~ An interview session with Nata Lukas also known as Nathan Taylor ~
Tuesday September 17th, 2007
Pulling on a loose thread, I began to unravel veins of the fallen leaf. Luckily, it was not difficult to locate my second Eugene interview. Clear skies and even clearer directions by Nathan Taylor aka Nata Lukas brought me directly in front of the orange VW travel van – similar to a vehicle my dad imagined I’d use for this trip through the Western Coastal areas – parked in front of his new living space. After a brief tour, taking some photos of paintings not tied up in storage, and general chitchat, we adjourned to the back yard.
“I am working on several projects: sound installations,
impromptu actions, poems, and paintings. Lately I have
been mostly distracted by transitioning to a new
community (I am originally from Bellingham, WA, but
have recently landed in Eugene, OR, thus I am just now
getting situated looking for studio space, community,
etc.) With my most recent series of paintings I have
been trying to tap into the urban vibe. They are made
using spray paint and stencil techniques. The colors
are vibrant and energetic. The patterns are both map
like and analogous to circuitry. “ Nata Lukas
Moments Of Truth ~ Let’s open up with a break down of what your primary forms of creative expression are?
Nata Lukas ~ I’d say I started off as a painter, although I’ve explored lots of mediums. I like to play with sculpture, I write poetry sometimes, sometimes sound and video installations. Currently I’m really getting into cooking food, it’s definitely a way I can express myself creatively. I also like to make beer.
MOT ~ What do you focus the most time and mental energy on?
NL ~ I think it kind of flows from different time periods, I’ll just be really interested in one project or another. I’d say the one I come back to the most is painting. It’s like my home base, I tend to feel grounded when I’m working on it. There’ll be times when I don’t paint for a good long period because I’m distracted by other things.
MOT ~ Any idea why you tend to return to painting? What is it about expressing yourself this way?
NL ~ Well, I think it’s just that I feel really comfortable there and I don’t think I’ve explored it to the extent that I want to. I also feel like I can do really beautiful things with that medium. My work is non-objective giving me a place to really breath, while my other work isn’t, it is more taking on issues. Not as free I guess. Painting is like a freeing experience, that’s why I like to come back to it.
MOT ~ What about cooking, what is it with cooking that you’re getting into?
NL ~ I’m just enjoying exploring the different ingredients. I kind of feel I have a talent for finding out what the essence of something is and being able to combine different things in different ways. Ya know, I know some people can cook via the recipe and I tend to if I haven’t cooked something before, will look up four or five recipes and figure out what that dish is, see what I have and figure out how to make it with that.
MOT ~ Are there mediums you haven’t yet gotten into you anticipate trying?
NL ~ Umm, I definitely want to do more installations, specifically sound installations. I like sound as a medium, it can give a time dimension to things that I really like. It can really transport you. The sound that I’ve used in installations I’ve felt like that’s a very key element to making that installation otherworldly. It kinds of gives it that extra depth. I’d like to do that.
Very recently I’ve been struck by the idea of movement. I met some dancers and they were choreographing some stuff, and I don’t know how to incorporate it into my creative world, but it’s an interesting thing. I used to be a skateboarder, you know, and I totally related to some of the stuff they were doing, it’s cool. I don’t know how, but. . .
MOT ~ So where exactly did you grow up?
NL ~ In a suburb of Salt Lake City.
MOT ~ Do you have other family members who also do creative activities?
NL ~ Well, my grandma was always an artist and painter. She still paints, a little more on the crafty side of things, but definitely creative. My dad was always too busy to be creative but when he got a little time, from what I remember he would create things, do some pretty creative stuff with woodwork.
MOT ~ Would you describe the community you grew up in as one that fostered creative expression and exploration, or do you think it’s more of an inherent drive?
NL ~ Yea, I’m not sure. When I was young, I was always doing creative stuff, but I wasn’t thinking about creativity, or art, or anything like that. Then when I was in ninth grade I had a really good art teacher who just could see that I was tuned into creative things who turned me into all kinds of art. That lit up my world, and I was like ‘yeah, art.’ He took me to lots of galleries and museums, giving me exposure that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
MOT ~ Would you describe him as a mentor?
