What mystical visions and artistic insights can dancing an hour per day provide? For Nathan Hayden, a West Virginia-born, Santa Barbara-based psychedelic multimedia artist, this transcendental practice inspires the mind-bending imagery behind his abstracted landscapes, biomorphic ceramic sculptures, and hallucinatory wall murals.
Housed in a former soap factory near downtown Los Angeles, the uber-trendy CB1 Gallery is currently exhibiting Nathan Hayden: Strong Magic, a suite of the artist’s latest kaleidoscopic works. The collection is essentially a meditation on the theme of discordance, with its clashing earthy tones and pastel shades, abstract and landscape elements, rounded and angular forms, and mismatched stripes, chevrons and gingham patterns. A dizzying medley of these ingredients infuses nearly every painting, sculpture and wall drawing.
Nothing in this collection is as expected. The paintings themselves are actually pigment emulsions on industrial wool felt. This fabric choice lends a vintage 1970s aesthetic to the works. One of the only constants here is the inclusion of golden-brown spheres in the sky. Likely alluding to the sun, the moon, or some unknown star, these orbs are not depicted as brilliant celestial bodies but subdued, muddy disks. The majority of the paintings are vertically oriented and bisected by what appears to be an horizon line.
The exhibition’s titular painting, Strong Magic (2017), has not one but two spheres suspended in the stratosphere, elevating the image’s mystical aura. Both imbrued in a sepia brown shade, one mid-sky and the other more prominently elevated above the horizon line. The image communicates a kind-of fiction, or science-fiction, or instead could be an internal landscape of mind or two separate moments in time. The possibility in these paintings are open and various.
In the top half of Strong Magic, rounded, earth-toned clouds clash with a horizontally striped pattern of pastel pink and white. Like fists aiming for a clash from both sides of the frame, these protruding, knuckle-like formations line up with each other, frustrating our subconscious desire for them to interlock. Further aggravating the gaze, the pink and white background stripes break symmetry in favor of a more complex and more interesting dimension of space and mind.
Looking towards the bottom register of the painting, one quite naturally seeks something resembling water, but the eye is rather met with a compounding of earthy brown cut through with chevrons in jade green and dirty, ecruing white. The arrangement hints at and even reimagines the sun’s play of light on water, where here it reads river-like as it estuaries into the sea. The scene itself is quite simple, yet one takes it in full stop for the equally simple pleasure of trying to decipher and expand on its more involved internal workings.
Moonscaping, a sister painting to Strong Magic, features a remarkably similar structure, orientation and color scheme. Balancing the familiar with the unexpected, the canvas offers a view of a celestial orb hovering, again, above what can now be read as an ocean, yet here it is bound-in by three umber brown cliffs. With very little paint mixing, shade variation and realistic detail, this is as simplified and abstracted as good art gets. While the eye naturally wants for rounded waves of cobalt blue for the depiction of water, we again encounter its more mythical and mystic depiction in the form of chevrons rendered again jades and aqueous sand. As it lifts, every right angle directs our attention toward the matted gold orb perched in a rose-tinted sky. And instead of an anticipated brilliant light radiating from within, Hayden has included four flat bands that encounter, but do not come from, this hovering celestial orb. The effect is both disorienting and alienating.
Rounding out this trilogy of paintings, 2017’s Fire on the Mountain, Smoke at the Sea also features a matte gold setting sun and horizon line. However, here the eye is immediately drawn to a brilliant band of vermillion resting just beneath the sinking honeyed orb. This fiery red hue, referenced in the painting’s title, scissors through the horizon from the noted onshore burn, effectively cutting the canvas in two. While a blaze, any blaze, is typically amorphous in real life, it is depicted here, against type, as clear, crisp, and precisely-defined. It is also far more vivid than the sun, which draws our attention as much to the blaze, that mountain afire, as to anything actually depicted on the canvas.
Interestingly, the orb’s reflection on the water in this image is not represented by green and white chevrons, but the same rounded, fist-like formations as seen in Strong Magic. This time, they are the same golden hue as the sun. Their bulbous shape directly confronts the rigid boxes of the gingham pattern as their pink and golden shades begin to bleed together.
This exhibition also features an array of small-scale, sharp-edged sculptures in fleshy tones. They somewhat resemble a person in the midst of a meditative dance, just like the one Hayden performed at Strong Magic’s opening reception. Their jagged, well-defined lines also echo the ones found in Hayden’s site-specific mural in painted in black ink on the rear gallery wall. Here we see the artist tapping into the rhythm of the universe and creating a mental map of nature and the cosmos.
Just like Paul Cézanne, Nathan Hayden is breaking down unbelievably complex landscapes into geometric shapes to show that they are the building blocks of our reality. If we stop and truly examine nature, we begin to see that it is simply a series of squares, triangles, rectangles, and circles.
Emily Nimptsch is Los Angeles Art Critic for Riot Material magazine. Ms. Nimptsch is also a freelance arts and culture writer who has written for Flaunt, ArtSlant, Artillery, ArteFuse, and Time Out Los Angeles.