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Emerging Must-Know London Artist Nathan Eastwood
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Emerging Must-Know London Artist Nathan Eastwood

Picture of Jessica MacLeish
Updated: 4 January 2017
Get used to hearing the name Nathan Eastwood. The young London-based artist won the East London Painting Prize in 2014, was a John Moores Painting Prize finalist in 2012, a Celeste Art Prize finalist in 2007, and has had his work displayed in both solo and group exhibitions—all before reaching age 30.
Bored, Nathan Eastwood
Bored 2014 | © Nathan Eastwood

But the innovative artist didn’t always know he was destined for the creative life. As a child, with a father in the Royal Navy, his family moved around a lot, so Eastwood’s schooling was often interrupted. The only subject he enjoyed at his many different schools was art, and he would come home from school every day to paint or draw for hours. “You could say I was into art,” Eastwood says wryly. However, he didn’t know, or didn’t think, that a career in art was a viable option. Instead, he was obsessed with the idea of joining the Royal Marines, though eventually failed the entrance physical because of asthma. Eastwood calls this failure “a blessing in disguise.” At 19, he decided to pursue art professionally. Eastwood graduated from the Kent Institute of Art & Design with a BA and from the Byam Shaw School of Fine Art with a Masters degree. He describes attending art school as “the best decision” of his young adult life, and it has certainly started to pay off.

Eastwood’s work is a study in realism, and he describes himself as inspired by life: a person’s social existence and social relations. All of his paintings are based on photographic prints—of cafes, pigeons, launderettes, neighbors, and more. He tries to capture life as it is, as we experience it, much like the ‘Kitchen Sink’ artists of the 20th century (a group which Eastwood also cites as an inspiration for his work). He feels that he communicates best through his painting, and describes his body of work as “steeped within the socio-political infrastructure,” just as our lives in Western, capitalist countries undeniably are.

After taking photos and uploading them to his computer, Eastwood searches the digital images to select one for a potential panting. Using Photoshop, he can manipulate the photo’s lighting, mood, scale, or even select and extract a specific detail. Then the painting begins. But it’s not as simple as that – Eastwood meticulously applies enamel paint to a board to eventually achieve his finale product. The paint is very thin and requires many layers to create substance and depth; it also dries extremely quickly, so Eastwood uses a glaze to slow the drying process down, as the glaze keeps the enamel wet longer.

Because his loose brushwork often shows in his finished paintings, Eastwood describes his medium as symbiotic with his message. The imperfections (the aforementioned loose brushwork, as well as trapped dust and hair in the enamel) present in the finished product reflect life’s imperfections. These “flaws” are not purposeful; rather, they are natural side effects of Eastwood’s painting process, and they happen to work very well with his desire to capture life as we live it. Eastwood’s recent success – including a number of prizes, honors, and both group and solo exhibitions – has been a bit of a happy shock, but he says that it hasn’t changed his interests.

Nico's Cafe, Nathan Eastwood
Nico’s Cafe 2013 | © Nathan Eastwood

So what’s he working on now? He’s continuing with his real life cataloguing and planning future exhibitions. He plans to continue painting works that reflect one’s social existence, as real life is what appeals to him. However, he does want to hone the digital imaging and Photoshop part of his process even further, as he’s interested in how the camera lens or digital aspect informs our view of the world.

Eastwood’s future looks to be a bright one, and he will be an inspiration to young artists in the UK and elsewhere. His advice for these aspiring artists ranges from practical: prepare to be broke; prepare for rejection; be confident when applying for an art prize, to the philosophical. Perhaps his most resonant piece of advice is this: do work that will spark a bigger conversation. Eastwood is certainly doing so, himself.