NL ~ Yes, absolutely. This was when I was in high-school. I moved the year after I had the classes with him to the Seattle area. And it just stuck with me. I took a lot of art classes after that. He’s kind of one that lit my fuse.
MOT ~ Are there any particular memories that stand out where you were just really fired up doing something creative, and how you felt during that process?
NL ~ I actually get a big kick out of collaboration. So I think my best creative energy comes when I’m hanging out with other people that are really creative. Certainly could tap into that on my own, but it just seems like when I’m doing collaborations or just in the same space as someone else, when you both get that energy going it just seems to intensify. You work nonstop, sometimes you forget to eat, it’s a real high. It’s fun.
MOT ~ What are your main sources of inspiration?
NL ~ I just try and be open to everything. So, I wouldn’t say there’s anything I could point to as a main source of inspiration. I guess, if I’m looking at my paintings I could say Hunderwasser? was something that turned my boat for a while. I’m not sure if when I was younger Van Gogh was a big thing for me. I definitely like bright colorful things, it’s kind of exciting for me. But I also work in drab dark color things also, depending on how the mood is, I don’t live in between though. I tend to work either really bright or subdued.
MOT ~ Any styles or philosophies of thought? You mentioned skateboarding might influence your work or the way you work with your ideas.
NL ~ Yeah, definitely. As I was developing in college I really started to develop an environmental awareness. So that has really affected a lot of the way I work. I slowed down production for one, I was producing like a madman when I was younger, so I’m definitely more intentional about what I create. And then I also try to make things out of reused materials, taking that into consideration whenever I do anything. It’s also from the point of being resourceful, you can’t just throw money at art unless you’re rich, and I’m not rich. Be mindful of the planet, don’t create trash and try to create things from trash.
Whenever I go for a walk, I’m always picking up little items from the side of road that interest me; for their texture, shape, whatever. Then gather that kind of stuff and make assemblages.
MOT ~ Do you have specific concepts or symbologies that you try to work with on a regular basis? Some of your paintings that I’ve seen are very organic, almost like cells colliding or multiplying. . .
NL ~ On that series, I was illustrating the macrocosm versus the microcosm; an attempt to get both of those worlds into one image. It was this thought, that our universe is like an atom or something, spinning around inside a larger being or something like that; just a smaller part of a bigger thing. It’s all connected somehow. Those thoughts certainly pass through my head, I wouldn’t say, especially with the nonobjective stuff that I do, I just kind of do it because it’s fun and it’s pretty, and I have thoughts about what it means later. Other series I’ve been working on more recently are more busy, layered grid light stuff. I relate that to urban energy, technology and mapping along with all those other things. It’s not like I set out to do it that way, it’s just how it happens.
The only time I actually try and do something is when there’s an issue I’m pissed off about or something. When it seems that somebody needs to say something, sometimes I’ll create art from that perspective. But I’ve found that not to be as successful for me. I feel better about the pieces I let happen, and they tell me what they’re about. Really, I try to let the art tell me what it’s about, not force my view about what my art’s about on people either. It seems to be, most people tend to point to the same things over and over whether I tell them about it or not. Every once in a while someone will surprise me and say something and I’ll be like “oh, wow, I hadn’t thought of that. That’s cool.”
MOT ~ Do you take into consideration a particular audience with your work, or is that also more intuitive?
NL ~ Definitely I take into consideration audience. Especially with, say my beer. I brewed a beer for the Bonneville excursion. I knew who was going to be there, and knew the conditions would be hot, so I didn’t want too high an alcohol content, needed it to be a fairly light beer. And I was doing it specifically for one of the motorcyclists who commissioned me to do it. I knew what he’d like, and basically made a beer that I knew would make him happy.
But, yeah, even with my art I do consider audience. More of just the simple fact of who would I show this t? What would be my venue for this. For the most part, I’d make the art to satisfy something in me, and then after I’ve done that I need to satisfy something else in me by sharing it. I try and find who would be receptive to this art, and try to find a venue that would work for that.
