Nate Pack has the unique distinction of being one of Utah's most recognizable pop artists who hasn't become an icon of his own success. --- The Clinton-based painter has used his fluid style to produce fine-art works of music legends, sports figures, pop-culture figures and an array of pieces under commission. But rather than use that to propel his own name into local fame, he's kept a low profile as a father to his family, and utilizes his skills to help out children through artistic therapy.
Today, we're chatting with Pack about his style and art career, giving back as a teacher, thoughts on the local art scene and more, along with pictures of his work.
Gavin: Hey, Nate. First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Nate: I grew up in Portland, Oregon, in a very interesting neighborhood. I was number two of nine kids, which made us very interesting in the neighborhood. I followed my family out to Utah in the mid '90s and have grown to love this place -- a great place to raise a family! I have a beautiful wife, also from the Northwest. We talk about going back, but I don't think we ever will; we are all dug in. I work at a treatment center in Syracuse with troubled youth. I teach art there and create right beside them. That way, they are more convinced that I know what I am talking about. I have six children of my own, and often after I put them to bed, I go back into the school to paint; it has become my studio. I run the Ragnar, play ball, do church stuff, take my kids to their many activities and occasionally get some sleep.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art, and what were some of your early inspirations?
Nate: I won an art contest in the fourth grade and then it was ON from there! Creating on paper was an important thing to me. I used to read Spider-Man comic books with my buddies and we followed Will Vinton Studios out of Portland. They did the clay-animation raisin commercials. My parents and teachers would always encourage. We had a great screen-print program in high school where we designed shirts for whatever occasion. It was a rush to see them worn around the school.
Gavin: What was it specifically that drew your interest toward painting, and why specifically acrylics?
Nate: I did a few paintings in high school and hated them because I struggled to control the medium. Not until college, when I was forced to paint, did I start to figure things out. Everyone at the university used oils. Years after college, I decided that I just loved the speed of the acrylics. I can work in layers and move around the piece, not having to bother with the drying process. The acrylics also give me a bold flatness that I like.
Gavin: You received your BFA from Utah State University back in 1999. What made you decide on USU for your degree, and what was its program like for you?
Nate: I was very impressed at the time with their illustration program and some of the instructors up there. Glen Edwards was a very traditional artist who taught important foundational things. He also allowed me to experiment with new approaches and struggle through new mediums. I was working mostly in mixed media collage at that time.
Gavin: After college, what was it like for you breaking out into the local art scene and finding an audience for your works?
Nate: It was tough, a real learning process trying to connect with art directors, sending stuff around the country, doing festivals and trying to establish a style that I was okay with. I worked at the sign shop of a grocery store, painting at night while going back to school so that I could teach. Thomas Hart Benton said it best when he said, "The artist's life is the best that there is -- if you can get through the first 40 years!" It has taken me trial and many errors to figure out where I fit in. I'm just recently feeling that I am in a good place with the work.
Gavin: What was the biggest influence on you to paint abstract figures, and how was it for you developing your own style that's kind of curved and shaped?
Nate: I found that when I painted realism, I just fussed around and never really enjoyed the process. When I could be free with the figures, the process and the product turned out a lot of fun for me. I have pulled in many influences to establish my own distorted, stylized, moving figures: Peter Howson, Joe Sorren and Thomas Benton, to name just three. My students ask why the figures are melting or why I've broken their bones. It's a flow that should move your eyes through the piece in a stimulating way.
Gavin: While you're focus is on people, most of your works revolved around music. What inspired you to paint so much around that form of entertainment, and why is it so prominent in your collection?
Nate: I love all types of music and often create while I listen to the tunes. The different shapes of the instruments and the many genres of music keep me very interested in this particular subject matter. I have also found a few places locally to hang -- Pat's BBQ and The State Room -- and sell the work; they happen to be music venues and that is what the people want to see.
Gavin: What's the process like for you in creating a new piece, from the idea to the final product?
