Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Patterns of Life: Michael Coles and Nathan Florence at Modern West Fine Art

Modern West Fine Art is showing a new collection of work from photographer Michael Coles and paintings by Renaissance man, Nathan Florence, who’s certainly no stranger to the pages of 15 Bytes. The artists’ work, while stylistically different, complements each other well and creates an insightful window into rural culture and landscape.

Michael Coles’ work captures the dusty skies of the rural West and the defiant spirit of those who endeavor to live there. His work feels right at home at Modern West, not in small part because that’s exactly what he’s capturing, the new West, the amalgamation of traditional life imbued with the confident swagger of a pickup cowboy. These moments are a reflection of his own process, which is still in large part shaped by traditional film development and not quite ready to fully embrace the digital revolution. Coles’ black-and-white silver gelatin prints demonstrate, in both subject and form, the bridge that so many artists, and particularly western artists, face as the future seems so present and the past becomes ever more distant. Viewers of his work are invited into that dialogue and offered an opportunity to a part of the conversation that Coles himself seems to moderate.

Over almost a decade, 15 Bytes has featured work by Florence as he’s exhibited not only paintings, but also expanded his reach into film and community activism; a long stretch from his early academic endeavors into medicine. Florence’s work continues to reflect the expanse of the Utah wilderness he loves, incorporating into the naturalistic scenes patterns and colors that further shape his unique vision. Consistent as well is his use of applied pattern, which overlays his figures, cutting into the negative space and weaving the subjects into a palpable intimacy. This intimacy he says, “is what drew him in” to figurative painting in the first place. It wasn’t until later in his exploration that landscape painting began to catch his eye.

He explains:

I got interested in painting by looking at legendary figurative painters, John Singer Sargent, Odd Nerdrum, Waterhouse, it’s a long list. I wasn’t interested in landscape paintings at all, but started looking at and painting landscapes as a way of learning about painting. Plein air painting demands certain things of you that are helpful to understand. I painted mostly landscapes at the beginning of my studies and when I got bored, realized that I needed to come back to figures. So now it’s both.

This experimentation can be seen clearly in all of his work as we see Florence dive back and forth between a vast expanse of mountains and the delicate shoulder strap of a dress; each focus taking on its own voice and at times combining to harmonize in beautiful ways. Watching Nathan Florence’s work evolve continues to be an engrossing journey which he welcomes the viewer to join.

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