It's been a stellar year for visual artist Nathaniel Donnett. During 2014, he had his first ever solo show at a major museum with "Nothing to See Hear." It was part of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, "Right Here, Right Now: Houston" ongoing series of exhibits and events. In support of "Nothing to See Hear," Donnett received a 2014 Harpo Foundation grant, one of fewer than a dozen awards for the year. (By the way, the Harpo Foundation was founded by Edward Levine. Its name was inspired by Harpo Marx. It's not related to Oprah Winfrey or her company, Harpo Productions.)
He also had a solo show at the Mattatuck Museum, "Alone In My Four Cornered Room," which closes in January 2015.
He was the subject of Rhythm & Black, a documentary by Rice University film students Paige Polk and Lydia Smith.
And most recently, Donnett was awarded a 2015 Idea Fund / Andy Warhol Foundation grant to develop his blog, Not That This, into a website supporting the critical discourse related to African American artists and other groups whose work is largely overlooked, ignored, or misunderstood by the mainstream arts press. (Donnett previously won an Idea Fund / Andy Warhol Foundation grant in 2011.)
This story continues on the next page.
What he does: "Normally, I say I'm an artist. I don't talk much about it but if I do, I say I'm an artist and I'm interested in observing people and how people interact. I personally like to critique and comment on those interactions, especially some of the more nuanced ones that people may not be paying attention to."
Of the two actions - observing and commentating - Donnett says observing is the more important. "Observation is not only the intake of that information, whatever the information is, but it's also the reflection on that information, the editing and determining how I want to present my take on it, how I want to reveal what I've got to say."
Donnett says the act of observation isn't an exact science. "I'm observing a person or people. I'm human. They're human. What I think I'm seeing may not be the truth, it's my perception of the truth and my perception is influenced by my experiences. But even if I end up commenting on something that I really didn't see, that comment can still be relevant. It's still real."
Why he likes it: "I like the attention," he laughs. "Actually I like having a voice. I like the communicative aspect of it. I like the process of observing and understanding and reflecting and communicating on something. I most enjoy when I'm in the process of creating. I'm inside this space or this zone. Being in tune with the idea is the most interesting part, it's just me and my idea. When the work is done, it's always a relief so I guess I could say that I like that part, too, but mostly I like finding a zone."
What inspires him: "There's the idea that there's something in front of you, something beside you and something behind you. There's a social context, an emotional context, form, instrumentation, layers and layers. When you look at a piece, you may see one thing but there's a multitude of things going on, a multitude of layers of ideas and concepts that went into that one work."
If not this, then what: "If I had to do something else, I would be a drummer. My ideal band would be a mix of jazz, funk and rap. When I was younger, I really liked music. I couldn't really sing, but I liked music. I liked dancing, I liked drawing and I liked people. Those things have all resurfaced in my work but somebody else may look at a piece and not see those things.
If not here, then where: "So I have to realistic when I answer that question. There are five major art markets - LA, New York, Chicago, Texas and Miami. In LA and Texas, there's lots of space. In New York, there's not lots of space. So that's one thing. The other thing is affordability. On the other side of that, I don't have a big system of collectors here in Texas. I have it outside of Texas, but not here. So, realistically, I think I would go to California.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"On the fantasy side, I would want to go to Saturn. Sun Ra used to talk about going to Saturn; for me it would be Mars."
What's next: "I've got a group exhibition at the Arkansas Art Center. That will close out this year. After that I've got a few more group shows coming up, including a show called "Heart of Darkness."
More Creatives for 2014 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Sylvia Narvaez Blanco, visual artist Pureum Jo, opera singer Camilo Gonzalez, interdisciplinary artist and educator Kendall Kaminsky, playwright Christopher Turbessi, pianist Chuck Norfolk, filmmaker Reginald Smith, Jr., opera singer Luke Hamilton, dancer, choreographer and actor Jera Rose Petal Lodge, metalsmith and jewelrymaker Lauren Burke, dancer and choreographer Ben Fritzsching, comic book show promoter and character actor Will Ottinger, novelist Greg Starbird, theater lighting designer Dominique Royem, symphony orchestra conductor Marc Boone, Sneaker Gang founder and designer Andy McWilliams, sound designer and composer Maria-Elisa Heg, zine queen Allan Rodewald, artist Anne-Joelle Galley, artist Michelle Ellen Jones, ballroom dancer and actress Morris Malakoff, photographer and filmmaker Terrill Mitchell, dancer Deji Osinulu, photographer Mason Sweeney, artist K.J. Russell, sci-fi author and writing teacher Emily Robison, choreographer and filmmaker John Cramer, violinist and concertmaster Shipra Mehrotra, Odissi dancer and choreographer Winston Williams, comics artist Octavio Moreno, opera singer Dylan Godwin, actor, storyteller and teacher McKenna Jordan, independent bookstore owner Steven Trimble, mixed media artist Sandria Hu, visual artist and professor of art Robert Gouner AKA Goon73, photographer Shawna Forney and Erma Tijerina (aka SHER), culture gurus Mark Bradley, photographer James Ferry, comics artist Keith Parsons, author and philosophy professor Alonzo Williams Jr., photographer Rudy Zanzibar Campos, painter Paige Kiliany, director Betirri Bengtson, visual artist Melissa Maygrove, romance novelist Natalie Harris, bridal gown designer Larry McKee, cinematographer Tiffany Heath, filmmaker Jonathan Pidcock, Jewelry Maker Mallory Bechtel, actor, singer, dancer Janine Hughes, visual artist Nyssa Juneau, artist John Merritt, artist Leslie Scates, choreographer and dance educator Denise O'Neal, producer, director, playwright Jason Poland, cartoonist Courtney Sandifer, filmmaker, actor, writer Lloyd Gite, gallery owner Henry Yau, The Children's Museum of Houston's publicity and promotions guru Angeli Pidcock, fantasy writer and mentor Jennifer Mathieu, author Scott Chitwood, writer Anat Ronen, urban artist Amber Galloway Gallego, rockstar and sign language interpreter Michael Weems, playwright Lane Montoya, artist Jordan Simpson, SLAM poet Joey & Jaime, designers Suzi Taylor, photographer Ashton Miyako, dressmaker T. Smith, artistLindsay Finnen, photographer Kaitlyn Stanley, tattoo artist Eleazar Galindo Navarro, video game maker Kate de Para, textile and clothing designer Shawn Swanner, video game painter Andy Gonzales, painter Chris Foreman, comic book sketcher Theresa DiMenno, photographer Jessica E. Jones, opera singer Atseko Factor, actor John Pluecker, writer, poet and language justice worker Ricky Ortiz, painter, tattoo artist Rabēa Ballin, artist David Wald, actor Lisa E. Harris, performing and visual artist Stephanie Todd Wong, executive director of Dance Source Houston Pamela Fagan Hutchins, novelist Heather Gordy, artist Mark Nasso, comic artist Shelbi-Nicole, artist Marian Szczepanski, novelist Jonathan Blake, fashion designer Doni Langlois, interior designer Kat Denson, dancer Blame the Comic, comedian Margaret Menchaca Alvarez, artist Jacquelyne Jay Boe, dancer Rene Fernandez, painter Teresa Chapman, choreographer and dancer