Nathan Oliveira

artist artwork
Nathan Oliveira (1928-) is an important Bay Area painter, printmaker, and sculptor whose work is notable for its complex figure/ground relationships and its emphasis on the human form, suspended in space. Oliveira is generally associated with the Bay Area Figurative painters of the 1950s and 1960s. However, an existentialist expressionism informs his work, and this emotional intensity, along with the paintings' primarily monochromatic palette, separates his work from that of his peers of the day such as Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, and Manuel Neri.

Oliveira received critical recognition early on in his career for emotionally charged paintings that are an attempt, in the artist's words, to "make a spiritual contribution."1 His main artistic preoccupation throughout his oeuvre has been the depiction of a solitary figure, usually female, and often wraithlike, emerging from an atmospheric and undefined space. In the early 1960s, Oliveira's palette shifted and he began to incorporate more vibrant colors. His subject matter, however, remained the same. The influence of Northern European expressionism, such as Edvard Munch and Max Beckmann, with whom Oliveira studied at Mills College, Oakland, in 1950, is evidenced in his work as is the portraiture of Rembrandt and the attenuated female figurative sculptures of Giacommetti.

Oliveira's graphic achievements have established him as a major figure in American printmaking. His innovative work in lithography and monotype has been compared to that of Goya, Picasso, Edvard Munch, and Eugène Carrière, and he has created procedural standards that artists continue to follow today.2 In the 1980s, also Oliveira began working with sculpture, creating works that draw inspiration from Pre-Columbian iconography to 20th-century modern works, most notably those of Giacommetti.3

Born in Oakland, Oliveira attended the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts) in the early fifties. In 1956, Oliveira began teaching at CCAC and also at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). He later moved to Stanford University in 1966 where he is a Professor Emeritus. He is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, was elected to the National Academy of Arts and Letters, and is a recipient of the Commander of the Order of Henry the Navigator, the highest civilian honor awarded by the Republic of Portugal, for contributions to Portuguese culture.

Nathan Oliveira's work is held in many major museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Tate Gallery, London; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Reference Credit: Hackett-Freedman