Art of Darkness: Nathan Danilowicz
Tucked away in a former dental office and Rastafari community center between West Adams and Culver City, artist Nathan Danilowicz has been busy. The rooms of his studio space seem like dark altars in reverence to forces both ancient and modern, where the conceptual strategies of painterly abstraction are reclaimed as the spells and invocations of a lost age. These tattered, rune-inscribed veils are the latest product of Nathan's inquiry into how sci-fi shamanism, ritual, and the occult share more than just superficial affinity with many of the modalities and practices of modern and contemporary painting. These new works along with some others will be exhibited later in June at Eye Heart in New York, a new alternative space in Chelsea, in a two-person show with painter Jani Benjamins. Nathan's live-work space also doubles as Latned Atsär, where he has curated group shows and exhibited his own projects since 2010. Add that to the fact that Nathan also works full-time for one of LA's major commercial contemporary art galleries, and the real magic trick is how he, like many artists in Los Angeles, manage to juggle it all. - Jason Ramos, Los Angeles Contributor
Nathan Danilowicz, studio installation (detail), 2013, ink and bleach on fabric. Photo by Jason Ramos.
Nathan Danilowicz, studio installation, 2013, ink and bleach on fabric. Photo courtesy of the artist.
During a fruitful afternoon conversation at Latned Atsär, Nathan made it clear to me that the only dark art he is truly a devotee of is that of contemporary art. “Aleister Crowley doesn't seem like that good of a writer,” Nathan confesses; some of the works of Britain’s Great Beast served as some of his inspirations, as well as other witchy freak-out classics like Peter Caroll's Liber Null & Pyschonaut. “I am interested in that kind of world,” Nathan continues, “but engaged with the history of contemporary art, because if I was really into it, I'd be holed up in my space, doing weird stuff and not participating in the art world.” The methods of painting are real-world analogies for the transformative secret disciplines of old – “Its not unlike the processes used in alchemy– base materials are being used to create something akin to gold. If you don't get as far as gold, at least you can make something that is beautiful, interesting, and in some way informs or sheds some light on what it means to be human, to be alive, or to exist in a reality (or realities) that is (are) in flux. I think that is the essence of most art, historical or contemporary.” Much of Danilowicz's works effortlessly shifts the aesthetics of Sol Lewitt-style conceptualism into the realm of occult knowledge and symbology. The work is heir to the more metaphysical influences of some of the seminal figures of modern abstraction: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art's 1985 exhibition The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985, reveals that Johannes Itten was a devotee of Mazdaznan, Kandinsky was an apocalyptic theosophist, Mondrian a believer in Anthroposophy.
Nathan Danilowicz, left: Porsei Yagt N, 2013 oil on linen on wood panel, 23 x 21 inches. right: Hisz Cowurlenatd (I), acrylic and silver leaf on wood panel, 2012, 18 x 18 niches.
Nathan Danilowicz | Hisz Dat Cowurlen (Mega), 2012, oil, acrylic, and gold leaf. Photo courtesy of the artist.
As far as Danilowicz's curatorial efforts go, they are inspired more by instinct, than any specific agenda. Soon after moving into the space that would become Latned Atsär, Nathan saw the potential for an exhibition platform that could juxtapose emerging artists with mid-career artists, and those coming from different art world social spheres. His most general guideline is to assert his own curatorial authority in terms of exhibition design, letting the work find a new context in the space, rather than let the artist impose one. Previous shows included the exhibition Drown Me In Pictures, bringing together painters Amir H Fallah, Alexander Kroll, and Christopher Pate, as well as presentations by Danilowicz himself. 2011's Lifting The Curse featured paintings by Nathan of 8-bit sprites of vampire body parts from the Nintendo game Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. This tongue-in-cheek nod to the world of the supernatural and disembodied figuration reveals the kind of distance and psychology of connections prevalent in Nathan's mash-ups of esoteric schools of knowledge.
Installation view of Drown Me In Pictures (Amir H Fallah, Alexander Kroll, and Christopher Pate), 2012, Latned Atsär, Los Angeles, CA. Photo courtesy of Latned Atsär.
