When Chicago artist Nathan Vernau’s drawings are in a room, it’s as if they’re standing up with arms waving, shouting “hey, over here!” Their eye-catching appearance is, no doubt, the result of his striking color schemes. Like all elements in Nathan’s work, his bold palette choices are made by careful design, but upon taking a closer look, his drawings reveal a more subtle and self-effacing message.
At heart, Nathan’s artwork is deeply personal. When words fail him, drawing acts as his visual language, and his body of work as his journal. His artwork recounts a range of personal experiences, relating moments of happiness, frustration, insecurity, confusion, and all that falls in between, through a colorful world constructed through symbols, text, and self-portraiture.
Growing up in Wisconsin through the 80s and 90s, Nathan spent a great deal of time reading and flipping through comic books. The bold colors, graphic text, sequential storytelling, and arc-narratives that filled each issue influence elements in his artistic process still today. Many of Nathan’s self-portraits convey action through motion sequences, such as changing clothes, falling down, and having a “panic attack whilst treading water.” He often goes on to supplement his figurative animation with words, phrases, or lyrics to initiate a visual conversation with the viewer. He explains that adding text provides multiple interpretations and double meanings that represent an inability to effectively communicate with others.
The vibrant colors used to embellish and energize the pages of his favorite comic books engender a similar effect in his own artwork. In addition to being a visual artist, Nathan is a musician. In a recent interview with 22 magazine, he explained that he thinks of artwork in terms of music, equating color to “the catchy hook of a song that reels you in, and helps set the mood of the piece”. He went on to recollect the evolution of his color philosophy, involving countless paper and pencil combination studies, which can now be stripped down to a zippy maxim: “the brighter, the better.”
For the past few years, Nathan has incorporated a group of recurring symbols into his work. Just like emotions, relationships, and memories, these symbols weave and feed into one another. The significance placed on these ordinary objects, which include cinder blocks, envelopes, balloons, picture frames, and hearts, reveal the authenticity of his work as a chronicle of personal experience. And although each composition of symbols is crafted with clear intent, Nathan does not make their meaning explicitly clear. Instead, he hopes that viewers search their own experiences and the context he’s presented them in to derive his intention.
When describing his piece, Snagged on TurningArt, Nathan wrote, “Giving away the story would be too easy – and in some cases, embarrassing. Why give one ‘answer’ when there’s room for interpretation? Do you want to be told what something ‘is,’ or would you rather figure it out yourself?”
First and foremost, Nathan’s artwork is remarkably honest. It unpacks experiences that are both deeply intimate and extremely relatable. His portfolio is imbued with self-portraiture to offer fragments of character and insights to his experiences, emotions, and musings through images. Describing himself as “verbally inhibited,” Nathan points to his artwork as a space for him to pick up where his words leave off.
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