Friday, January 11, 2013

S.E. Nash

When I met up with Nash at her Long Island City studio, we discussed the points at which art and science meet. We quickly learned that both of us are used to being surrounded by scientists and physicians. It’s not uncommon for scientists to be involved in the arts. The same sort of insatiable curiosity and sense of wonder drives both the greatest artists and scientists. Since Nash's current body of work relates so much to biology, I was curious about how much of an impact growing up with a scientist may have had on the direction of her paintings. I know that while I was growing up, seeing photographs on the covers of medical books of the worst human deformities and tragedies of the body made me aware from a very young age that not all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

We also talked about how science is often romanticized and how the myth of the heroic scientist is not unlike that of the heroic painter. Everyone enjoys a good story about a lonely, isolated genius struggling against the ignorance and indifference of the dirty, unwashed masses!
In Huxley's Point Counter Point, there is a character of a bored aristocrat who finds existence futile until he becomes interested in the complexity and wonder of the natural world. Huxley who suffered from depression himself derived a lot of meaning from studying science. Although I believe that there is value and meaning to be gained in examining the complexity of the world I wouldn't necessarily suggest it as a panacea for existential angst. I am also not a proponent of knowledge for the sake of knowledge, since that would be far too simplistic and indulgent. Nietzsche has an aphorism in Beyond Good and Evil which describes what I am talking about far more eloquently than I am capable of: "Knowledge for its own sake"--that is the last snare laid by morality: we are thereby completely entangled in morals once more." 
The well-read man in Sartre's Nausea,  is the ultimate example of the absurdity of the idea of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. He spends his days pointlessly reading every single book in the library, going through each tome indiscriminately and by alphabetical order. Just like any good intellectual, the well read man does not arrive at any deeper conclusions through his reading, he just keeps going on and on purposelessly and aimlessly like the Energizer bunny!
I love the way the light falls on this piece in particular, It's a gorgeous painting. Some of Nash's pieces have the sense of time being frozen, just as in a photograph or a Luc Tuymans painting. There is also a sense of nostalgia and longing in this crisp, cool, botanical form that is reminiscent of a silent gramophone.
The other-worldly aesthetic as well as the formal qualities of Nash's paintings remind me of Ruth Duckworth's ceramics. 

 Even the chalky, muted quality of the paint Nash chooses in her work reminds me of the way glazes look on ceramics before they have been fired in the kiln. Ceramics used to be considered more of a craft rather than an art. I’m glad that that silly, imposed distinction is finally going away. Artists such as Joanne Greenbaum and Sterling Ruby are especially breathing new life into the medium.
The slashes bring to mind Lucio Fontana, although Nash's slashes are more careful and gentle. This painting especially possesses an unexpected, quiet strangeness, and there's something inexplicably comical about it. The small scale of the work aligns it with the scale of much abstraction now, although that's the only semblance between Nash's work and much of what is going on now in Bushwick. 
Nash is an articulate painter who has the ability to reference multiple painting traditions within an economy of means. Her quietly, contemplative paintings invoke the felt presence of life on both the macro and microscopic level.


  1. wow so interesting! thanks for the intro...

  2. glad you enjoyed the post! Thanks for your feedback, Martin!