Nathan Jones: landscape as stage
Nathan Jones’ credits his artistic training as beginning sitting at the kitchen table and incessantly drawing with felt-tips as a five years old! His formal training started at Hastings College of Art with a BTEC Foundation course in Art & Design followed by a BA (Hons) in Fine Art: Painting at Cheltenham College of Higher Education (now the University of Gloucestershire) and in 2003, an MA at Wimbledon School of Art, again specialising in Painting.
Drawing influences from art history and theatre, Nathan partly sees the world through that historical prism “I’m interested in how those historical visual templates continue to influence the way we see the world, shaping our ideals and even aspirations.” and his work closely engages with the world of the theatre – figures can be seen as actors, landscapes as a stage and objects as props. Having worked at The National Gallery for a number of years, his work developed under the influence of the old masters “it spurs you on if one day you’re looking at your paintings in the studio, and the next day it’s a Velazquez!“.
He then moved onto stage set painting which inspired variations on a theatrical theme; underlying these themes is a concern with notions of authenticity and the slippages between the real and fake. He has always been enchanted by the stage, the way things can be simultaneously real and fake, and how the audience can wilfully deceive themselves. In an era of ‘fake news’ and an overabundance of internet imagery, questioning what’s real and fake, and challenging our casual assumptions seems particularly relevant.
Nathan’s work uses the stage setting as a metaphor. “One of the things that I love about theatre is how this small stage is really a microcosm of the outside world – it holds a mirror up to ourselves. The same is true with my works: what is actually depicted is potentially just the starting point for the viewer to unravel over time.” Each work is imbued with an element of ambiguity and uncertainty, a complexity that keeps the viewer engaged “I think you’ll never get bored of a piece that continues to ask you questions and, on different days, different questions.” His aim is for the painting to slowly unravel in layers: “I unashamedly make very visual, beautiful paintings that hopefully succeed in drawing the viewer in, but the complex part is in orchestrating how that narrative gradually unfurls itself, which might lead the viewer to question some of their assumptions about nature, reality and even selfhood.”
Landscape stage sets are painted onto wooden panels “they are also the most detailed and illusionistic for which the flat surface is ideally suited” and the more painterly figures are cast onto canvas. Meanwhile his works on paper are looser and more experimental “some of these are also done at the end of a day’s painting, using up the paint left on the palette, and after painting all day you are usually pretty loose and might feel the need to do something bold and expressionistic. All three surfaces behave so differently and provide unique opportunities“.
As it develops, Nathan’s work is beginning to move towards becoming more evocative of dreamscapes. They certainly already have a dream-like quality, albeit depicting very real solid objects “I feel they could become more painterly and visually ambiguous which in some ways would match their already-ambiguous subject matter. I like the idea of combining loose painterly passages with highly detailed parts; the finished/unfinished combination is rather appealing and can better speak of memory and the passing of time.“