“the most you can do is try”

Nathan Oliveira
“Western Site XI,” 1978
monotype, 26″ x 22″
Collection Saint Louis Art Museum

this past weekend, Nathan Oliveira, an incredible painter, printmaker, and teacher died. I haven’t thought about him for a while, although when visiting the SF Bay Area, it’s not hard to run into his paintings in galleries there. When I was in grad school, he came to Iowa as a visiting artist.  Standing in the printmaking studio watching him do a workshop on monotypes, was a revelation to me – sending the plate through the press time after time, each pass laying on  another thin veil of atmospheric color.

I continued to make monotypes while in school and beyond, and carried some of the techniques and sensibilities he shared with us into my own prints. In particular, I was really taken by his various series of “Site” monotypes. The forms that emerged in a vaporous, timeless landscape; the remnants of structures in various states of decay; the absent, but yet felt, human presence all made an imprint that informed my own work in later years.

Now, most poignantly, when I am going through a period of wondering if what I do is relevant, or worth doing any more, various voices seem to be reaching out to me, reminding me why I started this journey.

“Success in what I do is measured by surviving into one’s mature years and continuing to find enough genuine reasons to work,” said Oliveira, who retired in 1995 and continued to paint up until his death, when he left 30 paintings in progress.

Coincidentally, I’ve been going through old videos tapes, getting ready to have a few things put on DVD to edit.  Watching a somewhat fuzzy copy of “Philip Guston: A Life Lived”- which is a wonderful film, using the occasion of a large retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to show him discussing and reliving the process of working.

Guston is another painter who is incredibly inspiring in that at a fairly late point in his career, he kept moving in new directions that felt compelling on a personal level.   as he says in the film, “things are constantly opening up to me.  . . . “the most you can do is try”

So, I’ve come to believe (again) in the process of just doing the work-  not for an intended audience, not for a resume, not in contrast to what anyone else is doing. Just for the pure joy of experiencing the process and seeing where I will be led.

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