May 21, 2008
NEW WORK IN RALEIGH’S LUMP GALLERY AND ADAM CAVE FINE ART
Beauty and the bestiary
By Dave Delcambre
…Nathaniel Hester channels Henri Matisse from the studio on his farm in Person County. From the available evidence, the artist’s relocation to the countryside—complete with a few farm animals—has had a direct, beneficial impact on his art.
His latest show is an exploration of abstract composition, in the context of a colorful animal portrait series. An accomplished printmaker and painter, Hester uses the serigraph (a type of screen print) as his chosen medium for this series, and he has employed a collage-like technique of layering blocks and swaths of color—much as Matisse did in his late collage cutouts. Because serigraphs demand that each color be laid on with individual screen passes, there are strong similarities to collage in the printing process. Just as the French artist’s use of scissors and colored paper freed up his method of creating form, Hester lets his serigraphs liberate compositional elements so that they interact with their background and—most effectively—each other in lively and compelling ways.
With these prints, Hester experiments with expectations of what any given animal’s portrait might look like (or not) while at the same time exploring its distinctive natural qualities. His abstractions are sometimes extreme enough that the viewer is challenged to find a visual connection between animal and picture. Some images in the series, such as “Flamingo,” reference the namesake in color with only the slightest anatomical hints. Works like “Chicken” and “Moth” are even more minimal and utilize hovering Rothko-esque planes of color. To Hester’s credit, he avoids taking on clichés of animal caricature and instead makes intelligent use of various oddities in his subjects, such as unexpected greens in his “Giraffe” and a very human-like visage in “Owl.” When looking at these pictures, it’s useful to keep in mind some aspect of the animal’s fundamental nature: perhaps writhing and curving for “Snake” and brilliant coloration and segmentation for “Caterpillar.” This is an effective starting point in engaging the work on its own terms. These images are not about unerring representation; ultimately, it is Hester’s keen sense of composition and knowing when to say when that keep the work accessible and under control.