Guest interview by Ethel Shipton
Nate Cassie’s narratives embed in his paintings through ethereal color and fidelity which Cassie describes as studies “fueled by perception and chance.” Nature, beauty, chaos, and conformity are all present in his work and are perhaps an indication of Cassie’s quiet inner-dialogue about his history – a Calvinist background, his “mad dash from the familiar,” and his eventual settling in south Texas with his wife, artist Ethel Shipton.
Despite its organic nature, Cassie’s work is an exercise in precision. Cassie specifically cites mathemeticians such as Leonardo “Fibonacci” Pisano (1170-1250) and Jules Henri PoincarÃ© (1852-1912) as particular influences on his work. Fibonacci numbers, numbers produced in sequence by adding the previous two numbers of the sequence, are especially present in his recent Mulcahy Modern Gallery exhibition Put the Needle on the Record: Meditations on work, community and progress (2006) and in his piece Auviq (2004). When plotted, Fibonacci numbers can produce infinite tile and spiral patterns.
But science and art are both “imprecise,” says Cassie. So, in combining the frameworks of science and art and other things such as religion and boxing, Cassie uses their languages to create a new framework – one that allows him to “mimic nature’s rules” and “create something beautiful in a cool, industrial medium.”
Shipton interviews her husband for NeoAztlan. – Steve Peralta
Ethel Shipton: How is it that you ended up in art and then in San Antonio?
Nate Cassie: I had to take a sculpture class as part of a core curriculum in college. I found that I really enjoyed it and received a lot of encouragement from the professor who is now a good friend. I kept taking classes in the art department. I come from a family that has often worked with their hands. Somehow that seemed to feed into my development as an artist. I also found that art was a discipline that could hold and encompass many of the other things I was (and still am) interested in sciences, math, religions… even boxing.
30” x 30” enamel on panel
Part of a series named after hurricanes
ES: While at UTSA you where classified as a sculptor, how is it now that many people now think of you as a painter? When did that transition take place?
NC: First, let me say that I have always made 3-D and 2-D work at the same time. More specifically, I guess my work has often been influenced by my environment.
I came to UTSA with a concentration in sculpture and knew Ken Little’s work somewhat so I was excited to see where things would go. The first semester I made objects, some of which I was fond of. The second semester, I ended up running the UTSA Satellite Space which meant I had my studio downtown away from all the tools and the sculpture facilities.
I sort of hid out in that studio and tried out a lot of different mediums, in particular there was a shift from making objects to making things like environments and video. I got to do a lot of experimenting and this process sort of gelled in my thesis show that combined objects, environments and video in a way that felt solid.
ES: What made you need or want to do painting?
NC: This was maybe a similar shift to a different fish bowl. I was selected to participate in a residency in Miami, which lasted for four months a year for three years. Once I left the UTSA graduate program, I found myself without a studio so I started focusing on things like site-specific pieces and photography-things where a studio space wasn’t necessary.
Part of the Miami deal was that they gave you this studio space that was separate from where you lived. When I got there, being raised a good Midwestern Calvinist, I felt like I couldn’t waste it. I had to do something with it. I started making works on paper and the paintings kind of grew out of that. It wasn’t like I hadn’t done this sort of thing before. It just wasn’t my primary focus.
In Miami, the painting moved into the forefront, especially materials and experiments with color.
ES: Could you talk a little about the moving back and forth between these different areas?
85” x 48” enamel on panel
One of a new series of paintings
based on mathematical matrices
I made a giant record for a show at the Corcoran Museum in 2001. For a show at Mulcahy Modern in Dallas last fall, I made a giant record player. I didnâ€™t really think about the two in relationship to one another until the player was well under way. It just popped out like stones in a field after it rains.
Conceptually, things like patterns of interaction, communities, chance, and the spaces in between still matter. Formally, beauty, light, color, and skins continue to show up. The nautilus spiral of the train track on the record player, the spiral of the giant record, the mathematic formulas like Fibonacci sequence that the flower paintings are built from-these things continue to come around.
The downside is fighting against that old adage “jack of all trades, master of none.” It also tends to confuse some curators, gallerists and collectors when you have a show of sculpture and prints in one venue and hang a group of paintings in the next one. It is a natural human tendency to want to put things into categories. They donâ€™t always know how to make the connections. I think the connections are made using similar tools with a variety of techniques.
I am taking the long view and making what I have to make.
- Images courtesy Nate Cassie. Do not reproduce without permission.