Body of knowledge
This story was featured in the November 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art November 2012 print edition here, or purchase the Southwest Art November 2012 digital download here. Or simply subscribe to Southwest Art magazine and never miss a story!
There aren’t a lot of artists who can say they know human anatomy intimately, both inside and out. But Nathaniel Skousen is one of them. While Skousen was studying art at Southern Utah University, he took a number of anatomy classes and spent countless hours dissecting and drawing cadavers. “Dissecting cadavers taught me where and why certain areas of the face favor yellow, red, blue, or green color schemes,” he says. “I learned where the blood/skin barrier is the thinnest, so it is natural to use more red colors, especially around the eyelids, for example. Dissecting the paper-thin skin around the eyelids, lips, and nose is tedious, but it teaches you why it is red.”
Whether he is creating figurative works or still lifes, the Washington-based painter strives to convey emotion through illumination on form. By controlling how warm or cool light falls on his subject, he can evoke emotions in the viewer. While he lets such rules guide his efforts, he is also fond of experimenting and breaking the rules. One night, after having an artistic block and searching for a fresh idea, he decided to paint a still life by candlelight. He donned a hiking headlamp for illumination. These days it’s common for him to create still lifes lit by lanterns and oil lamps. “It’s quite amazing what I can produce as far as an emotion is concerned with a minimal amount of light,” he says.
In a recent painting titled PERRY, he decided to set a self-imposed three-hour time limit to complete the work from life. The reason: to force spontaneity. “I would paint the weather-worn and time-tested face while the model sat ever so still. When he took cigarette breaks, I would lather gobs of paint in the background with my palette knife,” Skousen says.
The artist says that if a viewer looks at one of his works and feels an emotion, or it stirs up a memory, then he has accomplished everything he set out to do when he started a painting. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Featured in the November 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art magazine November 2012 digital download
Southwest Art magazine November 2012 print edition
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