UI painting student creates 'new media'


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Deep into the night, Nate Wilson sits in the dark, working in the sound recording lab and drinking coffee. Electronic beats surround him as he digitizes records and samples old records from his collection.

"My work is kind of like a club," he said and laughed. "When I make music, I like to be in the dark because it is all about the sound."

Wilson, 30, will graduate this semester from the University of Iowa with a B.F.A. in painting. He paints, makes electronic music, and experiments with video and sound. Each element of his work combines to form an installment of new media.

"I make videos that fit music and project the videos next to the paintings, so it becomes more of an environment with sound, video, and paintings side by side," Wilson said.

Wilson didn't take any art classes as a child, but he said he was always drawing comic books and collages. His natural artistic ability led him to notice the works of famous painters Francis Bacon and Jean-Michel Basquiat in books and online.

"[Their work] made me want to paint," Wilson said. "I developed an interest right away."

Before starting at the UI, he worked 50 hours a week at two office jobs, then returned home after a long day to paint. He attended the Seattle Art Institute to pursue a career in animation but ended up back in his hometown of Iowa City to work before attending Kirkwood and then the UI.

John Freyer, a UI assistant professor of art who has worked with Wilson for two years, said Wilson's devotion to art and creativity will bring him success.

"Nate is highly self-motivated and dedicated to his art practice," Freyer said. "He has developed a unique voice and a body of work that is in a critical dialogue with popular culture."

Before setting up in his 15-by-15-foot painting studio, Wilson works in the wood shop to build stretcher bars for the canvas. He then primes them with gesso and hangs the large canvases on the wall.

"I am trying to work larger because I like the conceptual distortion it creates," he said. "When you amplify an image, it tends to take on a lot more meaning and importance than maybe it should or otherwise had."

Wilson manipulates the meaning of a composite image sourced from the Internet — such as an ad campaign for Sarah Palin — and then projects it onto the surface of the canvas.

Wilson draws the projected image, uses a gray scale to achieve the proper values, and then paints the final layer with colorful oil paints.

Laurel Farrin, a UI painting associate professor, said Wilson is a serious and hardworking student who is learning how to paint and construct conceptual underpinnings to his work.

"He pays attention to his own personal history and how it collides with a culture of media-manipulated desire," she said. "I look forward to watching Nate grow and come into his own as an artist of real depth."

Wilson said his work could take months to complete and sometimes drains him of energy. But he enjoys working on numerous projects at a time to keep his mind fresh on different ideas.

"That way you can create series and have continuity with ideas that relate," he said. "I'm not into narrative work, but [I like to] work on similar ideas."

Freyer had a great deal of influence on Wilson's work based on merging digital technologies including Photoshop and digital photography.

"I don't think anything I do is personal," Wilson said. "I'm interested in the way that images can construct peoples' identities. A lot of the images I use come from the corporate world and definitely have a specific message geared toward making as much money as possible, and I guess I like to subvert that message."

He has applied to graduate-school painting programs and new media programs at Hunter College in New York, University of Texas-Austin, and University of California-Los Angeles. If all else fails, he said, he plans to move somewhere warm.

"It's been an epic long journey," Wilson said. "I'm looking forward to making new work and being busy and meeting new artists."

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