Nathan Eugene Carson’s exhibition Long Lost Friends is as much about the ushering in of a new set of kindred spirits as it is about the return of those who were once thought lost. Turning his focus solely to portraiture, all of the works are on paper are similarly sized and framed in black wood. Figures emerge from coloured grounds like long-obscured icons attaining legibility through layers of colour and poured paint. Carson works intuitively and quickly. Many of these works were made in a short burst of productivity, effectively ending a pandemic period in which he stated, works “…trickled out like a faucet.” All bear the physical markers of change through vivid actions of scraping, drawing and collage.
Collage aesthetics have been a central component in much of Carson’s work; his aunt is an artist and her use of collage directly inspired him. He works on the floor of his apartment, using accessible materials like found paper and inexpensive paint. He often smokes while he works and considers his process meditative. Collage has been an important visual device in Carson’s previous exhibitions. Take his Black Carnival Audience (2015 – ongoing) for example. A wall of sundry faces engage directly with the viewer, reversing the role of audience and spectator in a group that is often viewed with a dismissive gaze. Or his Negro (2015) series, where the historical and contemporary struggles of Black people are presented in close proximity with the executors of their pain. Yet, the subjects of Long Lost Friends are perhaps more attuned to colour than a defining sense of subject matter.
For Carson, the figures in his paintings are “special souls” that communicate a meaning of their own. Aspects of their personality emerge in subtle, distinguishing decisions involving mark and colour. In He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, a flavour of longing is confirmed by the figure’s glowing pupils and the white flowers of their shirt. Carson describes the emergence of these characters as something alchemical, or magical. If there is magic in these works, it’s in Carson’s ever-blossoming use of colour. “Each soul is a recipe, and the colours are the ingredients”, he conﬁrms. The paintings are blue and rose, hinting at Picasso’s early periods. They are the strawberry, banana, and blueberry of Super Kid ice cream, and they are the shimmering white, golden glow and violet lips of the work Purple Lips Susan.
In bringing his work to Calgary for the first time, Carson considered what people would need in this fragile moment. Love is a guiding force for Carson; he considered naming the show Love Will Work It Out, after a song by the group Durand Jones & The Indications. Instead, he opted for Long Lost Friends and a hope for new, and renewed connections.
-Accompanying text by Halifax-based artist Preston Pavlis
Nathan Eugene Carson (b. 1980) holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Ontario College of Art and Design. His drawings and paintings have been featured in several solo and group exhibitions across Ontario including presentations at Verso Gallery (2013) and The Drake Hotel (2014) in Toronto; Free Fall (2016) and Worked Over (2017) both at Oswald Gallery, Hamilton; 100 Paintings (2019) at The Carnegie Gallery, Dundas; and Pansies (2021) at Paul Elia Gallery, Hamilton to name a select few. Carson’s recent travelling solo-exhibition, Cut From The Same Cloth (2020-2021), was presented at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery and the Meridian Arts Centre, Toronto. He is currently the RBC Artist-In-Residence at the Art Gallery of Hamilton where he is completing a yearlong exhibition titled Black Carnival (2023).