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Artists in the 21st Century: A Conversation with CSU Artist Nathan Kersey

Throughout history, it is easy to see how the same themes and issues run through art despite the style or time period. Religion, romance, life, and death are some of these themes that are common throughout all art, and all of these themes have existed since the beginning of time. However, as I sat down for an interview with one of my peers, Nathan Kersey, I was interested to discover how he addresses issues in his own art that are unique to our time in the 21st century: the feeling of disconnection that comes from modern life being permeated with online relationships and our dependence on the internet for communication.

Nathan Kersey is a recent Columbus State University graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Art with a concentration in painting. Nathan is a skilled oil painter, though his skillset continues: Nathan has experience in restoration work from his time working at Pasaquan, as well as experience in art curation, graphic design, and gallery work from his time interning at the Bo Bartlett Center. Raised in Perry, GA, Nathan moved to Columbus to pursue his art education and is continuing to contribute to the art community of Columbus now.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Tell me about what type of art you create. How did you get started with it?

A: I am primarily a painter, specifically I draw and paint the human form. The art I was drawn to when I was little was always paintings, and I was always impressed by it. I started with the basics of DaVinci, but as I got to learn more, I was drawn to painters like Jacques-Louis David and the way he had such command over form, and how he used that to tell historical narratives.

Q: How does art history, specifically related to painting, play into your own work?

A: The way I look at the painters before me is like they are a resource you can draw upon. You don’t necessarily engage with it, but it’s something that is available to you.

Now there’s not a ‘right way’ to make art. Everything is out in the open. You can just pick and choose, like going to the grocery store.

I try not to think about where I fit in the historical context of art because that’s never been an interest of mine, and I’ve never wanted that to guide how I want to make art. When I make art, the whole point for me is to explore from my point of view, and I’m hoping other people can connect.

"Cobbled" 18" x 24" oil on canvas

Q: What is it that you are trying to say through your work that you would like others to be able to connect with?

A: I am communicating my own experience with living a large part of my life through the online lens, and communicating with people online, like on social media. I want to know how that changes my own psychology or how I view interactions with others.

Q: How do you believe the online lens has influenced you?

A: I started with playing video games as a kid, and continued especially during middle and high school, up until my sophomore year of college. I spent too much time online, and it felt like my primary social interaction with people was through a digital medium.

I think having your main interaction with your best friends be a voice in your ear where you don’t see them in person is something like a second life. There is something there that is a fundamentally different human experience. How does that limited form of communication change how I see myself? How does that change how I see other people?

I stepped away from it in my junior year of college. It gives you a different perspective on yourself.

Nathan Kersey, artist.

Q: It’s very interesting because of how new of a problem this is. You don’t see artists from hundreds of years ago making art about their experience of virtually talking with their friends online. Because it is so new, in the grand scheme of things, how do you feel that the online world is affecting art?

A: The Internet was not a pure equalizer, but it did flatten the access to opportunities, which is good. We now have equal access to our history. Thirty years ago, it wouldn’t have been impossible to access an art history book, but every art history book ever?

That’s why there’s such a plurality of art now and there’s no one correct way to create. It’s because you have access to everything. There’s no way to incorporate everything into what you’re creating, so you get to pick and choose, which is what I do. There’s no clear or discernible right way to make art now.

"Pastel Series 4" 9" x 12" oil on canvas

Q: What is the most important element in your work? If you were to strip your work down to one thing, what would it be?

A: The figures, and the development and building of the figure. I had to ask myself “If I forced myself to make a painting without the figures, could I? Could I still explore the ideas that I’m interested in? ‘And I did that, and I hated it.

For me, when I paint people, it is me exploring the psychology of how people interact through digital mediums. It is the relationship between the figures and the kind of digital elements in my paintings, like gradients or flattening areas into one solid color. It’s the melding of the person with the technology.

"Template" 36" x 48" oil on canvas

Q: What is the best piece of advice that you can give to other painters from your own experience?

A: Try to organize your life in the best way to allow yourself to make the art that you want to create.

Connect with Nathan:

  • Instagram - @nathanrkersey


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