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September 14, 2004

{     Interview : Nate Williams     }    

Nate Williams is an artist whom possesses a style so unique that after having seen his work once, you will instantly recognize it from then on, no silly signature required. It's a style that comes from roots and honesty, from living a rich life and possessing a perspective that most of us do not allow ourselves to have.

The ideas behind Nate's work are both simple and complex, and really of no matter. You see, he bases his work around 3 things, input, output, and reflection, meaning that his art is a direct result of his experiences in life, how they affect him and his surroundings, and then how he can trace those results back to the source. When speaking of his now out-of-print book titled "Hola Amiga", he explained his process as: "In life a lot of the time you have an idea and then you execute it. With Hola Amiga I do the opposite... I execute it and then sometimes successfully track down the idea." Beautiful.

Nate is currently residing in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, and had this to say...

Shane: Your work has such a unique style, instantly recognizable, with a very authentic and honest notion to each piece. It almost feels like an art passed down to you through your roots rather than learned. Gifted rather then cultivated. Is there any truth in that? Do you have a very artistic family?
Nate: Thanks! I think I would attribute my style to two things, my family and my learning disability as a kid.

My family is more creative than artistic. There are a few artists in the family, but everyone seems to be creative in their own way. I think the real gift they instilled in me was an approach to life. An appreciation for people, art, language, other cultures, nature and just basically just facilitating my curiosity in general.

My mother was incredibly unconventional and taught me that there are many ways to go about solving a problem, or many ways to go about NOT solving a problem, regardless she had no reservations about taking an alternative route. Sometimes I would feel like I was living in Pee-Wee's Playhouse, she would hang maps upside-down to make the point there is no upside-down or right-side up in outer space. She would use the coffeemaker to cook her oatmeal because she could put the oatmeal in the coffee pot the night before, fill the coffeemaker with water, set the timer and in the morning she would have her oatmeal waiting for her. My friends and I would be waiting for her to pick us up at the Bencia Skateboard Park and she would arrive with a car load of elderly people that she decided to take on an impromptu field trip. There are many examples, but that should give you an idea of the environment I was raised in.

I had a learning disability while growing up. My eyes could not read a sentence without jumping all over the page, no text I read was comprehensible. By the time this was discovered and corrected I had already developed other methods and habits of getting and making sense out of information. I think because of that learning disability I learn better thru trial and error, experiences and developing my own conclusions than in structured environments or thru other peoples systems of logic. So what does this gibberish have to do with my art? I think that my art has a curious, spontaneous nature to it. When I make art I am exploring. I am persistently asking myself, "What happens if I do this? Why did I do that? What's the relationship between these two objects?" etc...

And what would be the people or things that you credit most for your inspiration these days?
Inspiration is a funny thing. Most of my inspiration manifests on its own, rarely do I read a book on a famous person and think, "Wow, they are inspirational... I think I will make a portrait of them." My inspiration works more indirectly. What I like to do is fill my subconscious with a ton of stimuli and then somewhere down the road it reappears, and I might consciously recognize the source/inspiration the image was derived from.

Currently, I am living in the jungle on the south Caribbean side of Costa Rica near Panama. Nature is a huge source of inspiration. I can not believe how amazing insects, plants and animals are. They are like little time tested inventions, where everything on their body serves a purpose.
I am also reading a lot about Central and South American history and still trying to learn Spanish. Remembering the great people I met while living in Argentina.

Apart from being amazing artists, Jordin Isip, Kristin Ulve, David Kinsey, and Robynne Raye from Modern Dog have been great mentors and have given me lots of advice and confidence in pursuing a career as an artist/illustrator.

Assuming that you collect art yourself, what are some of your favorite pieces that you own, and what are a few that you wish you could own?
I don't have any art, or really much of anything for that matter. I pretty much gave away all my belongings when I decided to become nomadic. I like being able to fit all my possessions into a suitcase. But when I do decide to put down some roots I would love to collect signage from South and Central America. I love the art from untrained artists or children best, the art of the storekeeper who needs a sign so he paints a sketchy rendition of a dog next to a house on a rusted piece of sheet metal. But the best part is he unintentionally painted the dog bigger than the house.
There is a rusted metal shack in Limon, Costa Rica that has the most amazing mural. There are images of Caribbean plants and animals on a turquoise background. It's completely abandoned and unappreciated, its beautiful. Every time I go to Limon, I make a point to walk by it. But really, I would just like to collect artifacts that jar my memory of experiences I had, regardless if its art or not.

Care to talk about your artistic process? How exactly do you go about creating your work?
It's a process where I am constantly creating modular elements for a growing library of assets (including paintings, drawings with ballpoint pens, sharpies, and Indian ink, photocopies, homemade stamps) Then I use those assets to create compositions in the computer. So it is quite difficult to say "this is the original" when it is a metamorphosis art project that is done with reused samples. I compare it a bit to DJ-ing: my assets are the records and the computer composes the overall sound/music.

Here is an example "no original" I created the images in ink, scanned and printed it out on the computer. I polyurethane the images to wooden sculptures. From here, I could go to the next stage which could be lighting it on fire and taking a picture of it. Then the artwork is remembered through a photograph, which is now the new art piece. That's what I mean by "no original," it is in constant development.

Now that I am living in the jungle you are bound to see some textures from some cool plant leaves or insect bodies.

I like my art to be produced via silkscreen or old printing presses - there is more chance for error and I find perfection in imperfection.

With a style such as yours, it's hard to tell whether your work is planned, completely free-styled, or right in the middle. How much do you plan before beginning something new?
Good question. When I do an illustration for a client it's more planed for practical reasons. For one, I need to communicate something specific and two I need to have a process that allows the client to have visibility and input to the outcome of the final image.

