The bigger picture
CSNY vocalist Graham Nash shows another side of his art
The 50 metal folding chairs arranged in rows on the bottom floor of Butte College’s new Learning Resource Center were not enough to accommodate the standing-room-only crowd gathered waiting for legendary singer-songwriter Graham Nash—famed for being part of iconic ‘60s group Crosby, Stills & Nash (& Young).
Nash is also widely known and esteemed as a fine-art photographer and pioneer in the realm of digital photography. At his Butte College stop on a recent rainy Thursday afternoon, Nash was accompanied by his friend and former tour manager Mac Holbert to give a talk that had to be moved indoors, where Nash’s soul-stirring, artfully composed black-and-white photographs of such subjects as former roommate Joni Mitchell and bandmate Neil Young are hanging through Nov. 21.
Butte Art & Design (BAD) adviser Dennis Wickes, who saw Nash’s Eye to Eye exhibit in Southern California earlier this year, was instrumental in bringing Nash to Butte College.
In 1990, Nash and Holbert created the groundbreaking (and still cutting edge) digital fine-art print studio Nash Editions, located in Manhattan Beach. It was the first of its kind, and hundreds of similar studios have popped up around the country since.
But Nash’s interest in photography goes back to his youth, when his father converted the future CSN vocalist’s bedroom into a darkroom.
“I’ve been making images longer than I’ve been making music. I’m a visual person,” the youthful, now-silver-haired Nash told a rapt audience. “Rock ‘n’ roll sidestepped me for a while, but I’m not complaining!”
One of the points that Nash, who has been described as a “cyber visionary,” drove home in his lively 40-minute talk to an audience consisting of a good number of students was the importance of following one’s passion in life.
”Do something,” Nash said. “Life doesn’t reward people who sit on their asses and do nothing!”
Nash referred to his previous night’s stop in San Francisco at the Warfield Theatre, at a benefit to support Democratic congressional candidates, where he shared the stage with Bill Clinton and House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi. “Bill Clinton’s mother encouraged him to follow his passion,” Nash pointed out. “So did mine.”
Following that passion had brought about some interesting dilemmas.
In the very early days of Nash Editions, Nash said he and Holbert sawed off and then reattached the printing heads of a $126,000 printing machine so that it would accommodate “real paper” of the thickness desired for their art prints. “We voided the warranty in the first half-hour!”
Nash also lamented the fact that there are those photography purists who simply hate the idea of a computer being involved in photography, who don’t consider it “real art” and think he just pushes a button and leaves the room, leaving the printer to spew out hundreds of copies of a print.
“Why should the process get in the way of your enjoyment of art?” Nash asked. “More handwork goes into producing prints at Nash Editions than you can possibly imagine. … There’s enough shit out there—we just don’t want to add to it.”
Someone in the audience asked Nash what work (by Nash Editions) he was most proud of.
“Oh, David Hockney!” he said of his fellow Brit über-artist. “He’s really a genius, especially when it comes to color!”
Nash, clearly at home in his own being, exuded a warm relaxedness when talking of his life’s work.
“I’ve always loved the absurdity of life. I love the surreal stuff,” he said. “I don’t take pictures of kittens with balls of wool. I want to share with people what’s different about the world. Every picture I take and every song that I write has to have a reason.”