MOT ~ Any elements of life, I noticed you have a lot of seashells, you mentioned sound, being into sound, influences or inspiration from those things? Tapping into their essence or just being appreciative of them?
NL ~ Sure, I pay attention to my senses, and I think that comes out in my art, cooking or whatever. One thing I’d like to mention is the affect of jazz music or just lively improvisational music has on my paintings, has had and probably will have in the future. It really just swings me, moves me, and I think the way I approach my paintings is a lot like improvisation. I lay down a track of sorts, essentially playing a game with myself. It’s like having a multi-track recorder, only it’s visual, not audio. I play with rhythms, textures, opacities, much in the same way you might if you were laying down music. Kind of a tangent there but. . . . .
MOT ~ Let’s take, for example, that you just relocated, not necessarily a totally different vibe – I mean it’s still West Coast and still Northwest. . .
NL ~ Oh, I chose Eugene because I knew it would be a vibe I’m in line with.
MOT ~ Do you have particular kinds of exercises or strategies to prepare yourself, mind and body, say… especially before painting?
NL ~ Well, I do a number of things. I like to go for a long hike, which sometimes will help loosen me up a little bit and get my mind in a different spot. Also listen to music that’s high energy, whatever’s fresh for me at the time. Something to keep me going, yea I like caffeine, caffeine helps. Yerba mate, especially in the summer, iced yerba mate is the best. Maybe a little alcohol in the evenings, but you’ve got to watch out, that’ll get you sloppy sometimes.
MOT ~ What books or resources do you often refer to? Or maybe even a novel your might reread just to fire you up.
NL ~ I have a few years worth of art magazines that I’ve collected, maybe seven or eight years worth. I’ve kept those and if I’m really feeling slow I will go back, flip through them and try to find something that will excite me. Sometimes I surprise myself and find things I hadn’t seen before, “oh, how did I miss this all these years?” That’d be one of the things I like to do.
Right now I’m rereading Grail Marx’s “Traces” which is firing me up. It’s basically an account of the Sex Pistols, comparing it to Dadaism and all this pop culture craziness. An interesting read, I definitely have different perspective now then when I originally read it in college.
MOT ~ Have dreams you’ve had or childhood memories or experiences manifested in your work?
NL ~ A lot of my early paintings done in high-school and early college were specifically about dreams. I had this whole series of flying dreams when I was 15 or 16. My mom had started talking about these flying dreams she had when she was younger, and I thought “man, I want to have a flying dream.” Then I started having all these crazy flying dreams, every night for like months. Until it finally climaxes, in a block area I’m able to fly over everyone’s back yards. Within the block it was lighted, but outside of it was completely pitch black. Telephone wires were going around the block and as soon I leveled with them I’d be shocked. So I was trapped, I could fly, but was trapped. That was the last flying dream I had for a long time. I’ve had them since, but that was an intense period when I was having those. And I’d done a whole series of paintings about that.
MOT ~ Could you break down your process, take painting, beer or making installations if there’s any ways you might approach each differently, from idea to working it out, testing it, to actually producing it?
NL ~ With painting it’s pretty much just experimental. I always have a lot of paintings going and keep extra materials on hand so I can just screw around. If something works on one of those screw around things it might get incorporated into some of the other pieces. With installations it’s definitely serious planning process. You have to figure out what the space is, how you can utilize it and what you want to do with it. So it’s the whole process of trying to figure out how to make different things work. It’s a fun challenge, I like doing installations a lot, but also the big challenge is to line it up. You have to find a way to fund it, if I was rich I’d be doing a lot of installations.
MOT ~ Do you have any particular techniques that might distinguish your style, even if two paintings side by side may appear exactly the same, maybe what went into them was totally different?
NL ~ The series I’m working on now, I started it a year and a half ago. I know what I need to do to finish it, it’s just a matter of the circumstances of combating time or the proper space set to complete what I’m doing. But I know it’ll come together at some point, it’s just a matter of finding my way back onto the track. I am happy for the side trips, so it’s not disappointing or stressful in any way.