When I am creating art for art sake, I don't adhere to those guidelines and I work pretty freely, free form legibility or logic. Embrace chaos... I don't like having an idea and then executing it. I like the idea to develop in the process and I like to explore and realize things while I am making art. Like recognizing faces in the clouds. Otherwise it feels like I am just painting by number.

After spending some time browsing the photos on your site, it's obvious that you love being behind a camera. Do you also enjoy working in other mediums such as sculpture or painting?
Yes, I love sculpture or building things. Intermedia Sculpture was my emphasis in college and I was constantly welding and making things out of wood, but its hard to carry an anvil around South America, so I am limited to painting, drawing, computers, photography and music. Which really aren't all that limiting!

Care to tell us about your work while in the US and your reason for leaving it?
Sure. I worked in the web industry for about 9 years. First I was working at an advertising agency in Salt Lake City, Utah, Dahlin Smith White, as a web designer, working on accounts for Intel, Netscape, Iomega, Cape Athletic, etc. Then I moved to Seattle and was hired by Microsoft Games. I spent the last 7 years working there as a web designer and art director. Many people would love to trash Microsoft but it was a great company to work for. I worked with some really great people that taught me a ton, it facilitated my education by paying for classes I wanted to attend and in general was a very progressive, enjoyable environment.

However, after 7 years I was ready for a change. My life was out of balance. I was working a ton and supposed to be happy from this 'success', however I felt like crap. Why does success feel so crappy? Maybe, because its not success. I took inventory and thought about what made me happy. It was very simple things like throwing a stick to my dog, having the free time to wander around the city and notice things, spending time with family and friends, etc. So I asked myself "why am I investing so much time in the things that don't mean that much to me when the things I enjoy are free and easily attainable?" At that point I decided to make a change in my life and invest in the less tangible things like learning a language, living in other countries, learning about history and nature, and most of all, just having the free time to think, wonder and discover. People thought I was crazy cause I was giving up all these material things, but really they were just anchors and prevented me from living more freely.

Now that you are living and traveling in South America, I must ask how you went about just up and going there. Did you have a plan? How did you get on your feet in a new country?
First step is not to believe the media or the Bush administration. They would like you to believe the world is a really scary place and people should just stay where they are and they will protect us from this "enemy" while violating our civil rights. They say they are just doing it for our protection. I am constantly traveling, and see a beautiful world, with so many interesting things and friendly people, and our country, that apparently was built on dreams and possibilities, now has an administration that makes people fearful and less likely to take risks to fulfill their dreams. Don't get me wrong, I love the U.S. and being outside of the country has only reinforced more, but all the fear pushing is terrible... THE WORLD IS awesome and could never entirely be appreciated in a 100 life times.

Okay, I will get off my soap box, ha ha...
I by no means am a conspiracy theorist...

1. I am too lazy to do all that research.

2. I don't really pay to much attention to current politics. I am glad there are people that do, but I am more interested in learning about things that have been here for millions of years like clouds, volcanoes, insects, etc.
3. I think there are many other things to invest my time in, like surfing, making art, eating good food, etc.

The first country I moved to was Argentina. I enrolled in a language school and stayed with a host family. I was under their wing, and eventually I met friends and developed a social network. I was really fortunate, my host family was incredibly friendly and supportive, they helped me get my own apartment in Buenos Aires.

Somewhere along the way I acquired an amazing, beautiful, fun Argentine girlfriend J and we moved to Costa Rica together. There is not much to living in Costa Rican surf towns, especially with a native Spanish speaker.

May I ask what countries you have visited thus far, and where you would love to soon or someday go?
I have been to Australia, Fiji, Canada, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Spain and now am living in Costa Rica. I really would like to live in every country in South and Central America for a least a little while, but in the near future I would l like to live in Brazil or Panama and maybe visit Vietnam, India, and Italy.

Do you collect anything in your travels? If so, what and why?
No, just pictures and memories. I just like having something to jar my memory.

Care to talk about what you have in store for us? What exactly is Wonder Beast?
Wonder Beast is a silkscreen book that I am collaborating on with Ana and Meeloo from Bongout (Berlin, Germany). I am illustrating it and they silkscreen it. I started off making mythical creatures, hence the name Wonder Beast, but I should have known my attention span would only last about 5 pages. Now it's pretty much just a silk screen book of random art influenced by living in South and Central America. ( link )

Do you plan to continue creating issues of Hola Amiga or is it shelved indefinitely?
Its shelved for right now. I did it for fun, and it is no longer fun, so I no longer do it. Lately I have been more into collaborating with people than publishing things on my own. It's like we, the artists, are the ingredients and we bake something neither of us could have come up with independently.

Lastly, why don't you jot down a Nate Williams Top Twelve list? Anything you want, this is your dozen...
Hum, last 12 subjects I looked up
1. Hurricanes
2. Tidal waves
3. History of the calendar
4. Ants
5. Humidity
6. Frogs
7. Toussaint Louverture
8. black holes
9. the most popular languages
10. Costa Rican country's statistics
11. Countries that outlawed the death penalty
12. Hip Hop in Cuba

    » See more from Nate Williams at

    » See more from Nate Williams at Illustration Mundo!


Mr. Williams is one of my favorite artists out there. Such a unique perspective on life. I truly believe he is someone to watch out for.

Posted by: farmerbob at November 25, 2004 5:24 AM

nate is my favourite artist and cool !!! the best.

Posted by: mariano argentina at March 22, 2006 6:44 PM




Posted by: Edgar Gomez at March 24, 2006 9:13 AM
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