Interview: Nathan Usher
Nathan Usher is an artist from Santa Fe, New Mexico who creates mixed media works of collage. To see more of Nathan's work, visit his Instagram.
L.E. Brown: How do you think your personal beliefs—ideological, political, social—influence your art?
Nathan Usher: Identifying as queer—while I’m still a white male-bodied individual—has led me to create work which predominantly concentrates on depicting images of sexualized male bodies. My art, my collage, is a way for me to visually think things through, especially whatever political issue or social theory I’m reading about. I use those themes to engage with pre-existing images and play with those concepts in a different way.
LEB: Are you working on anything right now?
NU: I’ve been thinking about making art in the week since the election, but I haven’t been able to. Even just the work I have on my walls makes me really uncomfortable, because in the past I have, quite consciously, only used white bodies in my collages. Mostly it’s because I’m white and I feel I would need a different level of sensitivity to be able to work with images and iconography from other cultures. But working with these white bodies that I find in places like old art history books is working with the classical ideal of eurocentric beauty. And with the current normalization of racism and the rise of neo-nazism, I feel really uncomfortable that my art solely has idealized, virile, white male bodies in it. Because—while I’m still using erotically-charged images and they’re still very queer—it now feels very different to me.
LEB: When you’re cutting up images of the body, how do you choose to display certain body parts over others?
NU: It’s what feels right in the moment. I’ll cut certain things out as I go and collect the remnants. Maybe I’ll trim or change them, and start to combine them into other things. Collage is about the combination or juxtaposition of the seemingly incongruous elements, create meaning within the gaps. It has more to do with the combination of these different parts rather than the static meaning that’s attached to a particular kind of body in a particular kind of image. It becomes something that’s non-linear, non-binary. I try to utilize images in a way that their meaning doesn’t adhere to one static or rigid interpretation.
LEB: Do you think about the concept of juxtaposition or blank space during the production, or afterwards, or does it just happen?
NU: I don’t think about them necessarily. While I’m working there are just certain things that come together and it’s not until the next day or week that I’ll notice little correspondences between certain images or fragments. These correspondences are like poetics, sometimes they’re connected through a certain fluidity.
LEB: What is your favorite piece of art that you’ve produced, and why? What have you fallen in love with?
NU: I have boxes and boxes of collages at home. In a way, it’s like raising a child. After you work on it and raise it, it gets older and begins talking back to you. Then it grows up and it’s angry and pissed, and it moves out. So I don’t have a favorite piece, but there are pieces that have come back to me and I rework a particular kind of material and pose images in a particular way. I like those pieces because they really embody a certain transition and evolution.✶