Featured Artist- Nate Frizell
Words & Pictures by Trina Calderon
A young painter from Riverside, California, Nate Frizzell just showed his largest body of work in “Put On a Happy Face” at Cerasoli-LeBasse Gallery. It is commonly said that a person wears their emotions on their sleeve. In this case, Nate paints them on canvas and into the stories within his portraits. His symbolism and washed out backgrounds communicate feelings of isolation, fear, courage. He may seem a man of a few words at first, but when asked about his painting, Nate had a lot to say.
Neu Black: Put on a Happy Face has a theme involving masks on all the portraits. Is this totally different than what you have shown before?
Frizell: This is all new. I had a 2 person show last November, and in that one I did a couple paintings with this boy in a crow mask. I liked this idea of his head in the trees, wanting to be a bird. I like the idea of kids and their imaginations and I wanted to think of a way to incorporate masks to communicate the idea.
I like to tell more of a story, so for these ones specifically I wanted to remove the identity of the people so the story becomes the focus. I really like the idea that is just a figure painting, itâ€™s a painting about the girl, but itâ€™s not just about the girl.
Neu Black: There are very strong emotions coming from the girl. How did you start this painting (Loved)?
Frizell: My thought process started with the roses. I started thinking of all the little emotions and things I associate with love, and of course itâ€™s a little scary. Itâ€™s also in my experience it’s pretty fleeting, so the petals are still alive and vibrant but they are wilting away. I think of love as a very innocent emotion, so she has the Chuckâ€™s on. I try to think of all the things that that make me feel, then tell that story.
Neu Black: Whatâ€™s the story behind that one?
Frizell: Thatâ€™s an easy one â€“ the title of it is Bold. Itâ€™s pretty much about putting on a bold face â€“ going out at night, a little metaphor for rebirth, starting over. Heâ€™s able to go outside at night and change, he’s strong like the wolf.
Neu Black: I noticed that the big difference between Dauntless and Bold is the background. There is a specific focused background here and the other is a wash of color instead.
Frizell: Itâ€™s a combination of when I began by telling the story with the backgrounds. In Bold, heâ€™s coming out of his shell, out of his home. Heâ€™s coming outside, out in the dark where itâ€™s not so safe. Itâ€™s kind of a process. I started this painting, Dauntless, with the clouds. There is a city in the background and there is so much going on, but itâ€™s pretty for the sake of pretty more than it is adding to the story.
Neu Black: How does this work, this theme, compare to you personally?
Frizell: They are a little personal and a little general. (He laughs and shifts to talk about another painting) That one is Shallow, I looked up the definition (smiles). Obviously, I wanted it to be a little humorous. Heâ€™s in shallow water, the definition said lacking depth and consciousness. Heâ€™s not too bright, he doesnâ€™t care about his surroundings, and so heâ€™s killing off these fish. He really doesnâ€™t care about anyone around him. Itâ€™s just an isolated guy, a symbol of how you isolate yourself towards others when you shut yourself off to those around you. Itâ€™s pretty much drowning and suffocating into his type of worlds.
Neu Black: This oneâ€™s kind of creepy.
Frizell: People say itâ€™s creepy or itâ€™s funny. This one is called Nobody. He feels like he has nobody. Heâ€™s kind of alone; heâ€™s stripped down to almost nakedness. Heâ€™s got no face, he obviously feels like he has no face, he wears a big bag on his face and is all monotone, colorless. Heâ€™s pretty depressed.
Neu Black: How has this work affected you, as a person?
Frizell: I am finding, I donâ€™t really see too much what I am doing at first, that I donâ€™t realize how much of myself I am putting in these things. You pretty much paint what you know. Everybodyâ€™s paintings look like them, even if itâ€™s abstract.
Neu Black: Are you going to keep working in this direction?
Frizell: I always liked this idea; I have always been looking for an original way to paint so I am going to continue with these masks. I have some ideas that I am going to work into with this in the same kind of theme. I will always keep painting the figure.
Neu Black: Who are some of the contemporary artists that you like?
Frizell: I love everybody, itâ€™s so weird. I have always loved Shawn Barberâ€™s work, I have always loved figure. He has a way of doing it thatâ€™s not so traditional. I like how itâ€™s rough. Because I went to school for illustration, we were taught everything has to be so clean. I have tried so hard to get looser with the painting and more figurative. Shawnâ€™s great with that.
I love Shawn Barberâ€™s work, and thereâ€™s Jeff Soto too. Everyone is so different. Every figure painter I see, I pretty much love. I always loved the figure and itâ€™s always been a struggle to just paint a figure but make something interesting. Shawn has the tattoo thing, Hussar has really creepy figures, they all have a theme. You have to think of something original to incorporate with the figure because just painting it seems very boring. There needs to be some story to go with it, more than just a person or a portrait.