A Conversation with Ty Nathan Clark

 

What memories comes to mind when the wind hits your face? Or when you eat a piece of salt water taffy? How about when you hear a song you haven't heard since your freshman year of college? These are some of the questions our next featured artist and award winning documentarian, Ty Nathan Clark, is interested in with his newest exhibit called "Lessons in Remembering Part 2: Lost, Recovered, and Remaining".   

His work grapples with once lost and recovered memories that will never be again, but he channels this by finding beauty and complexity while painting and threading it on to a canvas or a sculpture. All the while he's finding a silver lining in that we are currently planting the seeds for our future selves to look back on. Clark graciously invited us to his studio for a chat about art, music, sports, and a hot take on who will be crowned this year's NBA Finals Champion.

His exhibit open today, June 6, 2019, at Cultivate 7 Twelve until July 31st.

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Ty Nathan Clark:

I grew up in a small town in Northern California, about an hour, hour and a half outside of Lake Tahoe, so up in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Lived all over the state of California, from the Bay Area, to Southern California, to, I mean, you name it, I lived there. I ended up marrying a Texan.

KWL:

Smart choice.

Ty Nathan Clark:

Yeah. I lived in Romania for a little bit before that, and then got here to Texas, been in Texas for 18 years now with a stint overseas in China. Literally, we've lived all over, I feel like the state ... well, at least Central Texas, so, Dallas, Denton, Lewisville, Austin. Now, we just wanted to leave the insanity of Austin. We wanted to buy a house. We've been married 18 years and never bought a house, and we couldn't afford that in Austin. We wanted to build an art studio on the property, and where can you do that in Austin? You can't.

KWL: 

Nowhere. Not for at least a reasonable price.


Ty Nathan Clark:

Yeah. Then we had friends in Waco over the years. I've done business in Waco over the years. So, we've made some friends, and we wanted to get my parents to move to Texas. They didn't want to move to Austin, and when we mentioned Waco, they said, "We'll move to Waco."


KWL:

I love it. So, that kind of gives us a back story here. When did you get into just making art, I guess, without, you know, lack of setting it up a little bit better?


Ty Nathan Clark:

Yeah, I've always made art. I mean, I won my first art show when I was four years old.

I won first prize at the California State Fair in a quilting competition, because I used to draw on napkins at the dinner table.

I would create animals, and I would create scientific names for them. My mom ended up sewing them into a quilt, entered it in the California State Fair, and won first prize.

KWL:

That is incredible. Was your mom a teacher?


Ty Nathan Clark:

No. So her oldest brother was a world-renowned sculptor and potter. He was also the Chair of University of California, Santa Barbara Art Department as well.

So, I kind of grew up in and around [art]. Even though we were distant, and he was 24 years older than my mom, I think, and he died when I was 10, I only maybe had four encounters with him, but I was always around his work.


KWL:

It made an impression.


Ty Nathan Clark:

Oh, absolutely. My grandfather would also just sit and teach me about art. I'd sit on his lap, and he'd read me art books, and teach me about art history, and he'd read Keats and Shelley, and poetry to me. There's a few pieces in this show that kind of represent that relationship of him imparting culture and the arts on me at a young age.

KWL:
Wow, that's great. So it started at a very young age.

Ty Nathan Clark:

Yeah. I mean, I knew from a young age that I just had this feeling I'm an artist, I want to be an artist. I mean, and obviously, as you grow up, there are lots of things that you want to become when you're young. But I always knew, for me there were two things, there was, "I want to play basketball, and I want to be an artist." So I did both for a really long time, and now I'm just doing art.

KWL:

So, did the basketball career take off?

Ty Nathan Clark:

It took off for a long time. I mean, it paid for my school, for college, I played a little bit overseas after college. Just through injuries and things, it was just time to call it quits, and I knew that art was the thing that eventually I wanted to get to someday.

KWL:

I'd love to see a picture of you in your basketball heyday.

Ty Nathan Clark:

Oh yeah, I've got plenty.

KWL:

So fast forward to today. We're here in Waco, and you're making some very incredible pieces here, mixed media. You have sculptures, you have mixed media on canvas, looks like found objects.

Ty Nathan Clark:

Lots of found objects. I mean, so this is the first time I have actually shown sculpture. I started out in sculpture, because my uncle was a potter and sculptor, and when I started painting in college, I fell so in love with painting I couldn't turn back. I've been wanting to get back to sculpture, but when you're trying to be excellent in a craft, you just sink into it. With this show, I really felt that sculpture was needed with this body of work, and so I started just collecting driftwood from the lake and creeks, and-

KWL:

This is Lake Waco?

Ty Nathan Clark:

This is all Lake Waco wood and pieces, and then cinder blocks just from our yard that were left over when we moved here, and using cement, and gold leaf, and cloth, and really trying to create, I don't know, things that really flow with memory and this whole series, which is
Lessons in Remembering Part Two, Lost, Recovered, and Remaining.

KWL:

So this is the name of this series that you're putting it out?

Ty Nathan Clark:

It's really talking about memories that are lost that can't be brought back. Memories that, while I've been working on this, have been recovered. You know, certain music that just brings back a memory, the way the wind feels on your face, or all of a sudden you take a bite of a certain food, and you're right back in that place. Then remaining, the memories that are to come. There are things that are setting up memories for the future right now.

KWL:

That's beautiful, actually. You also do have a musical connection through, I don't think it's just through Denton, but you did spend time in the city of Denton, which had a pretty blooming music scene in the early 2000's, and still does for that matter. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Ty Nathan Clark:

Yeah. I mean, I've been involved with music since, I mean, I don't even know. I mean, I've always been a self-proclaimed music historian, or elitist, you know?

