Artist’s Statement

Nathan Wagonernathanwagonerwww.

Mechant Loup, oil on panel, 17″ X 18″, 2018



Good painting does no work. Painting will right no wrongs, save no species, reveal no universal truth – no matter how much we might wish it would. It will not lead us to a better world. Painting is older than all of that and it has other concerns. 

But it still might look good over the couch.

I paint from my experience of the world. That is to say, I paint from the random chaotic collisions of experience, memory, association, and imagination which make up our internal lives. Painting itself doesn’t do much to clarify anything, but it lets me have fun with the wreckage.

I have always been fascinated by iconic images: symbols, Tarot and Loteria cards, cave paintings, illustrations from children’s encyclopedias, rebuses and pictographs, pictorial elements that ‘read’ at a glance, punch above their weight yet remain, in the end, ambiguous. 

What does a hand on a rock wall ‘mean’? I only know what it means to me. A pictograph of a knife might mean one thing to a carver, something else to a cook, one thing to a mother in Kampala and something very different to a farmer in Cambodia. What is a ladder? What’s with the dog? Images like this insist that they ‘mean’ something – and they do – but not the same thing to all of us and not the same thing at the same time.

In my experience there is no such thing as ‘evolution’ or ‘progression’. I’ve been circling the same preoccupations all my life. Approaching a motif with a different style or media is like choosing to construct a doghouse with either a hammer OR a saw – one must then make different choices. I am not interested in pictorial or formal strategies as ends in themselves. I am only interested in what I can do with them.

For me a picture works when it suddenly becomes more than the sum of its parts, when it becomes a mystery even to me. That’s what I work for.

Thanks for looking.


“You see, I look at my paintings, speculate about them. They baffle me, too. That’s all I’m painting for.” – Philip Guston