to call Nathaniel Whitcomb a jack of all trades would be an understatement! a biology graduate turned artist, Nathaniel can be defined as a modern day renaissance man. his art gravitates towards expertly crafted collages that hint at a surreal world, and although Nathaniel has put his science degree aside for the moment, his art seems to permeate a clear anthropological style, in which nature and humans collide to form original landscapes. another highlight of his works are his awesome motion based collages, all of which you can watch on his vimeo page. aside from keeping busy with his artistic endeavors, Nathaniel is also curating the Think or Smile blog; here, he curates some of the things he enjoys from other artists or to use his words: “things that remind us we’re human and things that make us forget”. check out our interview with the artist, as well as some of our favorite pieces from his work…
NATHANIEL WHITCOMB (Designer/Digital Explorer, Detroit/Cleveland, USA)
* how would you define yourself as an artist? tell us a bit about your background.
I think I may have taken a path to the arts that many others do; I tried everything else I could get my hands on first, and then simply gravitated to what I love. I was a sign maker, landscaper, hockey referee and a barista all while going to school to become a dentist. As I was finishing up my biology degree I found myself slowly shifting all of my attention toward art, first appreciating other’s work, and then making my own. It later got to the point where I couldn’t not make things, but at the time I was torn between science and art, so I decided to pursue degrees in them both. I’ve since let my science degree fade in the distance, but not without incorporating a few key concepts into the way I think.
I spent a lot of time in college in both the library and the lab, even taking a summer job in an eye research institute, studying the effects of hyperbaric oxygen on the lens. The same summer, I was a teaching assistant in the university’s human anatomy lab, dissecting cadavers, lecturing on systems of the body (oddly enough, this is where I met my wife). It was this background in science that formed the basis of how I approach art, like an experiment. The world is a huge laboratory and I’m one of billions that get to explore and share it. I think that’s pretty exciting so I try my hand at a lot of random things. All with the realization that in art, as in science, not every experiment is successful, but all are in someway useful. Defining myself as artist isn’t easy but I think at the core, I’m an experimenter.
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* your collages often hint at a surreal and bizarre world, where does your inspiration come from?
Collage is a surreal art form to begin with. You’re making something from bits and pieces of sources that don’t naturally belong together. If they did, you’d have made a photograph. I see realism everyday so it can, at times, get a little boring. For me, art is a way to escape the routine of daily life. When I start a new collage it opens a door to a whole new world that my imagination can freely explore, leaving a visual trail of breadcrumbs along the way.
Inspiration is a difficult thing to explain, it often happens suddenly and fades just as quickly, which is why my sketchbook is always within reach. Over the years I’ve found that certain things make me think more than others. Now I make it a point to surround myself with them, that way it happens more organically rather than trying to force something inspiring on myself. One commonality I’ve noticed is that a lot of the things I enjoy most have a piece of it missing. What I mean by that is that the world around us has sound, motion, color, conversation and a billion other things all going on at once, it hits on every one of the senses and feels complete. I try to put myself in situations that I can create parts of. I enjoy reading because I can imagine the sound of voice, the color of walls, the smell in the air. Silent films, soundscapes, a walk in unexplored woods, all leave elements unfinished that I can use for thought. I’m in a constant state of wonder, which seems like a good source of inspiration to me. But who really knows.
* what can you tell us about the arts scene in Cleveland? how is it that you ended up moving there from Detroit?
I know very little about the art scene here, actually. The internet has made it so easy to share new work that location factors very little into how I see art anymore. As far as what’s here though, The Cleveland Museum of Art has a great collection and there are a couple interesting smaller galleries but most are what you’d expect anywhere else. The only two things I’ve regularly attended each year have been the Ingenuity Festival and the Cleveland International Film Festival, both have always left me with something interesting to think about.
I moved here a few years for my wife’s job. I knew nothing about Cleveland but have been pleasantly surprised how much I enjoy it. Her work moves around ever so often and I love the idea of starting fresh so I don’t get bored or stuck in a routine for too long. I’m up for exploring something new and look forward to whatever may be next.
* if you could soundtrack your work, what would you choose?
This is almost impossible to answer because there isn’t a moment I don’t have music playing and every situation calls for something different. My library is all over the place and I’m discovering something new everyday, but I tend to gravitate toward music with a soul, often electronic, often organic. Something that can pull me in and drop me off somewhere else an hour later, leaving me wondering how I got there. Lately I’ve been listening to scores of DIY bedroom artists that don’t even have physical releases. The kind of stuff people pour all of themselves into but will never be heard by the masses. There are some bigger names that I come back to time and time again though, like, Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, J Dilla, Plastikman, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Massive Attack.
Art mimics life, so my work’s soundtrack would by a carefully selected portion of my life’s, whatever that may be at the time. Musicians create amazingly abstract worlds for us all to hear and make of it what we like. Because I’m constantly listening, my art is always a manifestation of some soundscape combination whether my final piece has sound integrated into it or not, it did at one point in my mind.
* what is your favorite thing about living in Cleveland?
Aside from some amazing friends, my favorite thing is actually the food scene. There are restaurants here that put so much soul into what they do that it’s impossible not to taste it. Handmade, locally sourced, organic goodness.
I’m also in love with the Westside Market, definitely my favorite place in Cleveland. If you’re ever in town make it a point to check out.
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* what can you tell us about your future plans? are there any projects or collaborations we should expect from you soon?
I have a few things on my plate and even more scattered throughout my sketchbook. I just finished working with Monster Rally, bringing his 12″ art to life with motion. There are a couple album art projects in the works as well as an altered book exchange that will likely be shared sometime this summer. I’m also working on incorporating a lot more original content into my site, Think or Smile, but my ultimate goal for this year is to write a short story, then turn it into a short animated film. It’s proven to be slow moving but I’ll get there.
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