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Marsha Mateyka Gallery
Exhibition Archive

Nathan Oliveira
Paintings, Sculpture, Monotypes and Watercolors
from the Estate of the Artist

September 15 - October 27, 2012

Press Release


Mask Rising, 2010
oil on canvas,
42 x 50 inches

Standing Figure, Looking Forward, 2010
oil on canvas,
60 x 50 inches

       Imi Study #2, 1989/90
       oil on canvas,
       16 x 20 inches

       Untitled Nude, 1990
       oil on canvas,
       16 x 20 inches

Standing Figure II, 2007. bronze with custom patina,
26" high on base 23 1⁄2 x 15 1⁄4", edition: #3/9

Standing Figure I, 2007. bronze with custom patina,
32" high on base 23 1/2 x 15 3⁄4", edition: #4/9

Mask VII, 2007,                              (front view)
bronze with custom patina,  
8” high on base 12 x 12 “
Edition: #6/9

      (side view)

Douro Valley II, 1997/2003
22 x 30 inches

Site Castello Rodrigo #1, 1998
20.25 x 18 inches

Site Oporto II, 1998
17.75 x 22.25 inches

Imi #73, 1989
watercolor, charcoal
24 x 19 inches

Available works by Nathan Oliveira

Press Release

The fall season at the Marsha Mateyka Gallery opens with an exhibition of paintings, sculptures, monotypes and watercolors by the internationally known, American artist, Nathan Oliveira (1928-2010). The gallery has had a long relationship with this celebrated artist since the late 1980’s.   It has mounted seven solo exhibitions of his work and is now a representative of the artist’s estate.

Nathan Oliveira was born in Oakland California and spent most of his life in the San Francisco Bay area.   He has often been associated with the Bay Area figurative painters that included his friends Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn and Frank Lobdell; he was the youngest of the group.   He was influenced by many European artists including Giacometti, Dubuffet, Francis Bacon and Max Beckmann, with whom he studied.   His first major national recognition came with his participation in the exhibition, “New Images of Man” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1959.   In subsequent years his works have been featured in numerous solo museum exhibitions and are now in the permanent collections of museums worldwide including the Tate Modern, Whitney Museum, Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum, Walker Art Center, Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.   Nathan Oliveira was a beloved teacher at Stanford University where he taught for 30 years and was head of the studio art department.

Nathan Oliveira considered himself first and foremost a painter; however, he was also widely respected as a printmaker and sculptor. The isolated human figure is a recurring theme throughout his paintings, sculptures and watercolors and is captured in his signature style which is a synthesis of figuration and abstraction.   There is often an emphasis on gesture as a primary means of communication. The current exhibition contains examples of this in his late paintings and sculptures.

"A man stands alone. …He lacks the features of a face. He hasn’t any clothes, but neither is he nude.  Only one thing about him is clear: his singularity…Yet paradoxically, his anonymity allows him to stand in for the artist or for anyone else.  The power of this painting, as in so much of Oliveira’s work, resides in all that it leaves to us."*

Nathan Oliveira is also recognized as a master of the monotype medium.   His most celebrated images in this medium are his “Sites” which he referred to as “illustrations for an unwritten story”.  It is in these works that the human figure is no longer present but one senses that it once was.   These mysterious landscapes contain architectural fragments, archaeological ruins…all that seem to be rising from mists and myths.   The warm colors and golden hues in many of these “Sites” monotypes were inspired by two of the artist’s favorite places, the American southwest and the Douro Valley of Portugal.

In 1999, Nathan Oliveira was honored by the Republic of Portugal with the title of Commander in the Order of Infante Dom Henrique for achievement by individuals of Portuguese descent.   He was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Available through the gallery is the catalogue that accompanied the major retrospective exhibition Nathan Oliveira by Peter Selz with an essay by Joann Moser, published by University of California Press, 2002.

* Jonathon Keats, San Francisco, “Arts”, February, 2002, p. 76.


The Washington Post, Friday, October 19, 2012, p. C8

by Mark Jenkins

California artist found inspiration in ancestral land,
Nathan Oliveira combines figurative with the abstract

Although he was born, lived and died in the San Francisco Bay area, Nathan Oliveira had significant connections to other places.   He traveled frequently to Portugal, his parents' homeland.  And he has been represented since 1988 by Marsha Mateyka's Dupont Circle gallery, which is showing "Nathan Oliveira: An Exhibition of Paintings, Sculptures, Monotypes & Watercolors."  The work is diverse, but holds together well, linked by its earthy palette and a mastery of line and texture.

Like other noted California artists of his era, Oliveira borrowed techniques from the abstract expressionists, but he rarely produced work that was purely abstract.  The painter and sculptor, who died in 2010, also was influenced by pre-war European art. (Oliveira's most obvious debt is to Alberto Giacometti, whose spindly bronzes presage the ones in this show).  The human figure was a continuing inspiration, as is demonstrated here by three 1989 watercolors from the "Imi" series, rendered from life with grace and spontaneity.  Oliveira sometimes revisited these images as more thickly painted oils, such as 1990's "Untitled Nude."

This selection ranges from two of Oliveira's last paintings, made in 2010, to some of his "site" mixed-media monotypes, executed in the late 1990's (although sometimes embellished later).  The latter, which the artist termed "illustrations" are dream visions of ancient Portugal sparked by the trips through the country.  They're elusive, yet highly detailed: "Portuguese Sites, Douro Valley #1" is a hazy landscape centered on a shepherd's hut, with elaborate pencil work atop the simple image.

The pair of 2010 paintings depict human forms on fields that are similar in hue but distinct in texture.  The eerie "Mask Rising" is an oval with a hint of eyes, floating above a ground whose pattern suggests wood grain.  Even more striking is "Standing Figure, Looking Forward", whose figure is red and heavily painted, in front of a thin, drizzly backdrop that's barely a shade lighter.  To the very end, Oliveira deftly combined figurative and abstract, corporeal and intangible.

Nathan Oliveira: An Exhibition of Paintings, Sculptures, Monotypes & Watercolors, through Oct. 27, at Marsha Mateyka Gallery, 2012 R St., NW 202 328-0088, marshamateykagallery.com

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