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Small Figure Ed. 24/25 (Maquette), 2007, bronze, 6”h x 4”w x 2.5”d

Nathan Oliviera

Paintings and Sculpture JULY 19 - SEPTEMBER 1. 2013

Railyard: 1613 Paseo De Peralta | Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 | tel 505.988.3250 |

cover: Standing Figure, 2010, oil on canvas, 66” x 54”

Figure in Loop, 1961 ink on paper, 13” x 10”

NATHAN OLIVEIRA Paintings and Sculpture Nathan Oliveira is regarded today as one of America’s great masters of extracting profound meaning from abstracted images of the human figure. His paintings, works on paper and sculpture afford succinct visual presentiments, derived from the artist’s observed and inner-imaginative realms. They deal with the vexing existential complexities of man’s engagement with the world. With stylistic tendencies that converge elements of Abstract Expressionism and the figural, Oliveira evolved an ultimately reductive aesthetic of the human form that privileged painterly gesture as a primary means of expression to open his viewers’ perception to the beguiling insights that can come from an activated imagination. He infused in his art imprints of the authentic--the reality of modern anxieties, doubts, and despairs, but also the hope for redemption in their midst. In so doing, he created in his art a unique amalgam of the emotional truths of contemporary life. His means of doing this were subtle: in rendering the figure he scrambled naturalistic line and color and then later dissolved gradually greater degrees of sharp delineation of the familiar. By taking away aspects of the expected from his renditions of the human form he liberated --

July 19-September 1. 2013

and then played on--the sensuality of the mind’s impressions, freed from preconceptions rooted in bodily detail. He eliminated the smiling face or the happy pose and left just the essential--life distilled and frozen in space, form simplified to its essence--and he used color and atmospheric backgrounds that might evoke notions of the austere or somber. Sfumato forms suspend with atmospheric glow on monochromatic backgrounds, made to feel like apparitions hovering in space. These devices discarded convention to rivet attention and wonder. Impressions could then be made fluid and allowed to dart between the known and the imagined. He replaced elements of the expected with surprising shapes that seem more visionary than descriptive of any individual person. Oliveira’s techniques in presenting the human form elicit the viewer’s own imaginings about existence and the human condition in this world. They invite the most fleeting and unconscious connections between recognition and imagination, they open access to remote memories and dreams and spark flickers of insight that inspire a deeply meditative sense of emotional and intellectual transcendence. In a career that spanned 50 years, Oliveira bucked prevailing trends in the art world of his time and devoted himself to one overarching

objective: to deliver in his paintings, prints and sculptures the closest possible sense of his own personal experience and imagination, exploring the mysteries of the human condition. His work is a kind of visual reliquary of the intense, nearly sacred, significance that Oliveira attached to the human figure. In his hands, the figure is made to have profound capacity as a pictorial device to engage the meditative imagination and convey awareness and understanding. In the words of Kandinsky, it might be said that the work of Nathan Oliveira “has an awakening prophetic power.” Oliveira was associated with members of an important group of San Francisco-area painters—known as the Bay Area Figurative movement—who had returned in the early 1950s to the use of the human figure in their painting. This group—including Richard Diebenkorn, David Park and Elmer Bischoff among others—developed a response to the predominant movement of the time, Abstract Expressionism, and with a renewed focus on the figurative emerged as one of the most important post-World War II art movements. Ultimately departing from the more mundane subject matter of his Bay Area Figurative contemporaries—images from everyday-life in which he found little sustenance for his deeply felt responsibility to seek deeper meaning over pleasant form—Oliveira developed a singular visual approach to the human form that bridged between traditional figure painting and gestural attitudes of the Abstract Expressionists. In doing so, Oliveira sought in his work a more profound and enduring universality of pictorial enterprise, images and atmospheres that he could believe would sustain on-going opportunities for revelations of the existential mysteries with which he sought to grapple. Peeling away the extraneous detail of any individual figure to leave only the essences common to all is a way of freeing perception from the distractions of the particular in order to focus on the universal. The process liberates the imagination to grasp ephemeral possi-

bilities about man’s existence unbounded by formal conventions; and creating this sense of boundless liberation is precisely what Oliveira sought to do in his artistic practice. The sense of focus is fur ther intensified by Oliveira’s habit of rendering images as solitary

figures. Spotlighting the singular devoid of the communal further served to concentrate apprehension of essences that Oliveira believed would inspire metaphysical insight. He was indeed “boundless” in his search in both facility and spontaneity in creating art in various mediums, and also in the reflective, meditative process he brought to bear in visually refining perceptions and imaginings about man’s existence in the world.

Oliveira was born in Oakland, California in 1928 to first generation Portuguese immigrants. His father was a fisherman and cabinet-maker and separated from his mother when the artist was one year old. Oliveira was raised by his working-class mother, aunt and maternal grandmother in a small flat in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. Without a father and often left alone while the women worked in the midst of Depression-era deprivations, Oliveira was a lonely and isolated child who developed a fierce sense of solitary struggle that patterned much of his later aesthetic approach to the figure.

In 1947, Oliveira enrolled at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts in the early 1950s. He learned print-making as well as painting and starting in 1956 taught at the San Francisco School of Fine Arts where colleagues included other artists of the Bay Area Figurative movement such as Diebenkorn and Bischoff. While these artists inspired Oliveira—he shared certain of their color affinities and brushy stylistic techniques of paint application—he found their subject matter often frivolous and lacking in any depth of meaning.

