When thinking about Peter Nadin’s First Mark series, the questions, for me, are: why this show? Why at this time? And why in Havana, Cuba? I first met Peter when he came to Cuba as a US delegate to the South American Beekeepers’ Conference. We spoke about his art and I was fascinated, imagining what the paintings of an artist/beekeeper might look like. I dropped by his studio while visiting New York City in 2000 and left convinced of the originality of his vision. His studio was filled with the sweet scent of honey, wax, and the musky aroma of cashmere wool. I was struck by the paradox of an artwork that was philosophically complex yet made of simple materials from the earth. Peter’s work addresses crucial issues of our time (i.e. our dire ecological situation, our severance from tradition and identity) while simultaneously embodying the simplicity and idealism that lie at the foundation of Cuban culture.
Great art both disregards and reaffirms the long tradition from which it emerges. Alfred Barr once proposed that painting is the universal language of mankind. The works of First Mark prove that this language is alive, flourishing, and still able to surprise and move the viewer in unexpected ways. They are the product of a sixteen-year journey in “unlearning how to make art.” They propose a method of representing the reality of conscious experience that is as universal as it is abandoned by the overly conceptual and commercial ethos of art in the modern world. The paintings welcome viewers home to an impulse they cannot help but find familiar.
There are three dimensions to understanding First Mark: art, agriculture, and cognitive science. These may seem an unlikely triad at first, but the more familiar one becomes with the paintings the more they dance in consort. The First Mark series involves a process closely linked to the farm Peter owns in theCatskill Mountains of New York State. His sensual experience of the landscape moves him to make marks on linen using materials from the farm. This compulsion is not mediated by overly conceptual cognitions, but remains in a raw, pre-conceptual form. Peter creates simple, elemental marks in spontaneous gestures that elucidate our connection to the natural world, to one another, and to our compulsion to create.