Nathan Florence converses much the way he paints: in-depth with lots of color; layered with nuance but an abundance of honesty; moments of intensity with an overall cheerfulness. He is a fun interview.
But try chatting with Florence about his work and you will immediately be turned down other paths. You’ll learn that his professional ballerina daughter Maren dances with Ballet West during the week and sidelines on Sunday afternoons as a barista at Mo’s Coffee and Postum Break, a “neighborhood coffeehouse” located in the Florence backyard. (Where you might meet Marien, his wife, CFO for Wasatch Front Regional Council.) “We are into community and conversations. Listening to each other,” says the artist. “We want to be inclusive. You can get a Postum latte if you want.” Florence says ballet friends, art and studio friends and neighbors show up to visit.
Or — again not talking about his artwork — Florence will tell you that his band, The Third-Class Relic, plays every week or that he just learned his feature-length documentary film, “Bright Spark: The Reconciliation of Trevor Southey,” about the intriguing Art & Belief Movement among art students at BYU in the late 1960s, has been accepted for national broadcast on PBS. They are looking for underwriters for that project.
Or Florence might mention the few slots left for his weeklong tour of Scotland June 25th-July 1st. (Mention 15 Bytes and get a 10% discount on what’s still available.) You’ll be in Ullapool, Florence says, “up on the northern coast, the Coastal Highlands. The most stunningly beautiful place. There you get the perfect slanting light, evening light for hours on end.”
Besides the dad hat and the studio hat, Florence is artist in residence at Weilenmann School of Discovery “up Parley’s, a cool little place. I have a mobile classroom. A van where I can take 8 kids out to draw and write and light fires.”
Finally, there’s the art, which is at Modern West in an exhibit titled Ways of Seeing. And those ways are very textural. Whether he’s painting the Salt Lake City foothills or the Wasatch Back — did I mention he’s also a backcountry skier? — the California coast or the electric-green highlands of Scotland, his surfaces are encrusted, dynamic masses. As in his life, in his paintings there’s always something else going on.
“A couple of pieces in the show are based on Ballet West pieces” he acknowledges, returning, like a hiker, to our point of departure. “There is a series on Mount Olympus they pulled and put in the show, related to the landscape. A male pas de deux based on a Beau Pearson photograph — he danced with the company and his wife [Emily Adams] still does. I turned the piece sideways: two men, one reaching down; one reaching up. Another by a guy who used to be the head of the Academy, his name is Peter LeBreton Merz.”
Shalee Cooper, gallery director at Modern West Fine Art where Florence opens tonight and hangs until July 1, observes: “Regardless of what Nathan Florence paints he captures the essence of his subject matter. Whether it be a place, a gesture, or an ethereal moment he leaves you wanting more. His approach to creatively challenge himself through his process is recognizable. He consistently pushes himself as an artist not only through his techniques but also through the scale in which he paints. Florence visually translates his way of seeing for the viewer to experience new perspectives through works that emphasize beauty born out of chaos.”
Nathan Florence: Ways of Seeing, Modern West Fine Art, Salt Lake City, May 19 – July 1
A graduate of the University of Utah, Ann Poore is a freelance writer and editor who spent most of her career at The Salt Lake Tribune. She was the 2018 recipient of the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Artist Award in the Literary Arts.