The Resident: Nathan Pearce
The past week has shown me, in no uncertain terms, how significant a tool the internet can really be, especially in the arts. And it's so exhilarating to see how one thing (in this case, just happening to come across a photo on Twitter) can lead to exciting, real-life opportunities, projects, and original art.
Nathan Pearce, a photographer based in southern Illinois, who is also currently part of Young Space's Here and Away: Five Midwestern Photographersexhibition at The ARTgarage in Green Bay (open through July 30), is a fitting first artist-in-residence at Standard Projects this summer. It's a joy to write about his work and what his experience was like in rural Wisconsin as he participated in this residency--especially since he has played a significant role in the blog-to-exhibition direction that Young Space has taken over the last several months.
For some background on Nathan's connection to Young Space, check here. But first I'd like to start with a little background on this series--and why this series--as it kicks off for the summer.
Standard Projects is a brand new multidisciplinary art space and residency program that opened in a vacant police station in late 2014. Located in Hortonville, Wisconsin (a main street Midwest community if ever there was one) and owned by artist Claire Abitz, it is two floors consisting workshop space for sculpture, textile and other visual arts, a basement venue for shows called pssst..., and private quarters for artists-in-residence, which just kicked off this summer. Claire and I thought it would be a great way to showcase artists' work during their stay there by putting together blog posts on each artist as they worked on their projects over the course of the summer. And Standards Projects, always a work-in-progress itself, was getting a new stairwell paint job when I stopped over.
I was already familiar with Nathan's work, so it was interesting to me to see how he translated his photographic style in a new location. His best-known work is Midwest Dirt, a series of black and white photographs, published in book form, depicting his southern Illinois home and the people who live there. He combines an interest in digital and analog processes, using both Fuji digital and Instax cameras as well as disposables. A mix of portraiture, landscape, and snapshots, they capture the essence of the people and place so particular to that region of the Midwest. Rural Wisconsin bore some strong similarities to the landscape at home, but there were enough differences that reminded him he had driven over seven hours to get here.
I learned that Nathan is one of the most dedicated and prolific craft beer fans I've ever met; he had racked up over 1200 distinct brews on an app on his phone that tallied them up whenever he tried a new one. He was really excited to find Alaskan Brewing Co. distributed here, but was a little underwhelmed by local northern brewery Leinenkugel's. To make up for it, he made sure to try fried cheese curds at the sort of small town bar where the bartender doubles as an Elvis impersonator, and the menu includes coleslaw as a side with everything, including tacos.
It's exactly this small-town atmosphere -- the quirky folks and quaint or unusual nooks and crannies that inspire Nathan's Midwest-themed photographs. While he was exploring Hortonville, he mixed digital photography, both portrait and landscape, with Instax Mini prints, from which he assembled half a dozen one-of-a-kind ring-bound photo books. One figured in photos from the cemetery, others of houses, or Main Street. Only a little acquainted with Hortonville myself, I felt like I was seeing these store fronts and local places for the first time.
The visual language of Hortonville, and by extension any small Midwestern town, factors into Nathan's work as a whole, but especially for his current project. Tentatively called "Hortonburg," the images that he captured during his residency at Standard Projects were only one part of a series inspired by an unusual historical fact about Hortonville: its founder also founded San Diego, California.
Alonzo Horton established the original settlement of Hortonville in 1848, but went westward, compelled to join in the California Gold Rush. With this wonderful bit of trivia in his back pocket, Nathan is headed to San Diego to capture early neighborhoods with the intention of building an overall project that compares and contrasts the small village from the sprawling city in two very different regions of the country.
I look forward to sharing updates about his projects! More information and examples of his earlier work can be found at nathanpearcephoto.com.