Through surreal, acrylic artworks and sculptures rendering his paintings’ imagery in three dimensions, local artist and Westmont College assistant professor of art Nathan Huff is telling “The Stories We Tell Ourselves.”
The solo art exhibition at Sullivan Goss Gallery will center on “dreamscapes” and “create visual conversations,” as described in a press release, by colliding objects such as boats, pillows, draping fabric, wooden floors and furniture.
During a conversation with the artist on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Huff said this melding together of two clearly understood objects creates something of a “visual poem.”
These objects come together in a whimsical manner, but “gain complexity against ruptures in nature or sublime transience.”
Examples of Mr. Huff placing regular objects in stark contrast with nature include his piece “Mertilocrest Moment,” depicting a potted cactus with a fabric sheet arching beneath it, set against a background of a starlit sky. “Substrates and Schisms” depicts a rectangular, wooden floor standing against a starlit sky and oblong moon, with the shape of a rowboat cut out of it, and a light tracing in the shape of an oak tree laid over the entire image.
From these visual juxtapositions, Mr. Huff hopes those who stop by to see his art have an emotional response and tease out something of a narrative, even if it’s not a clearly delineated one.
“I don’t look for a direct narrative, but I look for the emotional resonance of a situation,” he said.
The artist added that he hopes his compositions contain “layers of melancholy,” which is one of the emotions those who view his paintings tend to walk away with. In addition to pathos, Mr. Huff said that those who see his work also detect humor, a combination that he said produces a “tension” he greatly enjoys.
“They smile at the absurdity of it and also comprehend a level of pathos and melancholy,” he said.
Whereas many of his earlier paintings were visually dense and complicated, at points confusing, with his style of the past few years Mr. Huff lends objects in his compositions some breathing room.
“In this body of work I’m attempting to give the objects more room to speak,” he said.
That entails utilizing a great deal of white space to create a void for his objects to sit in, a style that is also apparent in some of the paintings Mr. Huff showed in a group exhibition at Sullivan Goss last year called “Mentors and Makers: The Artists of Westmont college.”
Iconography in “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” recurring from his previous showing at the gallery include wooden boats, which he sees as a “metaphor for a personal journey,” and trees, representing the passage of time.
“I think of how many seasons they’ve weathered and what caused them to twist in the way that they do,” he said of the latter.
In addition to almost three dozen acrylic paintings, “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” will feature around six sculptures that will feature wooden boats and ladders, objects that frequently appear in his paintings. “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” runs from today to Sept. 24. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Sullivan Goss is located at 11 E Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.