Published February 5th, 2024 by Micah Ruelle
The exhibition of mixed media and textile works at Veronique Wantz Gallery highlights the surprise and serendipity of material process
I had the opportunity to preview Nathanael Flink’s exhibit Falling Into Place at Veronique Wantz Gallery in the North Loop. While I had never been to the Wantz Gallery before, I was instantly drawn to its intimate yet polished layout. Often, when writing these kinds of pieces, I’m left alone with my thoughts and notebook in a gallery somewhere. But I had the pleasure of a private preview with the artist himself, along with gallery director Margot Rosenstein and gallery consultant Joanne Jaensch-Rosenstein.
It is difficult to describe Flink’s Falling Into Place concisely only because each piece was approached with its own pragmatic specifications and in accordance with its own aesthetic needs (as it should be). The series features reclaimed fibers and fabrics that have often been dyed multiple times, then formally reassembled via sewing, and then finally stretched as their own rectangular canvases. Layered on top of these canvases are additional fibers, fabrics, found objects, paint, screen-printed images, and oil pastels. When asked about the titles of his works (I especially loved I’ve been waiting anyway), Flink shared that these titles are often adapted from song lyrics and book passages. While the titles are compelling, what anchors the pieces is the act of making.
It is abundantly clear that these pieces were crafted by an artist who reveres process as much as product. Perhaps a part of this could be attributed to Flink’s classical art background (he holds a BFA from MCAD), but I doubt that that is the whole picture. Flink is a master of assemblage and form; he is deeply interested in what his materials can teach him and what possibilities are yet to be discovered.
Top: Nathanael Flink, That song we sang but then didn't, mixed media (dyed and sewn fabrics, acrylic), 38 x 30". Bottom: Nathanael Flink, Waking up drapes my scars, mixed media (dyed and sewn fabrics, acrylic), 38 x 30"
“[Since] my process is designed to uncover novelties without prejudice, there is a total kind of freedom that is unlocked,” he explains. “I am guided by my own feelings about the pieces, about what I am seeing and perceiving, and it isn't always a bed of roses. Sometimes these are difficult moments I am confronting with regard to personal history, or sometimes simply just a suffusion of a lot of different things at once. I want the work to be an honest portrayal, which is a continuation of all kinds of painting and drawing I have done since I began art school in 1989.”
While the pieces in Falling Into Place themselves offer a unique experience to the viewer, there is also a very specific gift they offer to Flink: a lesson in how each piece of fabric and fiber wishes to be used. While I often respect the ecological and conservationist efforts incorporated in art that includes found objects, I find that sometimes incorporating found elements can deaden the aesthetic experience of an overall piece — at times, reading as too sterile or too out of place. But that is not at all the case in Flink’s work. There is a warmth and intensity to each of his pieces, but also what I find most delightful: surprise. Flink himself claims that, “In my process I am looking to surprise myself to some extent, perhaps by combining unexpected texture, hues, and varying techniques.” For me, that surprise often came in the form of color combinations for each work. This experience highlights how often our assumptions about colors are curated in our consumer culture and in advertising in general. Anything sounds fine and That song we sang and then didn’t are two works that especially disrupt my assumptions about what colors are excited to be with one another on the same canvas, while still taking up a substantial, segmented space.
But perhaps my favorite moment of surprise in the gallery that day was when I approached Waking up drapes my scars, and I asked Flink, “And the pink texture in the middle was screen-printed, right?” And to my shock, I was corrected: no, the effect was created from the dying process alone. I was floored. The gradation and depth of color, the fibrousness of the tones I thought had only been — could only be — possible through screen-printing. It was one of those rare moments where the experience of being incorrect was exhilarating because of the implications: we simply cannot know all the possibilities within any given medium. ◼︎
Nathanael Flink, Leaving before something breaks, mixed media (dyed and sewn fabrics), 38 x 30”
Banner image: Nathanael Flink, Anything sounds fine (detail), mixed media (dyed and sewn fabrics), 27 x 34”. All images courtesy of the gallery.
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