Nate Frizzell: The Wild Unknown

“They’re animals, all right. But why are you so goddam sure that makes us human beings?”- Stephen King

Nate Frizzell’s hyperreal, figurative works remind me that there’s a special kind of magic that only painting can achieve. Nihilistic anthems like “Death of the Novel” or “The End of Painting” hysterically try to dismiss traditional disciplines into an apocalyptic cultural wasteland. To me, artists like Nate Frizzell point to a medium that is very much alive and kicking. There’s something about rendering a world through individual gestures and strokes that seems to carry a life of its own. There’s a grittiness and an integrity to each piece that adds a much needed level of honesty to the visual landscape. Frizzell’s work has an urgency to it. A sensuality. I want to run my fingers through the polar bear’s fur. I want to be friends with his subjects because their sincerity makes me smile. I want to have a cherry cola with this artist because if he sees a world like this, I know he’ll have something beautiful to say.

While his wild imaginings play out in ice-capped narratives or a velvet black abyss we see hints of the mind behind them. Graffiti and the artist’s real world context quietly bubbles up to the surface. Growing up in California, Frizzell graduated from the Otis College of Art and Design in LA. Running the gauntlet of illustration, graphic design, acrylics and now oil painting, we see an artist play out these central themes of identity and self-discovery in his work.  The animals represent either something the subject is trying to emulate or something they’re hoping to overcome. There’s that youthful energy of getting your hands dirty and trying something on for size. That wild unknown of adolescence that leaves us feeling a little fragile and raw. Before adulthood firmly lays its claim and staples the mask to your forehead there’s still room for the openness of experimentation.

” The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask.”- Jim Morrison

What I love most about his work is that I’m not quite certain whether his subjects have fully realized their true nature. Their stories aren’t wrapped up and tied with a bow. For some there’s a quiet confidence, for others there’s an awkwardness that clues us to an ill fit. I’m not sure whether they’re in the process of putting a mask on or taking it off.  Some attempt to tame while others ruefully play.  It’s these subtleties and question marks that seem to give the work it’s beating heart. Grey areas after all, are often the stomping grounds of truth.  Almost mirroring the very media they’re created in, the process of self-discovery seems to be a brave act of collecting small gestures, individual strokes and passionate marks into an image we can live with.

It’s funny that for a subject matter so reliant on the animal kingdom it’s the humanity that shines the brightest. A lion can’t be anything but a lion. As for a human…the possibilities are a wild thing indeed.

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