It’s not your everyday, run-of-the-mill automotive technician who looks down at the discarded scraps around him, takes them home and makes art with them. Then again, your local, go-to car guy probably didn’t study at Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, Italy.
Nate Jones Jr., 33, works in his father’s Signal Hill tire shop by day, truing (or shaving) tires, balancing wheels and working on brakes. But, when he leaves that shop and heads to his studio, he doesn’t dismiss his day job as just a way to pay the bills. He incorporates its significance into his art. He collects the tire shavings and reconstructs them into elaborate, detailed sculptures. However, those works aren’t simply homages to the concept of repurposing; they’re oftentimes personal tributes to the very backbone of his dad’s business– the customers.
Nate Sr. opened a tire shop in the mid-1960s at 1333 Redondo Ave., which he’d started with a partner, Mel Hamer. “Mel gave my dad a start in his shop, then they went partners, then my dad bought out Mel’s part of the tire shop, and it went from Hamer and Jones to just Nate Jones Tire,” Jones said. “In ‘73 he moved up to 1865 Redondo, where he built a new shop and was there until I think about 2001 or 2002, when he sold the property.”
Jones began working there part-time in his junior year of high school. “I learned as I went and eventually ended up knowing my way around pretty well,” he said. “When he sold the property, I had to move about 75 percent of the shop myself. I had to do it one other time, as we were a bit nomadic for a few years. Those were wild, trying experiences. Anyway, we landed at 1837 Reservoir Dr. in 2004 and have kept the ball rolling ever since.”
Part of those wild, trying experiences might have been his acceptance into the aforementioned Italian art school, as the only American admitted that school year. “My wife (Kat) and I both studied there, became addicted [to the country] and made friends and so, consequently, go back usually once a year to satisfy our craving,” he said. A year later, he earned a bachelor’s of fine arts in drawing and painting from Cal State Long Beach.
Jones’s curriculum vitae lists 14 exhibitions spanning 2004 to last year. What he hasn’t yet added to that résumé is his current exhibit at Warschaw Gallery in San Pedro, where he is showing what he calls “industrial/abstract” works. They began as experiments with the materials he uses every day at the shop, and he treats the tire shavings like paint. He says that, although the work may recall abstract expressionism, his “painterly gestures” are not spontaneous, but actually intentional and carefully directed.
Many of those creations are what Jones refers to as “the meat pieces.” Some of them are indeed reminiscent of animal flesh hanging from meat hooks, but there’s also a beauty in their construction that is at first aesthetically captivating, then compelling in a way that strikes the viewer’s morbid sensibilities. To see that Jones has taken the time to select rubber shavings of particular width and length, then thoughtfully imbue them with color and sculpt their exteriors and interiors into organic-looking forms that appear at once life-like and artful is a, dare I say, satiating experience for the beholder.
I met Jones at his current exhibit at Warschaw Gallery during the San Pedro art walk last week, and, after viewing his work up-close, I was full of questions for the self-described “tire man.”
How did your works made with shredded tires come to be?
They started as experiments with materials other than oil paint. The shavings were a material I had been around for a long time and were something I felt very connected to and consequently were the perfect thing for me to experiment with. They have so many great qualities, especially the quality of very interesting lines, which I am very fascinated with. The shavings themselves are a byproduct of the tire truing process that we do at our shop. I suppose other people could track down shavings to experiment with, but they would not have any relationship to the material. I have poured hours into their making, shed blood during their creation, and feel I have a true relationship with them. In essence, the shavings are my first creation, and the art is my second. From the first piece I made with the shavings until now, it has been a wonderful experiment. I continue to ask myself: How do I get this material to do what I want? What can I learn from it? What can I turn it into?
When people ask you about the meaning of your work, how do you respond?
Usually not how most would think. The work for me, first and foremost is a formal artistic exploration. The subject matter is generally a vehicle for me to experiment with: for example, line, shape, color, light and dark, weight, tension, pulling, blobbing and on and on. With the works based on meat, people often think that there is some kind of ideology behind it, but there is not. I’m not, however, opposed to animal-rights people pointing out certain truths that may be evident in the work. I guess I enjoy the surprise that I’m able to give people.
What prompted you to create portraits of your customers, particularly Harvey?
The portraits of the customers were for my show at Marymount [College] back in 2010. I had a lot of outdoor space to use, and I felt like doing something of the larger scale– at least large for me up to that point. With no boundaries as far as subject matter, I settled on the very people from whom the shavings originate– our customers. Because we have great customers who’ve been with us for a long time and who I know quite well, it was not hard to come up with interesting ways to represent them abstractly, like an homage. Harvey was a very awesome man, one of our country’s great heroes, a World War II fighter pilot. Harvey Davis was his full name. He was always a pleasure to have at the shop and, although I only knew him for a relatively short time, I was easily impressed. I guess with his portrait, as with all the customers’ portraits, there is also the ability to relate them to other people of that same type. There are a few moments within them that are specific to that person’s experience. But even in those cases, I know there are other people out there that share that very experience, however obscure.
What does your dad think of your art made with discarded tires?
He loves it. He and my mom have always been great encouragers of my artistic life. My dad was the first person to show me how to make things. Seeing the continuation of my creative production is a joy for him. I think the fact that I’m making work out of the tire shavings he’s been around for so long makes him very happy– except for when I’ve got 10 huge boxes of rubber sitting around the shop taking up space while waiting to be used. He always jokes around and says, “I can’t believe I threw this stuff away for years and now you are making fine art out of it.” I think many people, without knowing him, must think ‘that shop owner must think his son is wasting his life doing art,’ but that is the farthest thing from the truth. Plus, he knows I’m a really hard worker, since I’m at the shop every day, shaving away.
How do you feel about people touching your art pieces?
I understand that they are very curious about the material and that it has such a great tactile quality, however sometimes I get a bit concerned. It’s part of the interesting nature of the work, that it starts as a very durable product, capable of great abuse, and ends up as an extremely delicate, gossamer piece of art. I don’t worry too much on the pieces where the material is very well contained, but in the cases where the strands are out by themselves, I don’t like touching. I really get worried with kids, as they don’t just touch; they grab and pull. The touching of my work is something I want to consider for the future, building them to be touched. I guess I have a “little of this, little of that” feeling about it. I suppose if I can be there to sort of supervise, since I know what is too hard or rough, I can be like “Hey, you!…not so rough.” That is, in a comedic voice.
What do you hope to achieve with your art?
I feel I’ve already met one goal– work that I feel satisfied with and enjoy the process of making. I hope in the future I can carry that on. I hope the ideas keep flowing and that I keep looking forward to going into the studio. Obviously, making money selling art seems great, but honestly, I don’t really expect that nor do I feel it should be of great concern. If it were, I believe it would affect my work in a very negative way. I do hope that art would continue to be a joy, as it always has been for me, and that I’ll continue to find a larger audience.
Nate Jones’s exhibit titled Industrial/Abstract: Recent Works will be on display at Warschaw Gallery, 600 S. Pacific Ave. in San Pedro through Saturday, Nov. 24. Jones’s art may also be viewed at natejonesart.com .