Inside Look at Nathan Prouty’s Quirky Sculptures
May 10, 2017 by
Nathan Prouty’s sculptures are dazzling, humanist little nibblets that are rarely bigger than a softball.
In Nathan’s brain, his sculptures are “thought soup made physical.” His brain is rather fun indeed – for example, he’s been obsessed with piles which had him thinking a lot about old stone walls, like the ones scattered all throughout New England where he grew up. The inner workings of his mind have also been focused on wells, large columns of water as well as lobsters, dog collars, sponge textures, Maria Bamford, Palmira, professional international assassins, and dryer lint. And cat butts. Always cat butts.
AZ had a great time chatting with Prouty about his adorable sculptures and unique creative process.
Art Zealous: Artistic background?
Nathan Prouty: Got my BFA from The New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University and my MFA from Ohio University.
Lots of random things qualify as influences. Stuff like architecture, road trips, magic shows, souvenirs, toys, sci-fi, genitals, toilet paper, Mannerism, Joni Mitchell, astrophysics, porn, plastics, American history, Star Trek conventions, and stand-up comedians.
NP: Born in Texas, grew up mostly in Acton, MA right next to all that revolutionary war stuff and also Walden Pond. Same town that Big Bird is from.
AZ: If you were at Hogwarts, which house would you be in?
NP: I have Gryffindor’s fiery sense of justice, but am a classic Hufflepuff nerdy indoor kid.
AZ: Tell us about your sculptures.
NP: I use ceramics because it can be anything. It can allude to or mimic virtually everything in our daily physical world. It can do this obviously and exactly, or loosely and interpretively.
As a material, I find that for me it has enough limitations in the right spots to bounce off against, while still allowing for the execution of pretty much anything I can see in my head.
I work small because I find it exudes an oversized and powerful “pulling” influence on viewers. Unsure of correct scale and context, I get to be really slippery with the viewer’s experience with the work. A lot of people don’t realize it until they see the work in person, but the pieces are rarely any larger than a softball. The sculptures themselves are what settles out of suspension during and after multiple mixed-up and simultaneous questions and observations. They are thought soup made physical.
AZ: Creative process?
NP: I typically start with a round of doodles and drawings. In recent months, I’ve been drawing digitally which is opening up all sorts if amazing possibilities.
They are often variations on a theme – coins, piles, worms, gravity, wrappings, etc. These drawings kind of set the stage in my mind for a bunch of options and then I get started with the mud.
I use a bunch of different techniques – extruders, handmade shapes, etc. Every so often I will replicate something using a mold, but most bits are hand shaped kindergarten-style. Depending on the shape, a component can take 30 minutes to make, or it can take weeks. Most are pinch formed or coil built, just like camp! Shapes are often inferences or allusions pulled from my brain and linked with something else. Some are reinterpreted experiences or interesting tidbits, others -more recently- are direct references or representations.
AZ: Explain how your work is the punch line delivered before the set-up and how your theory of undermining one’s identity and experience helps you cope with the dangerous part of the human condition.
NP: The work is doing a few things, I hope. For one, it’s cheaply manipulative and ridiculously dumb, and I am having fun with that. I plop it down in front of you. This thing or scene-ish extraction appears in front of you, stripped of any clear or cleanly read context, meaning, or association. It’s a visual and associative ‘shock to the system.’ It’s the big “TAAA-DAAAAAAA!” before anything meaningful has really been allowed to happen, the big finish. It’s the punch line. Because of some of the strategies I am using (glitter, scale, odd texture, familiar-but-not familiar shapes, scenarios, etc.), I am finding that the audience actually spends time with the work. They slow down enough to invest something of themselves into a particular piece and they start to link themselves to the object through association and memory. I find that completely fascinating.
I wouldn’t agree that I am hoping to undermine one’s identity and experience – I see those as things crucial to the work doing what I want it to do. Identity, memory, association, experience, opinion – all steer and direct the way people are experiencing the work. In that way, the pieces unfold entirely differently for each person. The work is less about identity and more about perspective. A fine line, perhaps.
The human condition is at once intense, amazing, cruel, beautiful, intensely violent, hilarious, senseless, joyful, etc, etc. Out of that random jumble pop objects, symbols, meaning, associations, context, and order – all of it collecting into that fun, dark, powerful, odd, scary thing called ‘daily life.’
I’m interested in taking all of that and merging it with Jerry Lewis, circa 1962. How does one explain gallows humor? It feels similar to describing color.
AZ: Currently working on?
NP: I teach full time at Eastern Oregon University, a small state school in a fairly remote part of eastern Oregon. I joined a faculty group and studio facility that is an amazing, almost unknown gem. I am having a lot of fun getting our 3D program up and running at full steam, and working with students on their stuff.
I always enjoyed teaching, but am quickly beginning to love it now that I have a place to settle. The studio work vs. teaching ebbs and flows throughout the year and the teaching has been taking up most of my brain power.
Pretty soon I’ll begin work for a show at Lacoste Gallery in Concord, MA opening this coming winter.
Follow Nathan on Instagram.
all images // courtesy of the artist