Artist Embraces Nature (May 2008)

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

By J. Peder Zane, Staff Writer

RALEIGH – Nathaniel Hester says he wants to create art full of “mystery and wonder.” On that score the Raleigh native’s new exhibit is a great success.
The 30 kaleidoscopic silkscreen prints that make up “Animal Farm” bear straightforward titles, including “Beaver,” “Buck,” “Snake” and “Zebra.” The mystery is locating those familiar figures amidst the colorful abstract shapes. You crane your head from side to side, step close then way back, wondering, huhn?

Eventually you realize you’re playing a fool’s game. Sure, “Flamingo” has plenty of pink, and “Goose” does look like a bird. But Hester’s prints are not a jigsaw-puzzle test, challenging viewers to find the familiar in a whir of playful abstraction. They invite us to look beyond feathers, beaks and snouts and consider how we think and feel about these members of his menagerie.

“I made a list of about 35 favorites, animals that I have a particular relationship with,” he said in a recent interview.

“Crab” was inspired by a visit to Manteo 25 years ago when he dipped chicken necks into a marsh to lure crabs. “Cow” includes a big black rectangle because when Hester looks at a field of cows they appear rectangular.

His connection to nature runs deep. In 2005 he began living on the remote, 500-acre farm in Person County his family has owned for nine generations. Before the buyout, they grew tobacco; now they lease much of the land for cattle and wheat.

Hester, 31, and his wife, Saralynn, 25, keep bees and grow fruits and vegetables on the land he visited often while growing up in the Cameron Park section of Raleigh. After graduating from Broughton High School, Hester went to Rice University in hopes of becoming an agronomist.

His life took a different path thanks to an unlikely source. The Rotary Club sent him on a trip to Raleigh’s sister city in France, Compiègne, where he fell in love with the Louvre Museum during visits to Paris.

He switched his major to art history and French studies. After graduation, he earned a fellowship from Rice that landed him back in Paris.

Through the next six years he studied various art forms — animation, bookmaking, oil painting, printmaking, woodblocking — in France; New York; San Francisco; Kyoto, Japan; and Boston University.

While embracing the notion of avant-garde, he concluded that it had been sidetracked. “The safest thing you can do today is to try to shock somebody,” Hester said. “I didn’t want to live in that ironic disposition, what the critic Hilton Kramer calls the ‘free-floating hostility to life itself.’ I wanted to make felt, earnest work about what I saw and experienced but that wasn’t autobiographical.”

His art has been showcased at 11 shows across the country and is part of the permanent collection at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum.

In 2006 he completed a series of 100 paintings titled “Ship of Fools,” which was inspired by Shelby Foote’s novels about the Civil War. They encompassed identifiable events, such as the Siege of Vicksburg and the sinking of the Merrimac and “more abstract motifs like what maritime battle might have felt like.”

Last year he executed another 100-painting project, “Garden Delights,” inspired by the history of NASA. “Space travel is part of our blood-thirst to know and control everything, to map the known world,” he said.

After those challenging projects, Hester said he wanted to do something “joyous and fun.” The result was the lobster, loons and bunny rabbits of “Animal Farm.”

“Some of them are mysterious, some of them are silly,” he said. “But all them are honest.”


New Work (May 2008)

Visual Art
May 21, 2008

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.

Flutterings, Flitters, and Fancies (May 2008)


Art in the American Outback
May 13, 2008

Matt Lively – Recent Works at Adam Cave Fine Art
By Dave Delcambre

Matt Lively creates paintings that live up to his surname. His works are never dull but instead are about the fanciful flights of everyday objects that foray off in unexpected directions. The Richmond based artist has developed a style imbued with a tremendous dose of whimsy and often a good bit of surrealism thrown into the mix for good measure. His paintings recently on view at Adam Cave Fine Art in Raleigh depicted stage set-like tableaux of domesticity: sitting parlors with groupings of striped and patterned chairs, living or bedroom like spaces with large windows and wind blown curtains, ironing boards fraternizing with high chairs, and staircases that curl around small tables like your grandma’s that held the family telephone. Ordinary household items, often of the old-timey, made-in-USA era variety, are a common thread that reappear in the canvases and visually tie this series of works together. These items are central in the paintings and are typically actual objects the artist owns- an antique film projector for instance, an old circulating fan, a rotary dial telephone- and they simultaneously lend an air of nostalgic familiarity coupled with an unsettled air of mysterious tranquility.

The paintings share much with the fundamentals of still life painting in that the main subject matter consists of carefully composed objects, attentively painted, within a supporting background. Yet in Lively’s paintings these objects are always strongly metaphorical and seem to be stand-ins for the missing occupants of these spaces. This in turn gives rise to all sorts of associations that your mind begins to draw. Has the occupant of the room just left for a second and we’re catching the precise moment when they are absent? Or are they ever really coming back? Why are their belongings blowing all around in the drafty breeze like that? Who really owns that many chairs and how can their house have so many little rooms?

