If you have any doubts that Palm Springs is a transformative environment, your uncertainty will disappear once you meet artist and gallery owner Nat Reed.
While still living in Los Angeles, Reed began coming to the city on weekends and purchased a 1959 Alexander home. “It was really that house and it's restoration that put me on the path to the artwork I make now,” he says. “Before that I was managing a photo archive and doing freelance illustration and graphic design work—and making artwork without any real commercial expectations for it.”
After opening a pop-up gallery in 2012, Reed debuted his current space, The Art of Nat Reed, in February 2013 shortly before he became a full-time Palm Springs resident.
Reed’s adolescence also played a role in his creative development. “For my grandfather, his business and life as a tropical decorator and tiki carver were never separate,” says Reed. “He and his wife created a tropical village near Disneyland where they lived and he worked. It was so fantastical—really authentic South Seas huts, all sorts of tikis and Hawaiiana artifacts, a meandering stream with bamboo bridges and giant clam shells, and a lush little tropical rainforest that could be turned on and off. Beyond the influence of the tikis and tropical motifs, that place was always bustling with creative projects and it made me feel like creating was a very ordinary, even expected, part of life.”
A spirit of adventure was also passed down by Reed’s father who packed up his family when Nat was just eight years old and moved them to Scandinavia where they lived aboard an 87-foot cargo schooner. “In the year that we lived aboard the ship we kind of had to just make up so much of what we did in our lives,” says Reed. “There was no TV or any other readymade entertainment. The whole time seemed to be always about making up some fantasy or other. I feel like it strongly affected the way I see art as a device for making the world in one’s mind become tangible.”
Today, Reed describes his work as highly-stylized, exuberantly-colored scenes of retro-utopian fantasies that lean heavily on modernist architectural forms and popular post-war commercial art styles.
Some of his favorite symbols include common pastiches from the period—poodles, bullfighters, tikis, and peacocks. “But I didn't just want to be a stenographer of nostalgia,” he says. “I tried to think about the way I was using and reusing these elements as symbols for post-war and modernist ideas, as well as being familiar devices to prick people's memories or perceptions of an exceptionally formative time in our culture. As an an example, bullfighters were a popular theme from the mid-mod period. But as I use them, I think of them as modernist architecture in human form, exquisitely weighted forms and elegant lines, and I often juxtapose them against characters such as peacocks and poodles as a tension between form and decoration, as well as subverting a traditionally macho icon with feminine feeling associations.”
He adds that his general approach to his work is to romanticize an extremely optimistic and refreshingly naive vision of the future that was ascendant at the dawn of the technological revolution and transformed lifestyles in the mid-20th century. “So that approach, in my mind, naturally calls for a vivid, even garish palette in a desperate attempt to revive a dying (if not dead) patient through color.”
Reed also enjoys his role as a Palm Springs business owner. “Generally people are really open and happy when they are visiting here,” he says. “I love how excited they get about the style this place is so famous for. When I'm in the gallery it's a pleasure to talk to people.”
The Art of Nat Reed, 333 North Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 108B, 323-304-8822
Captions: Artist and gallery owner Nat Reed and some of his artworks.
Photography courtesy of Nat Reed