KWL:

Okay, yeah. I know the type.

Ty Nathan Clark:

So, I mean, I grew up, my grandfather would ... You know, I'd listen to Vivaldi, and Nat King Cole, and jazz, and classical music with my grandfather. You know, as a kid and an artist, I was a punk rocker, so that stuff, I didn't care. I'd listen, I'd sit with my grandfather, he'd teach me about the instruments and how to listen for sounds. He would always tell me, "There's so much more story in this than there is in your punk rock." You know what I mean?

Ty Nathan Clark:

You know, and I'm listening to, you know, everything, from The Ramones, to T. Rex, to Johnny Thunder, or Richard Hell, to all the original Detroit MC5, and New York bands.


KWL:

Love MC5.

Ty Nathan Clark:

You know, then of course you cross the pond of London, then you get into the LA punk, and then Canadian punk. You know, so, and I skated, and I had all these things, but then I also had a sports side. So, I was listening to underground hip hop, and other things, and so I had these two sides to me always. As I've gotten older, I still love all the music I've loved, but I found the appreciation for the story in classical music, and the creative artisticness in jazz.

Ty Nathan Clark:

So, when I was in Denton, I mean, I managed a few bands in Denton, and I've toured with bands, I've had friends in big bands and small bands. I mean, I've always emersed myself in music, because it's part of art.

KWL:

Yeah. 100%.

Ty Nathan Clark:

Music is a massive part of my painting. So, I always make playlists before I do a body of work, I always make a playlist before I go in the studio. I mean, that could be anything from listening to reworkings of classical music, to dance, and, you know, post-new wave. I mean, there's so many things that I just draw from on a constant-

KWL:

Do you start out with a playlist thinking, "This is the vibe that I want to put into the art." Or, do you let whatever your playlist is-

Ty Nathan Clark:

It goes back and forth. Yeah, so, I usually spend a few months studying the subject of the body of work. So, this body of work, which is part two for the first body. I spent a few months studying the human memory, so from the science perspective, to a fictional literature perspective, to philosophy. Then I made a list of all of the greatest films in history on memory. So, fictional responses, and fictional telling of memories.

KWL:

Oh, so this is not from your memory? The movies are about memory?

Ty Nathan Clark:

Movies about memory.

I also create a playlist of the greatest songs ever written about memory, and just immerse myself in all these different points of view, plus the science on how this works, and really use that to kind of hone in and practice remembering things that maybe I'd forgotten.

So, there are times where I'd be thinking about a certain friend in high school who's like a, you know, age old friend, so then I'd create a playlist of 300 or 400 songs that were our songs, and our bands from, you know, 1982. I'd do the same thing, "Oh, 1988, what was I doing that year?" Then I'll make a playlist of everything I was listening to in 1988.

I always challenge friends on road trips to make a soundtrack, and you get 30 songs, the soundtrack to your life, or your soundtrack of high school. So then whenever they're taking a road trip with their friend, they each have their playlist that they listen to, and then they share those stories.

Ty Nathan Clark:

But I mean, with memory, music plays such a huge part of memory.
I mean, I could name a band and find a song, you know, I could go The Cure, and I could name four songs that take me right back to a specific moment, standing outside The Granada Theater in Lower Greenville, while John Cale's playing violin inside The Granada. You know what I mean? I'm thinking of all my friends, and I listen into the Velvet Underground, you know?

KWL:

It's like you're going into to your own file system and opening files, and just seeing-

Ty Nathan Clark:

Oh, absolutely.

KWL:

Who's going to win the NBA Finals?

Ty Nathan Clark:

Oh, I mean, I think it's going to be a lot tougher than people think, because I love Kawhi. I've done some stuff with the Spurs organization over the years, and I'm not a Spurs fan at all, but I respect the organization a lot.

KWL:

Pop.

Ty Nathan Clark:

Even though Kawhi ended ugly there, he took a lot from that organization, and he's tough, he's tough. But I think the Warriors in five.

KWL:

You heard it here first.

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KWL:

Well, you're working with Cultivate 7Twelve, this is where your show is going to be. Is there anything you want people to know before they come? Or to take from it?

Ty Nathan Clark:

I mean, I hope if somebody's never been to an art show before, they come out. Because one of the things that I really, really, want to bring to Waco is for the community to be comfortable with things they're not used to, culturally.

So, whether that's art, whether that's film, whether that's music. I'm not talking about the big, you know, pop culture things, and a big traveling show, but local artists, local filmmakers, local musicians. I'm going to be around quite a bit, I won't be at the opening, but we have multiple events planned where I'm going to speak and interact, and let people know that there are no dumb questions. Most people don't understand art, and so they don't show up.

But, what I want is the audience to come, have a chance to talk to me, whether they like my work not, I don't care. I just want explain to you what abstract art is, what it means, that it's poetry on canvas. I'm not try to create a landscape, I'm creating poetry in colors and marks, and shapes, and form, and texture.

I have an artist group here in Waco called The Unknowns, and they'll be present as well, and interacting with the crowd, and talking about art, and talking about the work, and me, and, you know, trying to bring that artist community together to go, "There's not a few people here, there's more."

You can follow Ty Nathan Clark on Instagram here.
You can (and should) view his show

Lessons in Remembering Part Two, Lost, Recovered, and Remaining at Cultivate 7 Twelve at 712 Austin Avenue in downtown Waco.

 
Katherine Selman