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Ryan Johnson, Published August 19 2013

Making a scene: NDSU instructor lands gig at New York art gallery

FARGO – What started as an attempt to boost his resume turned into an unexpected New York gallery engagement for North Dakota State University visual arts lecturer Nate Booth.

The native of the Minneapolis area who earned his bachelor’s at NDSU and master’s degree at Penn State said he wanted to land a full-time teaching job and figured getting his art displayed would boost his credentials.

He applied to galleries across the country before deciding he was happy here, teaching students and working on his own art, whether it’s painting, sculpting, putting together found materials or piecing together a graphic novel.

But Booth, 35, did hear back from Manhattan gallery Agora, and recently finished the first of two exhibitions of his work in the city’s trendy Chelsea district.

You think of yourself as a “nomadic artist.” What does that mean?

I mean both in materials and subject matter. A lot of artists, their subject matter or their materials are, “I paint, or I do sculpture, or I do pictures of landscapes,” and I’m not that.

I explore whatever I feel like in society seems either troubling or interesting, or somehow speaks to me, and the same with materials.

I end up collecting a bunch of what people think is crap, and it might sit there for five years. Then, finally it feels like that energy needs to go into the piece. I collect things and I hold on to them, whether that’s ideas or materials, and they sort of unravel themselves as it goes along.

You said you’re kind of a painter, but not really?

That’s where I mainly focused. When I went to Penn State, I got accepted into the painting program. But I told them I’m really not a traditional painter, and if you’re looking for a traditional painter, you accepted the wrong person.

From there, I went into video and all kinds of stuff. I’ve got five pieces down in the Cities at the Soo Visual Arts Center Gallery, and those are all the graphic novel works.

I’ve got all these narratives going through my head, and these narratives end up playing out in materials. Even though I’m trained as a painter, I use house paint. True painters would never use house paint.

What’s it like to show your work in a major gallery?

People can be pretty pretentious. But it seems like there are a lot of people in those major cities that just appreciate art a little more.

They’ve seen a lot of art, and if nothing else, they’re really good at critiquing your art because of that. But there’s also kind of a kiss-ass thing that goes with that, and I like it and I don’t like it.

It’s how I feel about New York in general. It’s fun to go there. There’s tons of history, it’s beautiful and I want to get the hell out after four or five days.

What’s next for you?

I think No. 1 is definitely continuing to pursue that graphic novel. I think the work’s getting there and the story’s getting developed enough that I could really pitch it to somebody and get that published.

But it’s also an open road. I’ve always kind of been that way. I have a counseling background, and I have all kinds of stuff and didn’t know I’d end up where I’m ending up.

In some ways, I don’t even really care as long as I’m happy with it. I feel like I’m happy with where I’m at, and I kind of want things to just go where they’ll go.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587