Nathan Danilowicz, installation view of Lifting the Curse, 2010, Latned Atsär, Los Angeles, CA. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Nathan Danilowicz | Heart of Vlad, 2010, acrylic on wood panel, 16 x 16 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Events of late at Latned Atsär are on temporary hiatus, however. In addition to all of the above, Nathan, like many working artists, is employed in the art world behind the scenes. When not exploring the secret knowledge of the occult, Danilowicz works full-time for Regen Projects as one of their art work preparators. To many, this is a world of secrets itself – though one that perhaps should see the most light. “I've...become more appreciative of the idea of division of labor in the art world: artists make the stuff, curators contextualize it, shippers move it, preparators hang it, writers reflect upon it, dealers sell it, collectors buy it. That's it. Of course, I talk about division of labor after just talking about how I wear many hats. That kind of undoing, or paradox is an essential part of my art and thought.” Nathan's shifting energies are currently directed towards his own practice and day job with Regen. The public perception of professional artists making a living solely on their practice belies a lifestyle more common among artists in the current economic climate. The security from conventional employment, whether from within the art world or not, allows artists the freedom to produce and curate without dependence on its commercial viability. In addition, professional art world positions are frequently staffed by practicing artists themselves, the workplaces serving as networks for organizing their emerging endeavors, and meeting new artists (I myself first met Nathan when we worked together on the preparator crew at the Hammer Museum here in Los Angeles).
Nathan Danilowicz | ToneyThallcach (II), 2012, acrylic, plastic, oil paint pen on wood panel, 18 x 18 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Nathan Danilowicz | Nodabulms Peyr I, 2012, oil paint and pen on paper, 7 x 7 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Nathan Dannilowicz | Idavltn, 2012, acrylic, oil, and tape on wood panel, 18 x 18 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist.
The alchemy of an invested art practice, grass-roots contemporary curating, and practical world professional experience, whether from the world of art or otherwise, describe the strategies of many of the artists who maintain LA's community of artist-run and alternative spaces and initiatives. A recent piece written by Anton Vidokle for the e-flux Journal expounds upon a critique of the notion of professional full-time artists, and how, among other things, it describes only a fraction of practicing artists today; a fact openly spoken of rarely, or at best, presented as anecdotal information. Danilowicz is perhaps uncovering more than one type of occult knowledge in his work – “occult” is derived from the Latin word for “hidden” or “secret.” In ages past, the mystery of esoteric knowledge dominated much of the discourse of art and its contexts. Nathan's painting and drawing practice, is perhaps finding not just the intersection of occult and modern aesthetics, but a usefully apt metaphor for some of the fading notions of today's cult of contemporary art.
Nathan Danilowicz (b. 1980 Pennsylvania, USA) received an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2007, and a BFA from the Maryland Institute, College of Art in 2002. he has worked in a variety of media to explore ritual, mortality, sci-fi shamanism, fractured psyches, and the liminal space between darkness and understanding. A MacDowell Fellow (2008), he has exhibited nationally and internationally. Solo exhibitions include RAID Projects (2013), and Latned Atsär in Los Angeles (2011), Crisp London/Los Angeles (2008 and 2009/2010), and the H. Lewis Gallery in Baltimore (2004). His numerous group exhibitions include shows the Hammer Museum, Torrance Art Museum, Cal State University’s Luckman Gallery, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, The Santa Monica Museum of Art, Cirrus Gallery, Telic Arts Exchange, Eighth Veil, 533 Gallery, Parendo Blanco, S1F Gallery, Bonelli Contemporary, Wonderloch Kellerland, Chime & Co., Art Platform, and Art LA Contemporary in Los Angeles; Locust Projects and TwentyTwenty Projects in Miami; OK By Gallery and the Zoo Art Fair in London; Max Lust gallery in Vienna, Galerie Françoise E.S.F and Maryland Art Place in Baltimore, The Green Gallery East in Milwaukee; Queen’s Nails Annex at the Waypoint in Marfa, TX; and The Luggage Store gallery in San Francisco. He has written for artUS magazine, and his work has appeared in TimeOut London, Miami New Times, The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore’s City Paper, DIAGRAM, Penny Ante, PRISM Index, The New York Times, and Beautiful Decay.
While at UCLA, Danilowicz studied New Genres under Chris Burden, Jennifer Bolande, Andrea Fraser, Donn Suggs, Lari Pittman, Charles Ray, Mary Kelly, Jeffrey Vallance, and John Baldessari. While at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, he studied art history and theory under T.J. Demos as well as poetry under John Yau. In the past, he has worked as a studio assistant for Jason Rhoades and later for Mike Kelley. More recently, he has collaborated on text/image projects with writer and theorist Lawrence Rickels as well as fiction writer and translator Brian Evenson.
Jason Ramos is an artist, curator, and writer based in Los Angeles. He earned an MFA in painting from Cal State Fullerton in 2007. He is the director of RAID Projects and current assistant curator of the Torrance Art Museum. His art work has been included in numerous exhibitions in Los Angeles and beyond.