Nathan Joseph

Born in Israel in 1944, Nathan Slate Joseph studied engineering and spent the summers of his youth on air force bases as an air cadet. He left Israel for New York in 1961. In addition to time spent at the Pratt Institute, the New School for Social Research and the Art Student’s League (in New York and Woodstock), Joseph received an informal art education through interaction with such luminaries as John Chamberlain and Larry Rivers. It was during a trip to Mexico in the 1970s that Joseph began to work with his characteristically vivid color palette. As he said, “They just have a way with color—so I was trying to get that in my work.” In 1982, when Joseph moved into his loft/studio space on Hudson Street, he switched from making representational figures on canvas to abstract compositions of galvanized steel. Drawn to the simple forms and industrial urban materials in works by Frank Stella and Carl Andre, Joseph wanted to carve out an aesthetic identity that went beyond the overt visual effects of real objects. At the same time, environmental concerns captured Joseph’s attention, and his response was to empower nature by allowing it to have a hand in the making of his art. He covers squares and rectangles of galvanized steel with inorganic pigment in high key colors. The squares are treated with acids to facilitate the breakdown of the pigments. Left outdoors, the squares then become nature’s playthings, their surface effects determined by the elements. Joseph then solders the squares together, creating overlapping patchwork designs that unite the large-scale energy of abstract expressionism with the ease of found-object art. This dialogue between the industrial and the natural is just one of the contradictions inherent in Joseph’s work. Painterly effects are created without actually painting. The sculptural qualities of these “paintings” are revealed through their visible construction. The material is fastened together cleanly, drawing attention to edges, giving the works heft and a three dimensionality. The soldered steel plays the urbanist against the natural process of oxidation. Brilliant color softens the brute materials creating images that are equally beautiful and virile.