We had the good fortune of connecting with Nathaniel Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nathaniel, how do you think about risk?
Risk is a part of life–it is almost a pre-condition for life. There are always things outside of my control, and just by choosing to participate in life means I am agreeing to risk all the possible joys and pains contained in it.
With this in mind, the present moment becomes much more valuable, as it is the only thing I can influence to my benefit. I see attention, intention and action as the pillars of a successful studio practice. Where I choose to direct my attention, intention, and actions has everything to do with my chance at personal success and fulfillment.
Attention literally has to do with what I am paying attention to. I want to make sure that I am not emotionally draining myself over things that I have very little control over. Limiting my attention to what was essential to my personal healing, growth and practice was very freeing for me, and allowed me to really have ownership over my practice.
Intention is kind of like faith. When I set an intention, I am telling myself that I will arrive where I would like to be in the future. This is so incredibly important for risk-taking because believing that ones desired future is possible, and even inevitable, despite the risk, is paramount to arriving there. Once I believed my desired future was possible, I simply had to say yes to the opportunities and commit to the work.
Action has to do with ones commitment to putting in the work. The work is the day to day activity of making, communicating, learning, dreaming and enjoying the process. Finding the right personal balance of work and life is a process of experimentation and implementation, and becomes more comfortable and manageable over time. When I commit to being in the studio every week, I am telling myself that what I am doing is valuable, and that there is a future in it, despite the risk.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My art is sculptural and inspired by the body. I think the body is beautiful, fluid, fascinating, fragile, strong and complex. I work with materials that come from the earth like stone and clay. I think I like to work with the earth and bodies, because I need them to stay grounded as I can easily get lost in my head. I mostly make art form myself, but I think other people connect with it because it has a personality, and it reflects the beautiful things about people back to them. I got to where I am today because I don’t think I would be happy doing anything else. I also had amazing support from beautiful people along the way–art teachers, professors, friends and my partner. I have experienced a lot of loss and confusion, and at some point I realized life was too short not to do what I felt came so naturally to me. I’ve learned to be strong and warm, inquisitive and resolutely myself, disciplined and spontaneous. Balance is everything.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would bring them to Art City Studios in Ventura. It is an outdoor stone carving studio space where dozens of stone carvers work. It has been there for decades, and so have many of the artists. I would introduce them to my teacher and mentor Joanne Duby, and we would walk around and see the hundreds of raw stones for sale, as well as works in progress. I live in Los Angeles, but we would have to go to the Long Beach Flea Market. This is a great flea because it is closer to the ocean so it is cooler on a summer day, and it has a great selection and better prices than the Rose Bowl flea market. We would get natural wine at Holcomb, and have some beers and vegan hotdogs at Walt’s. One of my favorite sushi places in little Tokyo is Sushi Enya. In my neighborhood I love Kumquat coffee, Joy, Ramen of York. Before Covid we would walk to All Star Lanes for bowling and karaoke. My partner and I turn our living room into a karaoke bar. We have a bonfire outside. I like to keep it comfy and intimate.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My wife and partner Kourtney Kyung Smith has been invaluable in supporting me and encouraging me to follow my dreams and gifts, and take the risk of working for myself.