Smile Politely

WorkSpace: Nathan Westerman

Welcome back to WorkSpace, a series featuring an inside look at the places where local artists and creatives roll up their sleeves and take care of business. Today, we are going to see the work of Nathan Westerman.

In 2004 he came to C-U to make an MFA in Sculpture at the University of Illinois. His work includes painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation. 

Westerman says, “I’ve worked in museums, cultural centers, displaying retail, and currently, as a teacher’s aide in the industrial tech shops of Central High School. I also play drums; most recently with the now-defunct local band Evil Tents. I recently became a father, which is probably the best thing I’ve made to date.”

Smile Politely: When and how did you decide to become an artist?

Nathan Westerman: I can remember drawing Powell Peralta imagery on the back of church programs as an 8-year-old. I also remember thinking sometime in junior high that I would become an artist and design either skateboards or album covers, or become a tattoo artist; that was what I thought an artist did. In 9th grade my art teacher forewarned that I would hurt my hands playing football and ruin my art career. Come 10th grade I popped my finger out of joint going out for a pass. After that season I quit and gave all my energy to making art.

SP: What or who are your influences?

Westerman: I’m influenced by the aesthetic of museums. Sex. Kissing. Music. Drinking wine. Conversations with my wife. Home improvement in general and exterior materials like roofing and vinyl specifically. I love when materials such as wallpaper and paint become layered over time. I love plywood.

Artist’s that come to mind include Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Tom Sachs, Clyfford Still, Bruce Nauman, Frank Stella, Roxy Paine, Theaster Gates, Mark Rothko, Tony Oursler, Josef Albers, Barnett Newman.

SP: Who would you like to collaborate with and why?

Westerman: I collaborate with my wife. Not only in terms of domestic responsibilities but also on artwork. She keeps me functioning. I want to make things with her until I die.

SP: Tell us about your workspace
I work out of my home. I’ve been working here since 2004 when I bought the house and will be here indefinitely. Working here feels convenient, and all my tools are in the same place. My two-car garage functions as a woodshop. My basement functions both as a clean space for making art and as a music practice space when needed. At times the whole house has functioned as a studio; I’ve used folding tables to sprawl into every room. Now with a small child in the mix, I’m altering this practice.

Being able to walk from one conceptual space to another—fluctuating from father/husband to artist in a few steps—is convenient but at the same time it makes me very aware of my responsibilities. The proximity allows me to check in frequently, which is a privilege, but even a welcome distraction is a distraction.

SP: Choose a piece of your art work and explain it in detail

Westman: I’ve been making a series I call Slat Paintings since 2013. The first round had awkward color palettes. Then I did a series with what I’d call more popular/Lego colors. Most recently the palettes are subdued. The painting and the craftsmanship have become more refined as well.  This series began in conversation with my work as a display artist at Urban Outfitters. I was looking for a way to reuse the materials that I was seeing regularly fill the dumpster behind the store. I’d made striped paintings in the past so I started playing with the reclaimed materials to produce color fields, patterns, and striped, hard-edged paintings.

I’m interested in how something new replaces something old and in the way those seams meet. In a similar way to new siding on an old home or new shingles on an old roof, for example. I chose the circular format because I could take them from odd-shaped scrap materials but also to reference tondo artworks of the Renaissance and beyond. I think of the final paintings as similar to the visual composition of language, repetition of music, and the rhythms of machines.

SP: What movie would you recommend to watch and why?
I recommend the movie Begotten; I have it on VHS. The entire soundtrack is crickets chirping and it creeps me out. You can watch a trailer of it here.

SP: What is your favorite spot in C-U?

Westman: Currently, two of my favorite spaces are my baby’s room and Westside Park at 7:30 a.m. The first lacks clutter, unlike everywhere else in my house, and the other I walk through just before arriving at work. Both help me clear my mind.
Historically, I like the Esquire and Mike and Molly’s, but the latter is now just a memory.

SP: What do you think about the art scene in C-U?
I appreciate the opportunity available in a small city such as ours. I would like to see the community and university art scenes mesh more. It would be great to see more platforms (such as WorkSpace!) that bridge that gap.

SP: Where, when and how can we see your work?

Westman: I’ll be showing at the Evanston Art Expo from Thanksgiving to Christmas. You can also see my work at The UPTV6 Art Now program featured me for the month of October. You can see that here. Otherwise, I am working on another round of Slat Paintings and some new sculptural work that I plan to exhibit in 2017.

About the author: Jimena Oliver

Jimena is a photographer at Smile Politely. Find more of her work and photographs online:

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