Universe of Walls
Do you see what Nathan Jx sees?
By Gretchen Giles
THE COOL, dim elegance of the Sonoma State University Library Art Gallery is hardly the place to conduct an argument. Yet there they were, a couple looking at photographs while hissing in genteel undertones.
"They look like paintings," insisted One. "No they don't," corrected Two. "They look like photographs."
"But they're painterly," pressed One. "No they're not," returned Two with an infuriating calm. "They're photographs of painting."
Two may have a point, but One will never admit to it. Perhaps the colorful images wrought by emerging artist Nathan Jx equal Three: Photographs that look like paintings but nonetheless are generally photographs of paint. Thick, gloppy, gorgeous, industrial paint. Just the way painters like paint. Paint for paint's sake. Paint to pant for.
Showing through Aug. 20 inside SSU's new Jean and Charles Schulz Information Center, "Turn the Corner: Recent Works of Nathan Jx" means to reveal the surprise encounter available with everyday things should one take the time to view them--actual seeing, the real stuff.
But Jx has hardly stumbled, shutter wildly clicking, upon his careful compositions of color and texture. While he's certainly found his surfaces on warehouse walls, at San Francisco street corners, through pipe-snaked alleyways, and while traveling through down-at-the-heels Texas, his camera avidly seeks to order them in a way some might term "painterly"--and they'd be damned right about it, too.
Indeed, while Jx claims punk illustrator Raymond Pettibone, original icon Jasper Johns, and Irish playwright Samuel Beckett as artistic mentors, he may in fact be seated in class facing Dada photographer Brassaï and Catalan painter Antonio Tàpies. Brassaï wandered Paris shooting structural graffiti, espousing a "universe of the walls," depicting what he termed a "poor art" that could be appropriated by anyone. Tàpies, intrigued by Brassaï's images of thick, impasto-y paint, in turn sought to create the stubbled vibrancy of the wall on his canvases as a signifier of modern life, a subject that engrosses him yet.
In even unconsciously wedding these two, Jx ignites a sharp desire to touch, brush up against, lean and slump and slide on the smoothly rough surfaces he's captured on film. "Tex Mess" is particularly lascivious this way, an all-patterned shot of a pebbled wall next to a tiled slice next to a bubbled slab of school-bus yellow next to a gray streak next to a bluey brown strip of who-knows-what. "Gun," too, is well-chewy, showing a Brahms candy pastiche of cherry and brown-striped paint with a pistachio-colored pipe lying along an ordinary wall. Some idle hand or chance scrape has etched a little figure into the Brahms section, giving this small piece of some unknown building an accidental lyricism that Jx is alert enough to capture.
Unlike abstract paintings, which often hurl the taunt of "Untitled" from their label, photographs compel one to decipher images. "Town and Country" is wonderfully maddening in its refusal of knowledge. Could it be rust or blood that pocks that whale's belly, that abandoned surfboard, that beat-up canoe?
Itch, desire, and argument are salved by the remainder of the exhibited works. They're pretty, they're decorative, they'd be as absolutely handsome as can be in a boardroom or dining room, remarked upon once and then, to Jx's probable dismay, possibly not again seen.
'Turn the Corner: Recent Works by Nathan Jx' continues through Aug. 20 at the University Library Art Gallery, Jean and Charles Schulz Information Center, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. Hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. 707/664-4200.
From the June 28-July 4, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.