Freshman Sam Jirele attends the opening of "American Iconic" at the Hopkins Center for the Arts in December.

Stromberg’s America

First art show for MA teacher

“American Iconic” on view at Hopkins Center for the Arts

By Jeffrey Riley

Talon Staff Writer

Nathan Stromberg is not only the AP Art teacher at Minnehaha Academy, but pursues his passion for the arts outside of the classroom. From composing music recreationally to painting for exhibition, Stromberg has many creative and artistic abilities. His first solo exhibition, “American Iconic” will be hosted at the Hopkins Center for the Arts in Hopkins, Minn. From Dec. 9 to Jan. 9, 2011.

This is your first solo exhibition. Can you say that you’ve learned anything already?

It’s an awful lot of work for a solo exhibition when you have to fill the whole space yourself, and this space is two levels. It has taken me the better part of the whole year for this show. I’ve been working on pieces for this show since 2008, which leads into a lot of late nights.

 

Why did you decide on the theme “American Iconic” for you showcase?

Freshman Sam Jirele attends the opening of “American Iconic” at the Hopkins Center for the Arts in December.

In my recent few years I’ve been working on making paintings from old 50’s slides and old discarded slides. A lot of it deals with the iconic American subjects. When you see these icons, they are kind of instantly relatable to American experiences.

The cars, outfits, suits, objects such as kitchen appliances, there’s just something that makes them instantly relatable. People understand them which I find really interesting because I was born in the ’70s, 20 years after the time period of my paintings, but [the objects are] still in my conscience somehow. There’s something that speaks about the objects and look of that period.

 

How many pieces are featured in the show?

Forty-plus paintings, varying in size from 8 x 8 inches to the largest, 28 x 36 inches.

When and how did you realize you wanted to pursue art?

Art has always been my thing, from elementary to high school. And in high school I acted in theatre, and performed with music too. I was always trying to do something creative. Experimenting with different things, and I kind of had to narrow down and pick one I wanted to go with. And for me, being an art teacher is great. You get to teach others how to do what you love to do and also stay creative all the time and have side projects.

What do you feel your artwork shows about yourself?

Artwork is always an extension of the artist. It’s inherently egotistical, painting what you want to paint then you hope that other people enjoy it, or maybe want to buy a piece, if you’re making your living as an artist. So, [the pieces in the show] are things that I really enjoy painting.

I’m really intrigued with the time period and the retro stuff. It translates really well into painting. There’s a lot of bright colors and interesting shapes.

When you think about cars, the way that they look back, and everything was so high quality, the way it was made, and it’s just not that way anymore. You look at pictures from the ’70s, there is a lot of orange brown and gold; it has its own different draw. The ’50s was very bright colors and shapes.

This exhibition is entirely paintings. In the future would you like to showcase any other media that you work with?

I never have closed doors to that, but primarily painting has been what I do. I haven’t really done any other mediums for this particular series, but I do sketch a lot. I’ve done watercolors before and illustrated a watercolor book. But oils are fun and take a lot of practice to get the hang of. So I feel that every painting I do, I’m getting somewhat better at it. Learning a little bit every single time makes you better. Who knows? I don’t close any doors.

Are you ever trying to send a message through your artwork?

Like a political message? This is somewhat a key question to my work, and the answer is no. One of the things I really like about this kind of imagery is that the way it’s interpreted is based entirely on the viewer and the opinions of the viewer.

I kind of reject a lot of art that is over-political and tells you what to think about it. I like it when the artist’s intent is kind of cloudy and mysterious and open ended. At least when you’re talking about ’50s America it can be very political. For some on the left in can mean “oppression.” Before the civil-rights movement, and the women’s-rights movement it can be a reminder about everything that’s wrong about America, and for those on the far right it could represent a paradigm of lost family values that we somehow need to get back to.

There’s a real myth to the period. It could be read a lot of political ways, and I’m presenting it how it is. I try not to print pictures of things that might be misconstrued as political statements. I try to pick ideas that would be more so quirky and humorous.

What elements or skills of paintings are you currently working on?

Some of the recent paintings I’ve done I’ve tried not to paint as much in the picture, which may sound odd. Pretty much every square inch has something going on, there’s not really a place for your eye to rest.

Some of the more recent [paintings] I’ve made for the show and my most recent work has more empty spaces. And it’s kind of funny, because it has the composition of a bad photograph. Maybe someone who didn’t know how to take the picture, it lets your eye kind of breathe a little bit. That’s kind of the newer stuff I’m looking at. Trying how to not fill space and sort of simplify. Once you get the hang of painting it gets harder to not fill everything. It gets harder to ask yourself “what can I leave out?”

Are there any other projects in the works right now?

Actually, thankfully, no. [“American Iconic”] is the culmination of 4-5 years of solid work for me. I illustrated a book of 48 original watercolors. Then I used those images to apply to grad school. The next two years I did grad school work, writing a thesis and everything. Graduated in January, then have been working all year on this show. It’s been like 5 years of one project to the next. And also building projects and giant plants in the meantime.

The next big project I will have is for the spring play and hopefully, after this is done, I will apply for more shows. I want to keep showing. I would love to always have some other show to keep working towards, maybe somewhat of a break here or there.

For more on Nathan Stromberg’s work visit:

http://nathanstromberg.com/

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