Winner of the inaugural East London Painting Prize, Nathan Eastwood appears to be the hot new talent in contemporary art. Gabriella Werre meets him at The Nunnery gallery, scene of his first solo exhibition, to find out his inspirations and why the mundane can be beautiful
How did you get into art?
It wasn’t until I was about 19 really when I kind of felt like I wanted to be an artist. But when I was at school, I wasn’t really interested in the academic subjects; I was really just interested in drawing and painting. I spent most of my time doing that. Even when I was 16 or 17, I’d probably do a whole night because I was really into it. It was around then I thought maybe I should go to art school.
When did you first realize you knew how to paint?
I don’t think I sort of sat there thinking I was good, I just knew I enjoyed it. I then went for interviews, and they’d say, ‘yes, we want you to come here’. Certain colleges, like Dover College, accepted me so I knew straight away that it was something I could do and I wanted to pursue that. My tutor thought I was a very good painter, but I had to work on my subject.
What does ‘working on your subject’ mean?
In other words, there’s being able to paint. There’s having a language, and being able to master your language, but it’s about what you’re trying to put forward. What you’re trying to convey to the public, to the people, what are your interests. You could say it’s something about your personality, what concerns you, what interests you. That was always a tough one, and I think that carried on for quite sometime until just post my masters degree. That’s always been an interesting bone of contention for me.
What artists do you admire?
Gerhard Richter in terms of contemporary. I would say he’s my master. I admire his career, he’s still at it today. He’s challenged, not just in terms of what he can do as an artist, but even the upmarkets he’s given them some difficult times, which I find amusing. Goya, Vermeer, Van Gogh… The reason why I refer to Vermeer, is because of his ability to be able to reduce, to unclutter an image and you get this beautiful composition, those real simple subjects, every day details.
What’s your process when you start a new piece?
I literally use my camera phone. I could be at a café or anywhere and I just start photographing something that catches my eye. I don’t know necessarily that it’ll become a painting, but if I’m drawn to something I want to document that. And for me the camera phone is so integrated into the psyche of our society. You wouldn’t leave the house without your phone these days. Then, I’ll upload them onto the computer, spend more time using Photoshop, look at certain images. I then darken the image or lighten it, play with it. If I decide to go with an image, I print it off. Straight forward. Then I take it to the studio, I have a series of images that I’ve printed off, I’m looking at them, and although I might be on the computer sometimes I’ll be in the studio and see it and it’s physical, it has a different relationship to you than on the computer. It’s at that point that I know if I’m going to paint that image. I might end up ripping it. It goes through some rigorous processes.
How would you summarize your artwork? What themes do you pursue?
Life and social relations. I paint from where I am, life as I see it. That idea of social relations, or the idea of how everything relates. I think really of the top of my head: life, how one exists in the every day sense. It is mundane, a bit boring isn’t it? I’m highlighting these mundane experiences. If they’re beautiful that’s not intentional, if they look ugly that’s not intentional. It’s just merely to paint what is real, what is in front of us.
Could you talk about the piece that won you the inaugural East London Painting Prize…
Funnily enough, that was a bone of contention that piece. So many times I wanted to abandon it because I didn’t think it was working for me. I wasn’t sure. When I started to document the café that I often patronize and have lunch in, I felt unsure. But I thought let’s do this, let’s just keep painting and I did. But there were many times where I wanted to just turn it around. Painting the face was really hard because we’re talking about enamel here. And enamel is not easy to manipulate and to try and make enamel look like flesh – that’s incredibly difficult. It was a challenge, but one I think I managed to overcome. I persisted because I’d still liked the context, the subject matter, these every day people sitting at a café.
I don’t know who this person is. I liked the fact that he was just eating. If you look closely he’s got something in his mouth and he’s just doing the most basic thing we all do: eat. I thought that was just so real. If he saw that he might go, ‘well, that’s quite personal. Did you have to do that? I’m embarrassed.’ Funnily enough, I went back after I had won the prize to have lunch. We sat in the ‘famous spot’ and the guy behind the counter said, ‘do you want to know who the guy is?’ and I said no. If I can keep a distance, I’d rather that. It’s just nice when you don’t know them – it’s mysterious.
See more about Nathan Eastwood at neastwood.com