Artist Audio & Transcription: Nate Lewis
Transcription of Artist Audio: Nate Lewis
NATE LEWIS: My name is Nate Lewis, and my day job was an intensive care unit registered nurse.
AJA MUJINGA, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Art at the Blanton: And you were making artwork the entire time you were working in intensive care. Can you talk a little bit about how you found time to make artwork and how, where that fit in your schedule?
NATE LEWIS: Yeah, Yeah. So, I started I started drawing in 2010. That was probably the second year into working as intensive care unit nurse. And the beautiful thing about it is that, you know, intensive care—it’s only three days a week, you know. I mean, working as a nurse—it’s three days a week. If as long as you’re not taking them like overtime and everything. Which is really amazing. And a lot of that was dedicated to starting to draw.
AJA MUJINGA: I want to talk a little bit more about the way that you make work. You’ve spoken about the influence of like heart rhythm prints and diagnostic imagery and medical illustrations. Can you tell us a little bit about how those come into your imagery?
NATE LEWIS: My sister’s an artist and so is my brother-in-law, and my sister worked with paper. And so, I was thinking like materially, you know, as well. And so, I started collecting heart rhythm strips from patients that I took care of in the intensive care unit. And I took these strips, these rhythms and—which were like a receipt that comes out of the little machines by the patient’s bedside when the heart rhythm is high, low, irregular. And then you have to come access the patient, assess the rhythm.
So, I was making pieces with them—it would be like three strips, right under one another. And I was playing around with just collage elements, just collage and paint and little elements. And I was like, there was nothing else I wanted to do than make work with patient’s heart rhythms. I thought, this is the pinnacle for me.
I’m like, well, what is more important than this? Because you know, that’s so where I was. So, what happened was those pieces started getting—they weren’t archival so, they started getting dots and things on them. It was like chemical thermal paper. I didn’t know about this stuff. A friend of mine was—a good friend—he was like, “Well, just scan them into the computer, blow them up big, and then you can work on them how you want.”
And I was against it at first because it wasn’t like the actual material, but I was like, “Okay, I’ll try it.” And from doing that, that’s how I started working with paper as a material. But what I realized is, in my practice, I’m constantly just trying to find that rhythm. That’s what I’m trying to find. Because I wouldn’t have had these breakthroughs with paper if it wasn’t for going to those rhythms, you know? And so, in whatever—in all I do, it’s like fighting that. It’s trying to find that that rhythm, you know.
Nate Lewis is a visual artist and musician based in New York City. Born and raised in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, Lewis received his Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from Virginia Commonwealth University and served as a critical-care nurse for 9 years in DC-area hospitals. Seeking creative pursuits outside of nursing, Lewis began playing violin in 2008 and drawing in 2010.
Lewis’s current work mixes drawing, collage, and hand-sculpted paper to create rhythmic figures that dance across the surface of the pieces. While he no longer works as a nurse, Lewis attributes much of his layered, process-based imagery and waving graphic lines to the tools – the EKG, MRI and CAT Scan machines, the surgical scalpel – and sensibilities he acquired in the hospital setting. His work has been exhibited at the California African American Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, Fridman Gallery, and the Yale Center for British Art. You can find Nate Lewis at natelewisart.com or @nloois on Instagram.
Nate Lewis portrait courtesy of the artist and Fridman Gallery