Saturday Night in Santa Monica

By Peggy Roalf   Friday July 13, 2007

Everybody loves a train wreck. You can see it coming, but it can't be stopped. It's horrifying, but so compelling, you can't look away. Like (fill in your favorite celebrity implosion here). So when I learned that Nathan Fox and Paul Chatem had teamed up for a 2-man gallery exhibition on the theme, opening tomorrow night, I contacted them by email.

DART: What were you guys thinking when you decided to do an art show on the Train Wreck theme?

Paul Chatem: Being inspired by comics and movies, I've been trying to think of new ways to tell stories through sequential paintings in a gallery setting. What excites me about a show is that you can display a single painting that gives the viewer a single point of view, but when the viewer moves through the gallery, a larger theme is revealed. My idea was that each painting could represent a single car of a train, where different scenes unfold. When I came up with this idea, Nathan was doing these large car crash pieces which inspired me to bring him into the project.

Nathan Fox: When Paul approached me for the show, it had been almost 10 years since we last had a 2-man show. But we had kept in touch and it was good to work together again. Originally I had planned on taking the literal route, speaking thematically about trains and the world at large. But once I got going I ended up going down a road where fatherhood meets my twisted penchant for sex and violence. So my Train Wreck direction ended up merging adult themes with children's book imagery so that the narrative trip my characters take becomes a metaphorical train wreck in itself.

Illustrations, above left: Southbound Highball Shine by Paul Chatem (detail); right: They're Too, Their Four, There Six, They're Nathan Fox (detail). Courtesy of the artists.

DART: What sort of events did you depict?

Paul: Most of my paintings are depictions of my thoughts on what happened during the time that the Transcontinental Railroad was being built and how that still affects our lives today: For example, eminent domain, the eradication of the American Bison, the industrial revolution, pollution, etc.

Nathan: After all the research I did for this new series I still couldn't get Train Wreck as a larger theme about life experience out of my head. So I took a chance on going as far as I could in that direction. I think the pairing of our work might make for an interesting experience for viewers. Two really unique trains crashing in the middle of the gallery space. Engine to engine. Narrative to narrative.

DART: Is it easier - or more difficult -- to come up with a thematic body of work that doesn't include a creative director breathing down your necks?

Paul: For me it's easier and more exciting if I'm working on my own ideas. It's so hard to verbally communicate visual ideas to other people. No matter how clear you think you are being, you never know exactly what the other person visualizes in their head.

Nathan: Kind of. Rather than a C.D. looming over the work, the gallery opening date kind of looms. But in terms of freedom it's great to just work solely through your own imagination and push some limits to see what you can do. It's a great release to have complete control over the image and to play around on a larger scale; the largest piece I did for this show is about 4 x 6 feet.

DART: Paul, being from Washington State, were you thinking about the Iron Goat train wreck caused by an avalanche in 1910, or are you mainly interested in metaphorical train wrecks?

Paul: My main interest was for metaphorical train wrecks, though I did read about the Iron Goat disaster when I did research for the show.

DART: To your way of thinking, what's the biggest train wreck of 2007?

Paul: As far as 2007 and our current situation in the U.S. goes, I've been focusing on what happened in the last 150 years that has lead us to where we are now, especially the greed of the oil barons, the gold rush, politicians, modern medicine as well as real estate developers.

Nathan: Ha. It's kind of hard to choose. Between everything going on in the world, our government and their actions or inactions, fatherhood, and a career, it gets a bit difficult to really nail down just one significant train wreck. I am still trying to find out where I'm headed, so I just tried to focus on the reactions I have to everyday life. One train car at a time.

The opening reception for the Train Wreck show is Saturday, July 14, 8:00 - 11:30 at Copro Nason Gallery. The show continues through August 4th. Please check links for details.