Indeed for all the tendency of your mind to have a traditional Westerner’s point of view (i.e. focusing on the objects rather than the space around them) it is a more intangible element that recurs throughout that gives these works their chutzpah: namely the continual breeze that appears to be blowing across the scene. It is a constant presence whether blowing the papers out of an antique typewriter in the painting titled “Turgid Type”or loosing the dots right off the pattern of a hanging dress in “Fall in Place” leaving them tumbling down onto the floor. It is a tough task this; the painting of the wind, yet this abstruse breeze seems to me to be the true inhabitant of these spaces. It flutters and flows about, making its way around and between the objects in the rooms as handily as we viewers survey the painted subjects themselves.

A few live elements do occur to bring a sense of the living into the fray: a bird just flown out of a birdcage, a comical swarm of bees in flight mounted on curious little miniature unicycles. But one particular inanimate item that caught my attention is the recurring old fashioned plug-in electrical cord that is generally present with each painted appliance. This cord curls out and away from the fans, clothes irons, and movie projectors towards a wall socket as if to seek out some broader harmony for the objects within their surroundings. It is a tangible element of connection -a literal power source- that suffuses Lively’s work with a sense of tactile linkage. In our accelerated present, a time of wireless and unplugged everything, sometimes it takes an honest time-worn item like this to connect us back to fundamental notions of inhabitance and spaces we might call our own.

a postscript…

The painter, I learned from his recent interview on WUNC radio’s “The State of Things,” also has an intriguing alter ego- Matthew Lively- who is more the brooding type, preferring to work with darker, more menacing themes. Matthew is more prone to show his work in bars and pubs – his own art underworld if you will- whereas Matt’s work is more content in hanging (no pun intended) with the traditional gallery crowd. The work done under each guise rarely crosses over into the realm of the other and Lively (who I have to imagine must have to constantly refer to himself as the Artist formerly known as the other M) is perfectly ok with that. Indeed it is a modus operandi that serves him well as it has many other creative types through history from Duchamp / Rose Selavy to the multi-heteronymical Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. The overall benefit is that Lively is able to cleverly pursue multiple, simultaneous streams of thought in his work in a fruitful way. He in fact becomes his own multi-tasking editor as this working method allows him to let varying ideas and concepts be utilized (or not) in a pluralistic variety of working styles. In doing so he is able to tinge his works with various subtle shades of meaning that have the benefit of broad resonance with viewers…whatever sort of art venue they tend to frequent. The artist noted in this same interview that practically none of Matthew’s fans are likely to cross over to see the paintings done by Matt and vice versa due to the differences in venue and the type of crowd each attracts. But do yourself a favor if you get a chance; break this trend and check out what’s going on in both places. It’s well worth the trip to see what’s coming out of the flip side of this artist’s palette.

An Artist’s Double Life (April 2008)

The State of Things
April 22, 2008

Interview with Frank Stasio

Matt Lively is a painter from Richmond. His work is iconic and whimsical, full of things like bumblebees riding bicycles and brightly colored dresses swaying in the breeze.Then there’s Matthew Lively. He’s also a painter, but his work is darker, cynical and slightly creepy. But this isn’t a segment about two artists with eerily similar names. Matt and Matthew occupy the same person… and the same mind. Although some might think this signals some sort of personality disorder, Matt disagrees–this is just his way of making a living. Matt (and Matthew’s) work is on display at Adam Cave Fine Art in Raleigh until April 29th.

New Gallery Realizes Dream (March 2008)

Art and Living
Sunday, March 9th, 2008

By Michele Natale, Correspondent

RALEIGH – Climbing up the stairs of the Heilig-Levine building at 115 E. Hargett St., I am accessing Adam Cave’s cherished dream: his own gallery.

After 10 years as gallery director at Raleigh’s Gallery C, Cave, 38, with his wife, Cindy, has taken the leap this leap year.

Of his time at Gallery C, Cave has nothing but good things to say. “I had a great time there,” he says. “I got to work for my father for the first time, and that was very gratifying for me.”

Cave’s father, Joseph Cave, has become one of the area’s most popular artists, known for his bold impasto style. Represented at Gallery C for years, the elder Cave, 72, now is represented in Raleigh exclusively by his son’s new gallery.

“After hitting the 10-year mark,” Adam Cave says, “there was a certain status quo at that point and I was ready for some changes.”

Those changes include a new model for his business, which he says will not be based on retail.

“I am interested in being of service to my artists and collectors,” he says. “It’s more a question of us all growing together.” He plans to limit the gallery’s stable to about 25 artists.

Cave also plans to distinguish his gallery from others in the Triangle with a focus on fine art prints, which are stored in flat files in one room of the suite his gallery occupies.

Opening the files for a hands-on look, he takes out a selection of limited edition mezzotints (40 to 50 prints) by Donald Furst. Doors open into rooms that open doors into other rooms, hinting of hidden spaces in these mysterious, delicate unframed prints, which range in price from $175 to $250.

