Nathan Cordero

Posted on July 4, 2011 – 3:31 PM | by Admin
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By Tim Foster

Artist Nathan Cordero is looking around his workspace. He has saved piles of wood scraps, dented paint cans, old tennis rackets, crutches, leaves, sawdust and hundreds of used razor blades. To many, this would be detritus; for Cordero it’s inspiration. 

He’ll need it. This month, the 36 year old artist opens his solo show, Are You Destined to Become Your Mother? at UC Davis’ Nelson Gallery.  At the moment he’s not quite sure if the show will consist of 500 pieces – or 5000.

“It’s easy to have an idea –  as soon as I have the material I know what I’m going to do with it,” he says.   That confidence of concept is clear in Cordero’s work. There is no evident hesitation, no second guessing.  Whether inscribing delicate line illustrations into painted surfaces, turning nondescript found photos into portraits of ninjas or carving waves of text into slabs of discarded wood, Cordero’s vision is rock-solid.

Cordero never went to art school.  Born in Woodland and raised in the small rural town of Yolo, art was not a big part of his life growing up.  He credits visits with his late Uncle Danny, a graphic designer in San Francisco, for spurring a deeper interest in art.  Still, it was an influence closer to home that more directly shaped his future when artist Troy Dalton moved his studio to Yolo.

Dalton, who died last year, was already a successful artist when he moved into Yolo’s old Town Hall.  Cordero says he just “started hanging around” Dalton’s studio, and soon landed a position as Dalton’s studio assistant.  He worked for Dalton for two years, a time Cordero describes as an essential part of his development as an artist. Dalton also introduced Cordero to the regional art scene – and advised him on how to navigate it.

Cordero began showing his art in 1997-98, and though his early work came out of the street art and stencil scene, he appears to have had little difficulty making the transition to gallery artist.  When he moved to Sacramento, he began to show locally at Tina Reynolds’ Uptown Studios and at alternative art spaces like Sellout Buyout.  By 2004 his work contained many of the elements familiar in his work today:  excised wood drawings of cigarettes, carved text works and assemblages of leaves.

Cordero was then working as a custodian for the Crocker Art Museum.  Surrounded by hundreds of works of art, Cordero looked instead at the leaves on the ground.  “They looked dried out, but they were flexible,” he says.  “I started to think, ‘I could do something with these.’” Cordero began collecting the fallen leaves each day and soon had boxes of them to work with.  Inspired by his earlier stencil work he began cutting block letters into the center of each leaf. Soon he was pinning the leaves on blank walls, arranging them to form phrases taken from comments he heard thoughout the day.

When Chris Daubert offered Cordero his first-ever solo show at Sac City’s Kondos Gallery, the leaf work made up most of the show.  Though Cordero had created the leaf pieces as separate phrases, he decided to install them randomly, creating a huge installation of text with no prearranged order.

Since then, Cordero has continued to move toward installation.  Though most of his pieces function as distinct works, they are designed to work within a larger whole.  The integration of the work seems natural, especially given how often Cordero uses the scraps from one piece to start the next.  Cordero recycles nearly everything – recent experiments involved making patterns with glued sawdust and framing his old cigarette ashes under glass, ant farm style.

Cordero’s plans for the Nelson show are nothing if not ambitious. He has hundreds of finished pieces hung on a long wall at his studio.  Curator Renny Pritikin recently sent Cordero a note: “Nathan let’s forget about hanging 500 lbs from the ceiling ok?”

Cordero lifted the title of the show from the cover of Real Simple magazine.  “It’s a catchall title,” he says.  “There’s an issue of Vogue from the sixties that has the same headline.”  The title is more than a little bittersweet – Cordero’s own mother died unexpectedly in December.  Nelson show aside, this has been a tough year for Cordero.  He lost his mother, his dog died, he got hit by a car, he lost his job, and he is in the middle of a divorce from his childhood sweetheart. Amazingly, he is optimistic.

Cordero’s gift is that he can find inspiration in almost anything – he visualizes the possibilities inherent in the simplest materials – and then simply reveals what he has seen to the rest of us.  Whether working with scrap wood, leaves, old photographs or cigarette ashes, he transforms the humblest everyday materials into poignant and often elegant art.

Are You Destined to Become Your Mother? Runs July 8 – August 20 at the Nelson Gallery at UC Davis.  There will be a reception for the artist on July 14, 5:30-7:30pm

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  1. 4 Responses to “Nathan Cordero”

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    By Carmela Perez-Garcia on Jul 6, 2011 | Reply

    Nathan I remember you from Maxwell Elem. Excited for you and your art career. Keep up with what your heart calls you to do. You’re an inspiration. I would love to take my girls to your art show as they too have shown an interest in art.

  3. avatar

    By Sonia Santos on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    Hello Nathan, this is Sonia Santos, Vince has been following you since you left Sacramento and would love to go to any of your art shows. He is very inspired by you choosing to do exactly what you want and how you express it.

    Take care and best wishes always.

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