Nate: I usually think about something that I would like to paint or haven't ever painted before, or I am inspired by a concert or something that I see and then I jot the idea down. With some reference, I will then transform the composition to my style through numerous sketches. Lately, I have projected the sketch onto a bigger canvas and then I work from there. Parts of the painting will have three layers and other parts might have 12. I play with it until I am satisfied; never a perfect piece, but I get it to where it is satisfactory. I work pretty exclusively in acrylics, with a nice varnish over the top in the end. The canvases are gallery style, where I can paint around the sides and not to have to deal with a frame.
Gavin: Do you play around with your paintings much, or do you stick to an idea when you have it?
Nate: Once I nail down the sketch, I pretty much stick with the subject and composition. I do tend to change the colors quite a bit through the process until I achieve a sort of harmony.
Gavin: Aside from creating art, you also teach it at a local treatment center. How did that opportunity come about, and how is it for you to use your skills in a therapeutic manner?
Nate: I love working with those kids. We have an art therapy group there that I help out with. I find that art becomes a kind of therapy for me, as well. I realized early on that I am not the type of artist to want to just produce in a studio all day. I like to get out and interact with the people. After Utah State, I went back to get a teaching certificate and Masters degree, with the intent to work with kids. I am blessed to have a dream situation there. We've got some very expressive students there who've got something to say through their art.
Gavin: Aside from your own material, you also do commissioned work. What kind of works do you do, and how can people get in touch with you for one?
Nate: Commissions are a lot of fun, but make me nervous because, what if people don't like the piece in the end? I will sometimes work from photos or whatever you want. Just be familiar with the style because it's not realistic portraiture. People can get in touch with me through the website if they have any inquiries about anything.
Gavin: Going more local, what are your thoughts on the Utah art scene, both good and bad?
Nate: Tons of amazing artists in Utah -- I love being around all of these creators. I do find that a lot of my clientele consists of out-of-staters who are passing through, and they like my work; I often think that my paintings might have more success out of state. Very traditional landscapes and Western themes are very hot here. I appreciate all kinds of art, but I do feel out of place at times. I do like the art scene that Utah possesses -- great things happening here and I like the direction.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make things more prominent?
Nate: I always wished the the Gallery Stroll in Salt Lake was one that you could walk around. I find myself in my car more than strolling, as the scene is spread out a bit through the town. People of means should invest in art and support the scene to keep the scene.
Gavin: As an artist who travels to festivals, what are your thoughts on the festivals around Utah and the influence they have on promoting artists?
Nate: We have some great art festivals here in the state. I make great connections, but struggle to sell many paintings at the festivals themselves. I think maybe people just need time to think about making big purchases. The little paintings seem to sell okay, and also all of those little $20 crafty items for your yard. I think some of these festivals need to focus on local artists a little more. We don't always need the imports when we have such great talent right here!
Gavin: What's your take on the galleries we have in the state and the work they do to help promote local artists?
Nate: I have contacted quite a few galleries and have had a few shows, but find alternative venues being great for my work. The cut is better, they hang for longer and there is more flexibility and space there for me. Certain galleries that I visit again and again, I think do a pretty good job of promoting the locals. Park City and Salt Lake have some impressive galleries to keep tabs on.
Gavin: Speaking of galleries, what's your opinion on Gallery Stroll today and the work being displayed each month?
Nate: I love that there is a stroll in Salt Lake, Provo and Park City, all on different weekends during the month -- if one is serious about strolling! I love that I never know what to expect or the work that I am going to bump into -- some great varieties in the Salt Lake stroll, from the traditional to the contemporary concept-driven work.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Nate: I'm talking to the guys at the State Room about doing a mural for the side of the venue, maybe this summer. I hope in the fall to be on the West Coast at a few blues festivals, selling the works from a booth. I'm going to do shirts, transfers, prints and drawings, as well. I will produce about 15-20 new pieces by the end of the year to be on the website, and my wife and I are looking to self-publishing a book for kids and the cool adults.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Nate: Hey, just check out the work and if you dig it,, you can buy pretty cheap nowadays. One day I'm going to be really good and who knows if you will be able to afford the stuff then?
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