Art & Design

Catching up with Artists Nate Lowman and Adam McEwen

Art & Design

Catching up with Artists Nate Lowman and Adam McEwen


It was utter hell tracking Nate Lowman and Adam McEwen down. But when we did, it was worth it. Lowman wore pajamas. McEwen was less casual. They talked about water coolers and broken coffee cups. They made us wonder if art can ever hold the world.

ADAM MCEWEN: The only thing I can think of in terms of what we do is whether or not you can put everything in your art. How much of the world can you include in your art? Can you only include a slice? I quite often wonder while walking down the street, What of this that I’m looking at is usable, is relevant? Because it’s all relevant. Every little bit is relevant as you walk down the street, but only some of it is interesting.

NATE LOWMAN: You’re constantly pacing back and forth and doing things, whether or not it’s completely about your routine. You’re walking the same streets fairly often and doing the things you do, and sometimes I think the moment you’re looking for or waiting for is [the moment when] things occur. It’s something you’ve probably looked at a hundred times, and then you say, “Oh, I’ve got to paint that thing,” because it’s something that’s relevant to an idea that you’ve been having about life or love or something. It just occurs at that moment, because it comes from a reoccurring experience.

I’m not quite clear as to why some things become important momentarily and other things don’t, but you definitely know when it happens. Ideally, everything is important, because everything is kind of equal. And ideally, you’d be able to include the whole world in what you make, except you wouldn’t be able to fit it in.

I always thought that the most important part about somebody like Gerhard Richter is that it was the idea. A bird, a cloud, the World Trade Center falling down, could all collapse and become images, or become inclusive. Not into a system of logic, but a type of thinking. Whether or not they still retain what they are, their integrity, because they are what they are… When you add them all together, that’s how you get it all in.

That is the key, isn’t it? If you have a type of thinking that you lay as a grid over the world, then suddenly, you can make these apparent statements within the grid that seem to make little points of sense.

And then when it gets good is when you begin to include something that throws the meaning of the whole thing into question every time.

I guess that’s what one is constantly waiting for—those moments when something reveals itself to apparently be symbolic or dense. Then you can set a pack load of stuff into it. But it’s not clear why they… If you knew how to do it all the time, you could just do it all the time.

But it’s unrealistic. It only comes out of not being afraid to do something that throws everything into question. You can’t just do it—there’s not a formula for it, because then you’d just be doing something boring. You’d be doing something with predictable results, which is less interesting. Well, nothing is really interesting to everyone. I don’t think anybody can think in terms of “the world,” because nobody understands the world. And you can’t inhabit the world, per se. You can inhabit a part of it, but it’s too big, it’s too vast. So it’s not about creating meaning to the world because everything has meaning to the world, but it’s not necessarily interesting. It’s that you want it to be interesting. You do it because it’s interesting, and hopefully, it’s also interesting to somebody else. Or it’s interesting to itself. It reveals something about itself.

Ideally, the things I love are things that apparently refer to everything. I don’t know, like a video of a guy playing pedal steel guitar, or a corridor, or a polka. A random profile of a face. For some reason, at that moment it seems like they managed to pack everything in or refer to everything somehow with this. I think the moments I get really excited by one thing are when that thing seems to do that. Suddenly I’m like, “A water cooler is really a big idea for me this week,” and I don’t really know why, and I’ve known water coolers for like 30 years. I’ve been aware of a water cooler. Maybe unconsciously, all that time, they did do something to me in a funny way. They bubbled along doing their weird thing, and then one day, for some reason, they’d become bigger in my head. It’s like they encourage me to select them.

Well, there’s something about the economy of the object, even visually. And the lesser it is, the more access everyone has to it. I have the same relationship to smashed coffee cups.

Yeah. But I find the difficult thing is the thing that you can almost train yourself to do—try and be aware of those moments. It’s like you have to be tuned to them; otherwise, they just drift by. So you’re constantly trying to tune yourself in to… that possibility. And then, once a year, a new one—or two, rarely— drops in, and you’re like, “Hurray!” It’s not about [an object] being broken, or cheap—

Or damaged, or neglected, or anything.

I think it’s about familiarity or about democracy, in some sense.

I have this reoccurring thought that isn’t true, probably, but it got stuck in my head sometime in the last five years, that all good paintings go completely against architecture because they situate themselves into a room. They have to go into a room because otherwise, they’d be destroyed by the elements. Then, they completely fuck up the idea of the over-sophisticated construction. I’m sure that that notion isn’t true, but otherwise, they would be decorative instead of radical. The painting itself is far more simple and impoverished than the designed structure it inhabits.

Otherwise they’re décor, they’re slaves to the room. But the thing you want is the sense of anxiety or something. The moment of surprise. Maybe anxiety, maybe freedom—whatever it is that trips you up and opens a doorway. You make the viewer fall through a doorway, and in that split second, you’ve made something for the viewer that’s the best. If I get excited about an idea, it’s because I think maybe I’ve found a door and it’s going to be open for like five seconds, and then I try to use it, and then it’s back to this slog of looking for another door. The things that I look for in art I love are other people’s doors. Maybe sometimes they’ve left them ajar, and there’s a crack, and you can also get somewhere else—through the door… into the cosmos.