This is an iconoclastic and disturbing pot; the most visceral in the collection.
The clay used for bowl 2015-02 is slightly micaceous. This bowl is thick and roughly-formed, as is particularly evident when examining the exterior of the bowl. The bottom is creased and indented, perhaps by Nathan’s fingers. About 2 inches of the exterior near the rim are incised, but this work is much cruder than an incised canteen by Nathan that is also part of this collection (2013-09). The junction between the lower edge of the incised band and the rest of the bowl is particularly rough, unfinished and uneven. The interior of the bowl is smoothly finished and apparently unslipped.
The only decoration on the interior is a frontal view of a gaunt nude man. Male sexual images are almost unheard of on pueblo pottery, the major exceptions being the work of Nathan and his friend Cochiti potter Diego Rivera. On bowl 2015-02 the man’s arms and feet extend beyond beyond the rim of the bow and thus are cut off. That he is Native American is clear from the feather braded into his hair over his forehead.
We know that when Nathan was about 14 years old he could make extraordinarily thin and well-formed pots with beautifully rendered designs. (See jar 2013-01 in this collection.) As a potter he was a brilliant iconoclast, consistently experimenting with new techniques and forms before his death at age 51. (See the Artist List for other pots by Nathan’s in this collection.)
What are we to make of the crude form and mutilated nude imagery on bowl 2015-02 from a man who was capable of refined perfection?
Nathan was known for trying new and innovative techniques throughout his career.
Perhaps we are simply looking at such innovation.
A sadder possibility presents itself, however.
We know that Nathan was conflicted, addicted and very sick during the last five years of his life
and made little pottery during this time.. (See his detailed biography in the catalog description for 2013-01.) According to Nathan’s inscription on the bottom, bowl 2015-02 was fired on 9-5-06, less than four years and four months before he died. It was a time when his life was unraveling.
Given Nathan’s artistic brilliance, I can only conclude that the rough form and motif of bowl 2015-02 are intentional. I never met Nathan and I am not a psychiatrist, but the story of his life are so dramatic that I speculate that bowl 2015-02 is an external representation of Nathan’s troubled sense of self during his last years. Strung up like a side of beef and lacking feet and hands (the potter’s tools), the image reminds me of dead bodies on a battlefield. I wish Nathan’s spirit peace.
Robert Nichols knew Nathan well; he was the first living artist represented by Robert’s gallery. Nathan fought addictions and was conflicted about his homosexuality, Robert told me during a telephone conversation. “Until the very end he could do the fine, delicate work,” Robert said on 4/8/15, “but when (Nathan) was angry he produced work that was irregular, cruder and less-controlled, like your pot.”