Whitehot Magazine

Peter Nadin: The Invisible World at Off Paradise Gallery

Installation view of Peter Nadin: The Invisible World at Off Paradise, New York. Photograph by Dario Lasagni. Courtesy of the artist and Off Paradise, New York.


By DAVID JAGER February 14, 2024

Peter Nadin, who was once featured at Richard Prince’s Spiritual America Gallery in the early 80’s, was known for paintings that combined abstraction with sparse, figurative and architectural elements. He began to make a name for himself in a Lower East Side art scene that included Louise Lawler, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, Alan McCollum and Prince himself. 

Then Nadin renounced the commercial art world and retreated to a historic farm upstate, raising pigs, chickens, goats, bees and various crops. He continued to make art, often incorporating materials grown directly from his farm, but he showed infrequently. Now Nadin has returned to the New York artworld in this show of gnomic new paintings, his second, at Off Paradise in Tribeca. The combination of abstraction and figuration is still present, but the tone here is more metaphysical and quizzical.

Nadin’s primary concern, as he tells it, are the deeply uncanny paradoxes that lie at the heart of perception. Though his paintings revolve around the characters and animals on his beloved farm, his main concern is what happens during the act of seeing. Nadin is never sure he trusts what his eyes are telling him, and his painting reflects it.  

The deep philosophical concern hasn’t made the work more minimal. Florid and layered, there are overlays of color combined with vigorous gestural brushstroke as well as scratches, a plethora of technique and replete with dense action and detail. Underpainted in either red, blue and yellow, the palette fairly glows. Figures, animals, landscape and vegetation proliferate. Nadin is far less of a calculated painter these days, driven instead by what seems to be an intuitive painterly impulse. Each painting, as a result, is a wild menagerie.

Installation view of Peter Nadin: The Invisible World at Off Paradise, New York. Photograph by Dario Lasagni. Courtesy of the artist and Off Paradise, New York.

One particular concern of Nadin’s is object permanence as it applies to vision. The fish in his farm pond make an appearance in this regard. “What happens to the fish after we are no longer looking at it?” he asks the assembled crowd at the gallery. “We assume that it is where we saw it last, but it only exists in the mind as a memory. Who is to say where it is?” In Nadin’s painterly mind, the fish become unmoored in the interstitial space between perception and memory and can often be found flying through the air, as they do in the painting “Sharkey’s Donkey Watches a fish (A Migration of Golden Orfe)  ”.  

So can his friends and neighbors, who often make an appearance. “That’s my friend Johan, who’s flying” he says mildly, pointing to the figure of a man, in blue swim trunks, sailing through the clouds as if flung by a catapult. He is in the painting “The Crow catches a Golden Orfe (Sharkey and Amanda See it)”. The background landscapes of Nadin’s paintings may be indeterminate and murky, rooted more in memory and abstract recollection, but his figures pop with an odd realism. In this painting, Sharkey and Amanda, farming neighbors of his, look as if they are bathed in light filled relief and dropped into the painting like out of context photographs.  They point at a crow flying off with a fish.  

Biblical and art historical reference also make more of an appearance in these works, given that cultural reference is a very large part of what informs what we see. Nearly every work features a half-imagined, mythical looking mountain which Nadin says is a reference to Mount Pisgah, the mountain from Moses saw the promised land. Landscape is shown for what it is, an amalgam of recollection, cultural reference and visual data points, about as reliable as a dream. 

Installation view of Peter Nadin: The Invisible World at Off Paradise, New York. Photograph by Dario Lasagni. Courtesy of the artist and Off Paradise, New York.

The biblical themes play out in other paintings in tongue and cheek and occasionally kitschy ways. Compositionally, in fact, the scale and positioning of each recall early Italian renaissance painting, or quote it directly. In Adam Installing Utilities in the Garden of Eden Under the Devil’s Fire, 2023 we see workmen in orange vests performing different maintenance duties while Adam and Eve, quoted directly from Masaccio’s ‘expulsion from the Garden of Eden’, clutch at their faces and wail. The everyday and the mundane meet the mythical and the metaphysical, a blend as curious as his mixing of figuration and abstraction. The Devil’s fire is painted as an industrial pipe with effluents spewing from it. Ecology is also a concern in Nadin’s painting. 

During his years of self-imposed exile Nadin showed quite frequently in Cuba,  and it figures prominently in a self-portrait “How I look, what I see in Baracoa when I am not there.” Once again there is an almost neo-expressionist tangle of painterly squiggles in blue, purple, neon greens and pinks offset by the appearance of workmen figures, once again in odd relief, and a pink building in the background. Nadin’s head appears gazing out contemplatively in the lower right-hand corner of the canvas. The point of the painting, once again, is to show how he remembers a physical spot when he is no longer there. This includes his own face, which he paints in recollection, fully relishing the ambiguity of the act.  

Moses, whose entire narrative arc was centered on his leading the people of Israel to their homeland, was only able to glimpse it from the mountain, but never set foot in it. It is also a painter’s long cherished hope to be able to truly see something with real clarity and vision. Perhaps, like Moses, Nadin knows that the innermost secrets of vision are an elusive promised land that he can see from afar, but never reach. WM


David Jager

David Jager is an arts and culture writer based in New York City. He contributed to Toronto's NOW magazine for over a decade, and continues to write for numerous other publications. He has also worked as a curator. David received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Toronto in 2021. He also writes screenplays and rock musicals. 

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