Artist Goes From Farm to Gallery: Peter Nadin’s “First Mark”

July 1, 2011 § 4 Comments

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An ancient method in artmaking found its way to the gallery walls of Gavin Brown’s enterprise in the West Village. Nearly opaque hardened liquid was splashed across the framed linen, just one of the works by artist Peter Nadin in his latest exhibition, “First Mark.” I moved closer to the hanging piece, noticing veins where the wax surface broke. Encaustic – a painting technique using hot beeswax mixed with colored pigment, I thought to myself.

The crisp clacks of high heels interrupted my silent meditation. I turned around. A hurried woman breezed by, giving me a wan smile, and disappeared behind the walls of the white cube. I had nearly forgotten I was alone and that there was someone I needed to see. I peered around the corner of the room at the troupe of assistants sitting in front of their Macs and chatting. They didn’t seem to notice.

“Is the artist in?” I asked the group, unsure of whom to ask.

“Oh, Peter?” a bright-eyed blonde answered.

“Yes, he told me he’d be here at 11,” I explained. A personal invitation by the artist. Eyes flickered toward me. Though it hardly was; it was more of just quick email correspondence, I thought sheepishly to myself. But, I had the group’s attention.

“Well, I don’t think he’s here yet, but let me get your name,” the girl said, looking closely at me through her round glasses. “You can just wait in the gallery, if you don’t mind.”

I didn’t. I wandered through the long chunks of wood carefully holding terra-cotta vessels, like large, looming figures with whimsical pottery for heads. They seemed inviting. As I walked toward the last room, a nauseatingly sweet smell filled my nose. Tree branches, paint-splattered pots and tiny wooden houses floated above a giant box of dark liquid with swirls of light brown bubbles – honey.

Honey, beeswax, chicken eggs and other farm fresh products make up the palette of artist Peter Nadin. “First Mark” is Nadin’s first U.S. show since 1992 when he renounced art and retreated to Old Field Farm, his 160-acre sprawl in the Catskills. Nadin’s foray into farming was simple – there was no fresh food nearby, so he decided to grow it himself. Some wild beehives, pastures for goats, chicken, pigs and ducks and a greenhouse later, Nadin has become a strong advocate for small-scale farming and he is using art to further his cause. Now, Nadin is back in the studio and the farm comes to the gallery.

I found Nadin making his rounds through his wooden, seemingly wooded works. Dressed in dark blue slacks and a simple white button-down, the international artist with a work at the Met and a Max Beckmann Award under his belt smiled once I introduced myself and said, “Let’s chat.”

“It’s just an ingredient,” Nadin says of his farm products, “it can be used to make art or a great meal.” There is no distinction between work at the farm and work in the studio, according to Nadin.

“It’s all from the same artistic impulse. It’s not a matter of categorization,” Nadin explained. “I’m not saying that because I’m an artist there is something great about the pig. The pig has to be a pig.”

“So, the pig isn’t some commodified object, but the thing you eat for dinner?” I asked.

“Yes!” Nadin exclaimed, his excited eyes exaggerated from his thick, tortoise glasses. “It’s the thing that you eat for dinner.”

Beyond the white-walled gallery, we sat inside a small kitchen at the same bench where I ate artist Rirkrit Tiravanija’s coconut chicken soup just a few months ago. Leftovers from Wednesday night’s opening were sprinkled throughout the room. There were stacks of his catalogue, a mock newspaper called “The Bugle,” which has articles about iconography, art, and agricultural, even a short submission by chef April Bloomfield who buys pigs from Old Field Farm. Large glass vials of herbs rested on metal tables, perhaps precursors to his pop-up shop in the gallery, Bootleg Buying Club. Nadin plans to sell honey, paté and other goods from his farm as well as dairy products from local farms and, once the exhibition ends, the store will move to Grove Street.

As for the art, Nadin has some ideas. Before leaving the gallery, I asked the artist if he would ever want to see his works in museums.

“If someone wants to buy them great,” Nadin said of his wooden sculptures, “but otherwise, I can take them back, mill them down and I’ll use that to build a farrowing house for the young pigs and a chicken coop. The honey…”

He paused, thinking about the three tons hauled into the gallery. “We’ll use that for feed for the goats and the pigs next winter.”

For Nadin, he’s happy letting the slab of wood be a focal point in his art or lumber for the farm. The same could be said of the artist himself – Nadin is content as the laboring farmer or famed artist. He considers his next big project to be castrating his pigs tomorrow.

“Come up to the farm some time!” Nadin called to me as I opened the door to exit. I smiled and replied, “Of course!” Now, I had a real invitation by the artist.

“First Mark” is on view at Gavin Brown’s enterprise in the West Village until July 30th.


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