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Rising Stars: Meet Nathan Rohlander

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nathan Rohlander.

Nathan, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I moved to Los Angeles and then Pasadena as an art student in the nineties, wow that makes me feel old. Starting out at Otis when it was located next to MacArthur Park on 6th street was rather exciting. After a year there, I transferred to ArtCenter in Pasadena and enrolled in their illustration program. My first jobs in the entertainment industry came for my classmates and community at ArtCenter. I became a scenic and worked with a crew on Music Videos and Commercials. Creating larger than life abstract and figurative paintings was exhilarating. These connections facilitated selling work to the industry. This was the start of my professional career. Since I loved painting large my shoe portraits (4’x6′ paintings) were a natural fit. This helped start my gallery career. From there, my work was purchased for private collections, building entrances and was commissioned to create more large scale works for the likes of Nordstroms. Now supplying paintings for TV shows, commercials, wineries and large scale building projects the next task was to conquer editorial. With this momentum, I advertised and landed some editorial jobs creating illustrations for book covers, children’s books and magazine articles. Currently, I am working on merchandise for fashion apparel like shirts, scarfs and whatever else might expand my brand. The journey is the best part!

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
One of my favorite quotes is “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast”. With dedicated and gradual progression, my path has unfolded. Of course, it has not been a completely smooth road. When loading photography equipment to go shoot Dave Matthews at Red Rocks my hand was crushed in the door of a freight elevator. This was a setback and an opportunity. After two surgeries and a long road to recovery, it gave me the clarity of focus to put my efforts on the work that I was meant to do. It gave me liberty. The quote is worth dissecting and reminds us that to move forward as a professional you must be deliberate. Mastery comes from repetition, passion and a lifelong pursuit stained with blood, sweat and tears.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
Specializing in drawing and painting the human form and experience is my passion. From moments of leisure to acts of kindness, my work is about how we interact. What we see and what we don’t see. The work has been described as… “Observations of moments in time.” It is rhythmic, contemplative and timeless. As a young artist desiring to paint the human figure, I chose shoes. Shoes became a surrogate for the figure. I called them shoe portraits and this is what I am known for. The shoe portraits evolved to people putting them on and moving around. At this point, it all became about POV. Noticing everyday moments that were so often overlooked is what I do. My most famous work is titled “Junk Food” and is a visual anchor on the Emmy award-winning TV show Modern Family. It is an image of a woman in red pants in black flip-flops. The desire to notice the overlooked turned to a focus on reflections and shapes that distort our natural mode of perception. Noticing this and focusing on it creates works of art allowing the viewer to see themselves in it. The natural focus is the figure… the desire for mastery is clear.

Can you talk to us a bit about the role of luck?
Another great quote… “Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness.” Having a specific goal and focus enables one when opportunity knocks at the door. Having my work on TV shows like “Third Rock from the Sun”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Insecure” and “Modern Family” to name a few has opened up a lot of opportunity. The story of “Junk Food”, one of my pieces on “Modern Family” is interesting and might be considered a stroke of luck. As previously stated in the beginning of my career, I worked as a scenic. Creating relationships with people that would eventually become clients. “Modern Family” had their pilot and was renting my work. When the show became syndicated, they wanted to purchase work instead of rent it. The set designer stopped by my studio to see work that was available to purchase. I pulled out all the stops and brought out all of my paintings. She noticed “Junk Food” and said she liked it but it wasn’t specifically what they had come by for. She took it to see what the head set designer thought. It was serendipitous and “Junk Food” became part of the permanent set. Since the show has rapped, it now sits in the Disney Archives. I imagine it rests in a box next to the “Arch of the Covenant” from “Indiana Jones” in a warehouse. This painting luckily has a global fan club that I could never have dreamt of… To this day, it is the luckiest most serendipitous sale I have made. You never know what is going to catch on and help you make that break.

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