Updated: Apr 2, 2020
CA: What made you first start drawing?
CN: I have been drawing since I was a little kid. The earliest drawings in my house are from when I was one or two years old. When I was three, I was drawing quite a bit. I kept going and going. I even drew in class and on my test papers getting in trouble quite a bit for my drawings. Everyone knew me as the artist in school.
CA: When it comes to art, what sparks a piece for you? CN: Usually my work is based on where I am living at the time. My wife and I get involved in our community where ever we live. In the process of getting involved, I build relationships with the people in the neighborhood. I start to hear my neighbor’s stories and begin to understand people of all different ages and cultures. From these conversations and relationships, I believe God puts it on my heart these pieces of art. Everything for me evolves from my Christian beliefs. I do believe everyone has a talent and can use it to make the world a better place. There is a quote from a Sidney Pottier movie that connects with me. As Sidney was speaking to his father who is black: “you see yourself as a black man and I see myself as a man”. This is how I feel when creating my pieces of art. I feel you are excluding yourself from other things when you fixate on only your background. I care about all men, women, and mankind. I try to look at things with my work as things I disagree with, things I think should change, or something I don’t know about but would like to know more on. Any hardships that mankind has gone through should be discussed. It would be great if everyone looked at it like that quote and cared about everyone. Not solely our own groups. I am native American and that is what I use to create my works.
CA: Who have been influential role models or mentors to you? CN: I am self taught and didn’t really grow up with artists to be influential in my work. My dad, Jon Bates, did influence me on how to work hard and never belittled my dreams. My mother had a book on Norman Rockwell’s paintings that I studied as a child and adored. I do appreciate other artists as I have progressed in my art like Francis Bacon and Basquait. The biggest thing about art that I appreciate is work that tells a story and is detailed oriented. I like when I feel a piece of work takes a lot of time and effort to create.
CA: What is the perfect piece of art to you if it exists? CN: The perfect piece of art to me brings out emotions such as tears or laughter. It also transfixes me. People have told me, you can work on a piece of art forever to make tweaks and adjustments to it. Personally to me, there is a time when you are finished and you know its complete. I feel you can have a perfect piece of art but with anything you can argue it. With art, I definitely feel you can have a perfect piece of art. I haven’t seen many but I feel it exists.
CA: How do you describe your style? CN: I would say my main style I have gotten notoriety and sales from are my drawings I do with my ink pen (ball point pen). I would describe these drawings as obsessive, I use a process of pointillism with the pen giving it the look I am trying to achieve. This process gives the drawings a sense of movement. Lately, I have been experimenting with a new style for my work. I have been playing with spray paint and stencils. I want people to get something new from the work every time they see it. I want my work to never be boring to the viewer.
CA: Do you have a favorite piece? CN: I feel like I have favorites of a particular time period. One of those periods, I had an earlier painting about my brother and it was called ‘To Diagnose Death’. When the medical profession in the 80s diagnosed my brother with leukemia, it was labeled a death sentence at the time due to limited ways to combat it. I depicted the boy in the painting with a drop of blood under his nose. The doctor has his right hand missing in the painting and if you’re right handed, you couldn’t do what you normally do without your strong hand. It was expressing how the medical field couldn’t do anything for this situation at the time.
CA: What has been your greatest accomplishment? CN: I have a installation of my art in the Palm Springs art museum in California. I think it will be up for a few more months. That has been an awesome experience. When one’s work is placed in an museum (any museum), you will feel like you received some respect. The installation shows a soldier kicking the door in and at his feet lies a welcome mat. There are soldiers following him on the way in. I was trying to depict soldiers coming home from war and not getting support as they transition back into society. Veterans come home from war changed from their experiences never to be the same again. This installation has gotten wonderful opportunities to be seen.
I would say another one is being written up in New York Times by Roberta Smith. This review validated me as an artist. That was amazing because getting written up by the New York Times is quite the accomplishment.
CA: What do you wish your younger self had known about art that you know today? CN: I would tell my younger self to be more aggressive when it comes to talking to people in the art world. Sometimes I might not approach someone I know in the art world because I let other people tell me how great they are which intimidated me. I do go out of my way to meet with curators and art directors now but it would have helped if I started this earlier.
CA: What is fun and rewarding for you in regards to drawing? CN: The fact that I love it when I finish a drawing/painting and I know I’m done. After putting a tons of hours into the art and it turned out a success. I get a chance to sit back to look at it when it is completed and basically smile. The composition worked, the color worked, and the general picture worked. My kids and my wife are my biggest fans. It is really nice that my kids get into it and start drawing themselves.
CA: How do you want your work/portfolio to be remembered for? CN: Whatever is important to me, I pursued it in the context of my work. I want my actions to speak in volumes. People can say anything but if they don’t actually embody it in real life then doesn’t mean anything. Everything I worked on I actually meant it and was real. It was all from my heart and I cared about the subject matter that I did. I am involved in my community and these subjects are close to my heart. I’m not doing art to just do art. I’m doing art because I feel it can make a difference in the world. I feel like anyone can make a difference in the world by doing what they love. I want my kids to remember that their dad worked hard in anything he did and never gave up. That I tried to do the right thing and leave a stamp doing something positive.
CA: What is the best advice you can give someone with a strong desire to do art like yourself? CN: Trust God and work really hard with your art. When everyone tells you it isn’t a reasonable idea in society, keep going. My mother to this day keeps telling me to get a “regular job”. Sometimes people, even your parents, will be discouraging of your dream but it is important to ignore the distractions. People connect success to money and I believe it is not always the case. For I know, a lot of people with a good amount of money that are miserable. Pursue your passion and to try your best to ignore the people who will doubt you.