He pulls out some of his father’s copperplate landscape etchings, reminiscent of similar works by 19th-century impressionists. These, too, sell in the $200 range, providing an affordable opportunity for collectors to own work by an artist whose canvases now fetch several thousands.

Cave’s new space is unconventionally configured, a suite of two rooms straddling either side of a stairwell. He has secured the landing for purposes of showing art, and Stephen Aubuchon’s gauzy dance photographs, which recently graced the walls of Through This Lens Gallery, animate the space.

The gallery features turn-of-the-century chair rails and beadboard wainscoting painted putty tan, and plaster walls with molding from which all the works of art are suspended. Venerable wide-planked floors roll over century-old floor joists. Generous street-front windows flood the gallery with bright light.

In the 1960s, Cave says, the room where we’re sitting served as prominent African-American attorney Fred Carnage’s office. On this unseasonably warm March Saturday, the gallery is enlivened by the banter of clients of the barbershop below.

The walls are covered with art by names familiar to the Triangle art scene — abstract expressionist paintings by Wayne Trapp, geometric abstractions by Wayne Taylor, a Joseph Cave landscape and a still life, and a painting by Matt Lively.

There are new names, too. Cave is introducing Pinehurst artist David Hewson to the area. According to Cave, Hewson studied in the classical atelier system in Italy, then studied the art of gilding in Switzerland. He makes use of these two disciplines in figural work set in carved and gilded backgrounds. His work ranges in feeling from Italian Renaissance to art nouveau.

Cave also plans to specialize in art glass, and several of California artist Lee Miltier’s vividly striated “Energy Bottles” line the deep windowsills, glowing in the light.

Lee Hansley, who began his gallery in a downtown Raleigh space 15 years ago before moving to his present Glenwood Avenue location, says he’s impressed with what Cave is doing.

“I like the idea of having a gallery like that on the second floor,” he says. “Only people who want to buy art will go there. It’s a gallery of destination. … The more of us that are trying to sell quality art the better off we all are — especially downtown.”

New Galleries, New Shows (February 2008)

February 2008

Artist-at-Large, Louis St. Lewis

Fools walk in where angels fear to tread.” I personally think this statement was created to describe people who are crazy enough to open art galleries. I’ve seen more than a few open and close in the past couple of decades, but lucky for us there seems to be a constant stream of brave souls willing to step up to the challenge of selling art to the art lovers in our midst. Not only is the venture extremely risky from a financial point of view, but the poor souls must deal with the whims of the buying public and the fragile egos of the artists they represent, as well. I don’t know how they do it, but God bless ’em! It therefore gives me great pleasure to announce the opening of Adam Cave Fine Art (, located at 115 ½ E. Hargett St. in downtown Raleigh, just a hop from Moore Square. Many of you will know Adam as the gallery director of Gallery C for the past 10 years, but he obviously has decided that it was time to spread his wings and perhaps feather his own nest for a change. It doesn’t hurt that Adam is taking with him his father, artist Joseph Cave, one of Gallery C’s most popular and creative landscape painters, to become part of his artistic stable. This stable includes area favorites including photographer Stephen Aubuchon, as well as artists Wayne Taylor, Donald Furst, Jennifer O’Connell and others. The idea is to keep the number of artists to a minimum, allowing Cave to concentrate on the development and promotion of each artist’s career, as opposed to crowding the space with every artist in the phone book and just hoping that someone walks in. I wish there were more gallery directors with this approach. Unfortunately, many galleries are satisfied exhibiting the most inane art imaginable, and when it inevitably sells to tasteless rabble, the gallery director looks smug, and the artist is only too happy to crank out the same painting ad nauseum. That doesn’t make a gallery or an artist, ladies and gentlemen — that makes a shop and a product producer. With Adam’s family history and his years of experience working for one of the more successful galleries in our area, I have great hopes that his new foray into the world of artistic representation brings great rewards for us all. Do the right thing and go check out his new space. You may just find the treasure you have been looking for. …

February 1, 2008

What’s Up
February 1, 2008

By Michele Natale, Correspondent

Raleigh’s First Friday walk announces the opening of another downtown gallery, a second floor space on Hargett Street run by Adam Cave, who, as former gallery director of Ridgewood’s Gallery C, is a familiar face on the Raleigh art scene. His grand opening announces a slate of gallery stable artists: Stephen Aubuchon, David Hewson, Wayne Taylor, Donald Furst, Wayne Trapp, Matt Lively and Jennifer O’Connell, and includes exclusive Raleigh representation of his father, accomplished painter Joseph Cave. The new space is a light-filled suite of rooms in a turn-of-the-century building. Along with the reincarnation of the former Glance space on Martin Street as a mix of galleries and art studios, and the anticipated opening of Rory Parnell’s new gallery on Fayetteville Street, the downtown Raleigh art scene abounds with impressive signs of new life. 1151/2 E. Hargett St., 2nd Floor, Raleigh 838-6692