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Nathan Oliveira\’s canvases depicted human solitude and alienation


“For me, painting is that magical material, that beautiful stuff that was invented, the ground-up pigments in oil which makes it very malleable. It can be manipulated and changed, darkened, lightened, given different hues and colours, so that by manipulating this material somehow I can find that figure I\’m looking for, that figure that represents all the issues I\’m bringing up and addressing.”

Nathan Oliveira


Nathan Oliveira was an American painter, printmaker, and sculptor. His artwork has a strong melancholy and looseness of the Expressionist movement. In his paintings, monotypes, watercolours, and sculptures, he repeatedly depicted versions of the abstracted human figure in confusing, enigmatic settings. His subjects came directly from his inner search for knowledge of the human situation. Chance, danger, and gesture were cited by Oliveira as the three key elements of his work, which he mixed with a personal interest in the more traditional facets of figure painting. His quest for an expressive link between form and space, which found resonance in his portrayal of the solitary figure, gave rise to the apotheosis of his style.


Nathan Joseph Roderick was born on December 19, 1928, in Oakland, California. When Nathan was a little child, his father separated from his mother. Later, she married George Oliveira, another immigrant from Portugal, whose last name his son adopted.  Mr. Oliveira enrolled at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland after taking painting classes from a marine artist there. He graduated with a bachelor\’s in fine arts in 1951 and a master\’s in 1952. He studied with Beckmann at Mills College in Oakland during the summer of 1950. Mr. Oliveira started exhibiting in California after serving in the Army as a cartographic draughtsman stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco. In 1958, he was offered a solo exhibition in Manhattan at the Alan Gallery. He consented to a position as an associate professor of art at Stanford University in 1964, and he remained there until 1995 when he retired.


His abstracted figures and landscapes, however, showed a connection to the darker vision of European painters like Oskar Kokoschka and Edvard Munch, or closer contemporary painters like Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon, who shared his sense of human strife and existential agony. His melancholy lithographs and monotypes, which were frequently in black and white and heavily influenced by Goya, portrayed a chaotic feeling of drama and conflict. A haunting series of lithographs called \”To Edgar Allan Poe\”, which evokes the romantic sturm and drang of a poet Mr. Oliveira really admired was inspired by early prints like \”Death of an Ant\”, whose magnified subject is twisted in what appears to be an almost human agony.


In addition to being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1994, Oliveira has won numerous additional honours, such as a Guggenheim Fellowship, two honorary doctorates, and membership in a prestigious order bestowed by the Portuguese government in 2000. The Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art all have collections of his work. Oliveira died in 2010 at his home in Palo Alto, California. Nathan Oliveira rose to national popularity by blending figuration and Abstract Expressionism in emotionally charged canvases that examined human solitude and alienation.

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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_Oliveira
  2. https://historicalsociety.stanford.edu/nathan-oliveira
  3. https://prabook.com/web/nathan.oliveira/773470

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