Retracing steps

Nate Clark’s LINE [repeat]

Nate Clark and his dog, Hannah, are visiting Olympia, Wash. He values repetition for what it can do for art. Hannah values Nate.

Nate Clark and his dog, Hannah, are visiting Olympia, Wash. He values repetition for what it can do for art. Hannah values Nate.

Nate Clark’s exhibition, LINE [repeat], runs from June 19-July 13. Exhibition hours are Tuesday and Thursday 2 p.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday noon-3 p.m. There is a closing reception on Friday July 13 from 6-8 p.m.

Repetition and obsession are a couple of words that come to mind in describing the Nate Clark’s latest work, on display in the Sheppard Fine Art Gallery at the University of Nevada, Reno. The show, titled LINE [repeat], consists of a series of large-scale paintings that appear to be monochromatic at first glance and a sculpture that occupies the space at the center of the room. The paintings (some would probably more appropriately be called drawings) are abstract in nature, made up of basic marks, mostly lines.

“They are more about really recognizable handmade marks,” says Clark. “I like that the drawings are also kind of involved. I feel like people really connect with drawings.”

Because of their large size, the paintings demand attention. Most of the pieces are around 4 feet by 6 feet. Their surfaces are layered and, as you get closer, they reveal their most interesting features—showing the subtle differences between each mark made on the canvas either in the thick brushstrokes or the imperfect lines in pencil and marker. Take, for example, a black canvas with black vertical lines painted on top of it, almost like tally marks, each approximately one inch long and ordered in more or less regular rows across the entire surface. The piece was made for his sister, who has been living in Africa.

“She has this extreme interest in people who have become a statistic and are somehow unrepresented in reality. I thought this was an interesting way to push that idea,” Clark explains. “Each of these marks is so unique, but they’ll always be seen as kind of one just big ridiculous kind of complete thing. Like, no one will really pick out one, but instead it’s more like the whole complete picture.”

There is a quality to the piece that can be overwhelming. The sheer number of marks and the nature of Clark’s approach—not making the marks perfect but revealing his process and the imperfection inherent in the human hand—create a visceral connection in the viewer making them relatable. There is an organic feeling to the work that contrasts the cool, sterile, minimalist approach, making the paintings friendly and almost playful despite the obsessive quality that is present in all of the work.

“It’s kind of impossible not to think, ‘Wow, this person is either really wacky or just really patient,’” Clark says.

Clark talks about the idea of practice in relation to this work, which is deeply integrated in his process. You practice something to get better at it or to perfect it. In these paintings, Clark talks about making a mark over and over until reaching “this one spot.”

“After that you keep practicing. Sometimes you don’t know when that one time is, or that spot,” Clark explains. “They are all very systematic.”

The title for the exhibition came from Clark’s mom. He remembers watching her as a kid while she was on the phone. She would take notes while talking and when she was finished writing down information, she would continue to trace over the lines of her writing again and again. Whether revisiting it to make it better or a way of remembering information, it again relates to the idea of practice. That process of retracing literally shows up in a few of his paintings.

“When we see information like this, it’s so perfect now because you print it off or it’s made by a computer,” says Clark, talking about the way we generally see complex systems and visual data represented. “We’ve become so good at accepting perfect images that it’s almost like you have to make things that are a little bit off now. Or, it gives you an opportunity to make those things more interesting.”

As he writes in his artist statement: “[These paintings] are visual reminders of what working with the hands can do, and how imperfections make things beautiful.”