Artist Feature: Nathaniel Evans

Editor Shenyah Webb, Art, April 26th, 2016

"Ghost stories of faith and ideology."

Nathaniel Evans artist feature
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“There is a great failure in any faith or ideology that disassociates us from conscience. Faith can be intolerant. Faith can be seductive. Coming from a background of a strict religious upbringing, I create paintings that are ghost stories of faith and ideology. My work attempts to find the heart of the divide between conscience and faith, reaching out with questions that have no answers. Images of believers provide a religious context and act as a vehicle for dialogue about problematic ideology. Anxieties are given form, becoming over-romanticized notions of mortality.” – Nathaniel Evans

I was not raised religious and had very little exposure to it as a child. Because of this I sometimes felt like I was missing something, not because I had a lack of moral ethics or an emptiness inside, but because that’s what all my friends were doing; private schools that seemed more privileged, special camps, midnight masses, Sunday services. It seemed they all had something I didn’t, a community. While they were off understanding something holier than thou, I was exploring my own sort of faiths; spending my allowance on love potions, starting to masturbate, getting tarot readings, and dissecting what it meant to be a Libra.

I’m no longer a believer in magic potions, just as many of my friends no longer believe in golden staircases to heaven, but our paths to where we are now are so different. Without religion in my life, I was brought up to develop my own belief system, one that allowed me to utilize my naturally inquisitive mind. Many of those that were raised in religion didn’t have this luxury. They were fed a diet of dogma which suppressed their curiosities. A religious “truth” and morality was instilled, a dependency on a system fueled with fear — true fear of hell, of disapproval, of being beaten, of eternal damnation…

Being conditioned to continually seek acceptance and avoid judgment can seriously hinder a personal moral and intellectual sense. Simply stated, this is a form of trauma. A trauma which has effects lasting well into adulthood, a Religious Trauma Syndrome. Anxiety, panic attacks, depression, sexual shame, problems with social functioning, learned helplessness. These real-life experiences just scratch the surface of the psychological damage that religion is capable of creating. I am not saying all religion induces trauma, but living a life where you’re constantly questioning your morals out of fear just doesn’t sit right with me. It surfaces a very deep empathy.

Art is one way to break away from these deep-seated conditions. Nathaniel Evans is an artist who found an outlet for his anxiety through oil painting. In many of his pieces, his experiences and the tone of his families faith is apparent while others sit on their own and straight up make you wonder. I asked him to explain his experience with religion and expand on the eeriness of his work.

“The church was part Apostolic and part Pentecostal. Meaning that they were very strict and literal with their interpretation of the New Testament. Women were not aloud to cut their hair, wear jewelry or makeup, or even pants (they could only wear skirts!). Punishments were violent and harsh, amounting to what outsiders would see as abuse. Some churches believed in ‘snake-handling’ and drinking small amounts of poison to prove their devotion and [believed] that their faith was rewarded.

“It’s all a bit traumatizing for kids involved. There is a trend that the kids grow up to be either a preacher or a substance abuser. Luckily I made it out early enough and left far, far away. This is why you see an eeriness in my work. It’s a naturally anxious reaction to the memories of the place, and a reaction to images that I found in researching the history. Art was escapism as a kid, but now I feel as if I have some sort of responsibility to tell the story and to face dangerous ideologies in some way.”

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artist Nathaniel EvansNathaniel spent his childhood in deep rural Appalachia, where his early experience with Holiness Revival churches left a deep impression on him. After studying fine art painting at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, Nathaniel decided to come to terms with this experience through art. He has since exhibited work in the U.S. and abroad in Madrid, Munich, and Paris.
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Shenyah Webb

Shenyah Webb is a Portland-based visual artist and musician. She has been with NAILED Magazine since its inception in 2012 and has served as the Arts Editor and a Contributing Editor since its launch in 2013. A Detroit native, she attended The College for Creative Studies, where she focused on Fine Art and Industrial Design. She is currently enrolled in a Somatic Expressive Arts Education and Therapy training program, studying under Lanie Bergin. You can learn more about Shenyah here. (Shenyah.com)