He was increasingly drawn in a direction informed by what he saw as “the more potent” existential concerns of European modernists like Francis Bacon, Edvard Munch, Alberto Giacometti, and Max Beckmann (who taught Oliveira one summer at Mills College in Oakland). He saw these artists as dealing profoundly with the angst, trauma, alienation and isolation of the human condition post-World War II. Their search for substance over form touched Oliveira deeply. He was also struck by Rembrandt’s figures that he regarded as both “personage and paint.” This insight characterized Oliveira’s own compulsion to “find the figure in the process of painting.” Oliveira came on the national art scene in 1959 when his work was included in the influential Museum of Modern Art, New York, exhibition entitled “New Figures of Man.” His work was shown alongside that of such established contemporaries as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon and Al-

berto Giacometti. The exhibit validated the new direction in painting that saw the figure as an imagistic vehicle by which contemporary artists might grapple with “the revelations and complexities of mid-twentieth century life… profound feelings of solitude and anxiety … [and] the uniqueness of man as he confronts his fate.” [Press release for “New Figures of Man,” The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, Sept. 30, 1959.] The show’s curator referred to the work included as “the effigies of the disquiet man” and that term aptly described the ethos of Oliveira’s work for the rest of his career. Along with his having been awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship the previous year, the exposure of his work in the MoMA exhibition put Oliveira on the art-world map. His first solo show in New York at the well-regarded Charles Alan Gallery was a sell-out and included purchases by the Museum of Modern Art and many major collectors. For Oliveira, the “disquietude” of man was forever more an animating force that, through the image of the figure, could impel transcendent emotional truths. His career was a lifelong engagement with the human form, transcending its mere physicality in favor of its broader situation. He sought to express his sense of that emotional truth through his own form of figuration and did so in paintings, watercolors, gouaches and other works on paper. But he also found expressive resonance in sculpture which allowed him to extend his passion for truthtelling, explored so poignantly in the two dimensional paintings and drawings, into three dimensions. Working with bronze afforded the painter a new medium in which to apply his talent for reduction and abstraction to convey the same sense of deep emotional content as in his previous work. For the artist, the sculpted solitary figure possessed the same power for revelation as the painted or drawn form—an inquiry which for Oliveira can be described as fully spiritual. His Standing Figure bronzes, examples of which are included in the LewAllen exhibition, demonstrate his facility to use the figure to eerily float, walk or become boundless as a means of conveying meanings more universal than personal. This medium also afforded the artist new ways in which to utilize his remarkable ability with gesture and amplify the visual communication that was so essential to his being as an artist. Oliveira said of his work that its “perpetual kind of devotion to humanity is what it is all about.” Oliveira eventually went on to work and teach at Stanford University for more than thirty years. When he retired in 1995, he was honored with a show of his colossal Windhover paintings, works planned to be permanently displayed in the Windhover Contemplation Center, a building dedicated solely to this series of his work and to be completed on the Stanford campus in 2014. Oliveira’s work was included in numerous international museum exhibitions in such venues as London, Paris, Stockholm and Melbourne and the subject of various U.S. retrospectives. He was active until his death in 2010. —KENNETH R. MARVEL


Walking with Yellow Line, 2010 oil on canvas, 66” x 50”

Standing Figure, 2010 oil on canvas, 66” x 54”



Figure in Loop, 1961 ink on paper, 13” x 10”

Standing Figure I, 2008 bronze, 58”h x 23”w x 23”d



Standing Figure I (5/9), 2007 bronze, 33”h x 24”w x 16”d

Standing Figure II (Ed. 1/9), 2007 bronze, 26”h x 23.5”w x 16”d



Small Figure Ed. 22/25 (maquette), 2007 bronze, 6”h x 4”w x 2.5”d

Gina, 1987 oil on canvas, 36” x 27”



IMI Study #15, 1990 oil on canvas, 16” x 20”

Imi Study #3, 1990 oil on canvas, 20” x 16”



Charcoal Head 14, 1979 charcoal and watercolor on paper, 24� x 19�

Mask I (Ed. 3/9), 2007 bronze, 10” x 12”w x 12”d



Mask II (Ed. 3/9), 2007 bronze, 16”h x 12”w x 12”d

Mask III (Ed. 6/9), 2007 bronze, 10”h x 12”w x 12”d



Mask IV (Ed. 5/9), 2007 oil, 10”h x 12”w x 12”d

Mask VI (Ed. 6/9), 2007 bronze, 10”h x 12”w x 12”d



Mask VI (Ed. 7/9), 2007 oil, 10”h x 12”w x 12”d

Santa Fe Nude 71, 1999 watercolor on paper, 10” x 12”



IMI 29, 1989 watercolor on paper, 24” x 19”

Crown Point Press Nudes, 1998 watercolor on paper, 24” x 18”



Crown Point Press Nudes, 1998 watercolor on paper, 24” x 18”

Crown Point Press Nudes, 1998 watercolor on paper, 24” x 18”



Crown Point Press Nudes, 1998 watercolor on paper, 24” x 18”

Model on her Back 2, 1966 graphite on paper, 15.5� x 19�



Dark Standing Sketch, 1967 ink on paper, 19” x 15.25”

Model with Jacket #3, 1963 ink on paper, 17” x 14”



Nude Figure #2, 1968 graphite on paper, 16” x 19”

Railyard: 1613 Paseo De Peralta | Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 | tel 505.988.3250 Downtown: 125 West Palace Avenue | Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 | tel 505.988.8997 |

Nathan Oliveira: Paintings and Sculpture  
Nathan Oliveira: Paintings and Sculpture  

Nathan Oliveira is regarded today as one America’s great masters of extracting profound meaning from abstracted images of the human figure....