MOT ~ Could you expand on that a little? Like how you manage to keep on track or come back to an idea?
NL ~ I’ve been pretty haphazard about that. If I’m working with somebody else, we’ll brainstorm. For the most part just because the nature of what I’m doing is fairly free flowing I don’t need to document the ideas so much. Part of the problem may be that I have so many ideas and competing hobbies I don’t find time to do nearly as much as I’d like. If I was going to take the time I might sit down and write about that sculpture that I saw. Plus I have to make a living, that’s the thing I find I’m having to devote too much time to. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have been put inside a cubicle for 40 hours a week. My employment allows for big breaks between, when I have some money, allowing for solid blocks of time to actually work on my art. Every once in a while it comes and bits me and says “hey, you need to get a job; put some money back in the bank.”
It’s kind of like having focus over the long term. A big picture perspective. When I was younger, I might just float from this to that. Now, I still float, but I always come back, cycle around.
MOT ~ How do you go about garnering funds for installation projects, that’s a lot of work?
NL ~ You can pursue grants, which is a lot of work in and of itself. Sometimes you the space itself will have a certain amount of funding to help it out. Benefactors, I need a few of those (both break out in hysterical laughter. Don’t we all!). Yeah, sometimes there’s city, county, state funds for different things. There’s some good resources on the net, I think a Washington State one is called the ‘Artists Trust’ that puts out a notice quarterly that has opportunities on it. ‘The Rack’ in Portland has a webpage where they post different opportunities. You’re competing with a lot of people, but if you have a good idea and perseverance – this is definitely where you need perseverance if you’re going after money in the arts – if you have a good idea, able to document your idea well, you’re just on the ball. It’s a full time job in itself just trying to get money. I’m sure there are some artists that hire people to do that. It’s hard being an artist, it’s a fun road, but it’s not the easy road. Making a living as an artist, unless you’re doing crafts, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily easy either I’m sure there’s lots of competition, changing tastes and all that. You can be hot for one season, and not anymore.
I think an interesting question you could ask people would be how do you fund your art? Is it due to your lifestyle, a rich aunt, how can you do this? Do you sell enough stuff?
MOT ~ How do you fund yours?
NL ~ Ummm, by not having health care, squeaking by, this past year I’ve been flying to Park City, Utah and doing high-end faux finishes for the super rich. That’s how I’ve funded my life recently. You’ve got to find some way to make an income while still finding time to make art. And energy too. Like that Sex Pistols song. . .
MOT ~ Who are some of the jazz people you like to listen to?
NL ~ I really dig Mingus, his stuff really. . . something about it gets me. It’s got a flowing quality about it or something. I like all sorts of music like punk rock, electronica, bossanova, Sometimes I’ll be intentional about what kind of music I’m listening to when I’m working on a certain project.
Interview session complete, Nata offered to share some of his awesome ‘dry ginger mead’ to quench our parched throats. It was so good I jumped at the opportunity for the recipe. He also demonstrated his creative cooking, exposing me to something called a lobster mushroom. If you haven’t heard of it, read about it, and see if you can’t hunt some up. Thanks Nata!
After spending the day with some very relaxed cats, speaking in low voices I exited stage left on the off beat, underestimating my schedule. To try and make it to the Florence camp site from Eugene would take a couple hours at least, and it was already past sunset. Not looking forward to gropping around in the dark to set up camp, I assessed my options. Both my brother and sister spent several recent years in Eugene at the University of Oregon, they have to know somebody, right? Lucky for me, my brother put me in touch with his former housemates off Kinkaid Ave and I headed over to campus to interupt their large game of capture the flag. I almost wanted to join in, but decided it best to retreat to my basement sleeping quarters in ‘the house of pain’ to rest up for the long journey ahead.
Stop by his site and check out more of his work, drop him a line, and find a way to try some of his awesome fermented mead! www.natalukas.com