Nathan Oliveira died at his home in Stanford, California, on Saturday, November 13. The cause was related to pulmonary fibrosis, according to DC Moore Gallery, which represents the artist. Had he lived just a day longer, he could have attended the 90th birthday party of his great friend and fellow artist Wayne Thiebaud, held at San Francisco MOMA the following day.
Born in Oakland in December 1929 to Portuguese immigrant parents, Oliveira graduated from California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland with a BFA and MFA, and then spent several years teaching and focusing mainly on printmaking. In 1950, he studied with Max Beckmann at Mills College in Oakland, which was a defining experience for his artistic development. For a few years in the mid-1950s, he joined several San Francisco artists including Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and others who met regularly to draw from the model. He moved away from the group as his interest in the solitary figure developed, though, and never considered himself to be one of the Bay Area figurative painters.
Nineteen Twenty-Nine, 1961 (Smithsonian Art Museum).
One of the leading American artists of the twentieth century, Nathan Oliveira maintained an obsession with the abstracted human figure. For most of his career, he worked outside the prevailing fashion for abstract art but also outside the standards for representational art. His figures are mysterious, inhabiting an ambiguous space.
His best figurative work invites reverie and introspection. As Thomas Albright said, "In any event they speak eloquently of time and decay, destruction and perishability, and of a will to endure and to create that persists in spite of these things."
Spring Nude, 1962, Oakland Museum
In the early 1990s, Oliveira began to paint geometrically abstracted figures that he called his Stelae series, which occupied him for nearly a decade. His most recent paintings are large canvases of solitary human figures depicted in a palette that is dominated for the most part by reds, golds, and oranges—colors that resonate with an intensity and a deep spiritual affinity that Oliveira sought to convey in his work.
Over the years, Oliveira had a number of major exhibitions of his work, including Nathan Oliveira Print Retrospective, 1949-80, California State University, Long Beach (1980); Nathan Oliveira: A Survey Exhibition 1957-1983, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1984); Variations in Time/Nathan Oliveira/ Monotypes and Monoprints, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (1997); The Art of Nathan Oliveira, San Jose Museum of Art (2002); and Nathan Oliveira: The Painter’s Bronzes, Palo Alto Art Center (2008). He also had many exhibitions at the John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, as well as solo exhibitions at DC Moore Gallery, New York.
Nathan Oliveira is survived by a sister, Marcia Heath of Milbrae, CA; and three children, Lisa Lamour of Fresno, CA; Gina Oliveira of Kihei, HW; and Joe Oliveira of Palo Alto, CA.
Thomas Albright. On Art and Artists (p 82)
John Seed. Forgetting the Self. http://www.johnseed.com/oliveira/oliveira2.html
Obituary from Kenneth Baker: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fc%2Fa%2F2010%2F11%2F19%2FBALF1GDK7T.DTL
KQED SPARK Interview: http://www.kqed.org/arts/programs/spark/profile.jsp?essid=4696
NY Times: www.nytimes.com/2010/11/19/arts/design/19oliveira.html
Collection at SFMOMA: http://www.sfmoma.org/artists/918/artwork?artwork=53