 12, I was exposed to the idea of abstract art and my perception of what art could be was wildly changed.
How did art school influence your process?
Art school was a unique experience, and really fostered in me the ideas of exploring different media and pushing the envelope of what was possible.
How did art school change your perspective on “technique” in art?
This is a difficult one, for me. In my time in art school, I feel like there was less emphasis on technique than there was on exploration and a greater allowance for bullshit. This, honestly, is one of my gripes with the "art world". A student artist's technique can be horrible, but if they can talk the viewer through their intention and build context with a ridiculous title then their work is somehow deemed great. As an adult artist, I have spent a great deal of time refining and developing my technique and process to avoid this sort of pretender relationship. Without well developed technique ideas become lost or muddied, and can't be rescued by a thick layer of BS from an artist unavailable for commentary. Simply put; you can't be there all the time, and your work must speak for itself.
What made you interested in incorporating the pyroclastic element into your art?
I have always loved fire. It is beautiful, transformative, and dangerous. However, the honest truth is that I was drunk or high, likely both, and wondered what would happen if I lit my paint on fire. The first summer I was home from college my parents finished construction on their pole barn, and there were tons of small scrap wood bits laying about. We lived in the country and acquiring canvases to paint on was problematic, so I used what was on-hand. We had converted the loft into an apartment/studio of sorts and I lived, and painted, up there for the summer. I was playing a lot with building heavy texture and distressed surfaces. For whatever reason I had a bottle of rubbing alcohol laying around and decided I needed to see what would happen if I doused my painted surface and set it off. I was overzealous in my application and the flames were very high, at least 3ft, with no extinguisher in sight. I had gathered some old blankets to smother the flames and was prepared to start stomping the fire out. Much to my delight, the fire self-extinguished and the paint was transformed. Some of the original texture remained, but most of it was cooked and bubbled away. The paint was mixed in unpredictable ways and, in a few places, chemically altered from the heat. Thus, parched paint was born. I still have one of the pieces from that summer of epiphany. To me, the effect is analogous to raku pottery. I have influence over the finished product but not total control. It is randomized and unpredictable, much like life.
What are some of your goals for using fire as a tool?
Transformation, randomization, imperfection, viewer engagement.
What does that element of randomness/entropy do for your art?
Exactly that. It introduces a highly randomized element into the process of creating a painting. I do not seek perfection when laying down fields of color, far from it. My base layer paintings are like glazed pottery before it's been fired, seldom exciting to look at but full of potential. It's the fire that unleashes that potential and performs the final act of creation.
How do you stay safe while working with flaming chemicals?
I always burn outside in a designated area. At home I have a concrete pad that I burn on so paint doesn't leak into our groundwater, and I use sand to absorb spillage and keep flames localized. I have a fire extinguisher near-by, and almost always wear a respirator
What part of lighting your work on fire is performative?
Obviously the lighting it on fire part is performance. More than that, though, it's also about catharsis. I pour all my hard feelings and raw emotions into each piece. During the burn I am released.
How does this performance/act of lighting it on fire change when not working for a crowd?
It does not change in any way. There is always fire. Though, for whatever reason, I don't feel obliged to wear my respirator during public performance. Probably purely out of hubris and vanity.
Can you explain the titles of your pieces?
Absolutely. I dislike titles for abstract work. They imply context or, in many cases, prior knowledge of intent or history. I prefer the viewer find their own context, their own meaning. My pieces are typically dated, like journal entries, instead of titled. This is especially true with my smaller works, anything requiring less than 10 hours, concept to finish, gets a date. Larger pieces sometimes get titles because of my increased emotional investment and time commitment. Akin to a short story or novel, as opposed to a journal entry.
Why is context, or the lack thereof so important?
Context is everything, it's the thing that gives viewers tangible meaning. I simply ask for a role reversal. The onus is on the viewer, not on me, to supply that connection.
What role does context typically play in art and why is that something you’d like to subvert?
Context is subjective, person to person. I don't seek to subvert it, I ask people to bring their own. What a piece means to me, or how it made me feel, is seldom the same as the viewer. This is why I prefer to think of my work as journal entries. Emotions and hard feelings gain tangible form through paint, then are burned in effigy and released in one glorious moment.
What role does the community play in supporting your art?
That's a great question. Without engaging in the community, I'm just a guy doing art in his garage. Which is ultimately true. However, building support with, and engaging in, the community means my art touches other people. This potentially generates sales, which allows me to keep doing what I love: making art.
What is Artists United? How did you come across them?
Artists United is an international community of artists, in all stages of their careers, mutually supporting each other to bring about increased individual successes. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed. What originally started as a WhatsApp group to reclaim art from a fraudulent gallery has manifested into something so much greater.
Catharsis is a major theme in your work, how would you define that term?
Catharsis, to me, is the act of letting go and being renewed. Letting go of hard feelings, and raw emotions. It's a bit like working with a therapist. There's an intense unburdening and then I can move on unencumbered
How does the use of fire relate to catharsis?
The fire is a tool of transformation. Or, as my mushroom forager friend says, "With death, there is new life."
What was the inspiration for this?
I could give you some BS answer, but the real truth is pretty simple. Intoxicated epiphany. I was fucked-up and almost burnt down my parents barn… uh… several times.
Where can people go to see your work?
Currently, people can visit Proctor Art Gallery to see a selection of my paintings. Heritage Coffee and Plant Bar has some of my drawings and is also where I do public demos. They can visit my Instagram page, @c_studio.northwest, or checkout the virtual gallery published by @arte_contemporaryart.
What is something that you’d like to promote?
I will be doing a public demos as part of the Heritage Coffee summer concert series, 8/26 and 9/23. Fingers crossed, I will also be participating in a touring show in Italy, early 2024, as part of Artists United's first live show.