CMA Stories

“Working with children has inspired me my entire creative life” — 5 Minutes with Auction Artist Nathan Randall Green

CMA’s online exhibition fundraiser, Now is Not the Time, brings together the work of over 40 world-class contemporary artists responding in ways both subtle and profound to issues of social justice. Below, meet auction artist Nathan Randall Greenfounding member and partner of Okay Mountain Gallery and Collective in Austin, Texas and former Curator of Education at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

Nathan, Age 11

Tell us about your art practice and how working with children inspires you.

My artistic practice is painterly and intuitive. The majority of my work happens on a canvas with paint — not so much in sketches or mock ups. There is a little planning and plotting, but the process is mostly of action and reaction — wrestling my way through each work without an end point in mind. Though my work is abstract and geometric in nature, I derive insight and inspiration from many sources. One of those sources in working with children and their artistic output. I love the confidence and freedom to which children possess when making art. A child has the ability for the art to tell a story and become its own world, an alternate reality — not a depiction or illustration of something. I try to remember that in my own studio.

Working with children has inspired me my entire creative life. One of my favorite qualities about making art alongside children is their ability to create worlds. They can trust their intuition and have their drawing or painting generate itself with its own narrative. They can tell stories and have those stories propel the artwork further and further. It’s magical.

You worked as Curator of Education at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas.  From your experience, why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?

I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about this and a lot of time trying to make students feel comfortable in the museum setting. Museums can feel intimidating, like a privileged space, only available for those indoctrinated with art history education. I especially loved the day at the end of a week-long art camp where the kids proudly toured their parents around the museum, comfortable and acting as guides.

I tried to help students understand that art is actually a way of thinking and being. We can access that way of thinking without having to know all of the art historical or biographical information about each work or artist.  We are all allowed to have emotional responses, intellectual responses and even physical responses, and those responses don’t need to be judged. I used to ask students to ask themselves five questions about each work of art they encounter —  it’s astonishing how fast they begin to unravel the ideas within the work. Art is a safe place to explore ideas and learn about the world. It’s not fixed or concrete…it’s flexible and nuanced, and at times, contradictory.

Nathan Randall Green, Planet Xenus, Age 11

Your work often explores large themes such as the cosmos and the universe filtered through personal experiences. Can you describe a particularly fruitful experience that influenced your artwork? 

In 2016, I had a few paintings in a show at a gallery in Marfa, Texas. I flew to Houston, where my mother lives, and we drove her car west together to attend the opening. While we were out there, we toured the McDonald Observatory located in the Davis Mountains, one of the darkest places in the continental United States. We got a close look at Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET), an 11-meter optical telescope and still one of the world’s largest. The tour guide explained that the HET was currently being used by a team from Chile who received a grant to image 10,000 different galaxies per night for 500 days, after that it would image each galaxy again, in order for another 500 days. After almost three years of this work, the astronomers will compare images and be able to tell how fast and far the universe was expanding… The whole tour fell silent.  That night I remember sitting on a bench swing in a backyard in Fort Davis with my mom, looking up at the stars and basking in awe. That’s where I want to stay — that is where I try to make art from.

Can you tell us about the artwork you donated to CMA’s Art Auction?

I donated Inflationary Epoch 3 / Parallax to this year’s auction. It’s a large painting (59” x 68”) and made of acrylic, ink, graphite, collage, and paper pulp on canvas, stretched over a shaped panel I built. I have been thinking about the story of our cosmos. This painting began as an imaginary representation of the Inflationary Epoch, the brief moment of vast expansion in the primeval universe. A narrative unfolds in three panels on top of one another, almost like three panels of a filmstrip. Two radial moments slip past one another. While making this work I was envisioning that these are either shooting stars that briefly overlapped from a fixed perspective, or static stars that were viewed from three different locations. Either way, they appeared to merge for a moment in the middle of the painting. I also wanted to make a painting about the sky, but use earthbound colors. As I applied the greens and yellows, I thought about the Earth and it conjured ideas of geology and the compression of strata beneath our feet.  In many ways, I wanted this work to talk about the Earth and sky at the same time.

Nathan Randall Green, Inflationary Epoch 3 (Parallax), 2019

Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?

I have a lot of great memories of making art as a child. My grandmother, who I called Meme, would take care of me before I went to school, and we would do all sorts of activities together. I have fond memories of making and decorating a Teepee in her backyard, and making my own mini-house in her garage out of a refrigerator box we dragged home from a walk. My most distinct memories are of making room-sized toy installations. We would set up all of my action figures in sprawling scenes around the living room. The scenes were populated with all types of toys; he-men, G.I. Joes, legos, farm animals, army men, dominoes, and more. We would incorporate blankets and pillows, foot stools and coffee tables. It was so exciting to transform an everyday space into a sprawling fantastical scene.

What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?

Do it! That’s it. Just explore and have fun. Experiment with materials: try to watercolor, learn to sew, make a pinch pot, try to build something out of wood…’s all good. Remember not to be too precious or hard on yourself and shoot for making a mess. Include your friends in your art-making activities and listen to music. So many people stop being creative into adulthood and that’s too bad. Putting energy into your art practice is time with yourself, your thoughts, and your world — it’s a wonderful way to spend time and it makes your life more interesting.

CMA’s 2021 Art Auction and Fundraiser Exhibition, Now is Not the Time, takes place virtually from February 25 to March 11 in partnership with Artsy. Proceeds from the fundraiser exhibition ensure the continuation of CMA’s mission to provide vital access to the arts for children of all backgrounds and abilities from around the globe.

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