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Peter Nadin: Greek Plans Gone Awry

Peter Nadin is a contemporary artist who raises questions about the Trojan Horse. What if the Greeks, once inside their giant wooden decoy, were unable to get out? This and other questions have given rise to a series of drawings and paintings that populate Nadin’s New York Studio. Work in the series describes both machinery and delicate, almost ethereal visions, between the wooden horse and its makers trapped within.

Hollywood Trojan Horse.

Massive wooden wheels, like those of a Roman ox cart are common elements of Nadin’s horses. Each wheel possesses a volume and weight that ground linear constructions which grow upward from the axles like the frames of early bicycles. Illusionistic volume is relegated to the wheels. Each horse supports a giant rectangular plate on a linear prop, atop which Nadin paints figures in varying degrees of abstraction. The rectangular plates are painted in an oblique relationship to the heavy wooden frames that surround the canvases. Nadin designs his own frames (down to the profile of the knives used to cut molding) and the maple wood outside the image posits an interesting contradiction between our expectation of a wooden horse and the tubular frames of the artist’s decoy.

Three paintings from the series suggest narrative continuity in Nadin’s alternative history of the Siege of Troy. On the elevated panel of the first painting Nadin has painted the contours of a composite figure in golden paint with gestural brush work. On the far end of the panel sits a figure with his legs hanging over the side and his head bowed over in fatigue. Inextricably bound to the seated figure, joined at the pelvis, is a second figure lying on his back, lengthwise on the panel as though the first figure had succumbed to exhaustion.

The frame of the second Trojan Horse painting supports two panels, one considerably smaller and lower than the other. Resting on the small panel is a terra cotta vase. On the higher panel Nadin has applied broad gestural strokes of golden paint that vaguely describe the shape of a recumbent figure, surrounded by an aura that partially obscures his shape. If the Greeks were trapped within their horse, the decoy would become a tomb, but Nadin’s horse suggests a pyre. The aura of light surrounding the figure is smoke of fire that consumes the dead, and the vase suggests a repository for ashes.

In the last Trojan Horse painting, the flames seem to have died away, leaving only ashes on the panel. The horse, bereft of its occupant, has a melancholy air, like the skeleton of some industrial structure in a modern city. Neither the gods on Olympus nor Homer would have tolerated an inglorious demise for the Greeks, but were the Trojan horse to have been a trap for its makers, it would have somehow been more plausible. Like the crew of a Russian submarine that was recently lost in the Bering Sea, the Greeks would have had time to ponder their fate before quiet and stillness descended on them. Traps are dangerous things, very much impartial to their victims. For Nadin, the series seems to reflect a sense of self obliteration through the act of creation. The work of an artist consumes his creative energy and conditions the manner in which he is perceived in the world. Likewise, the Nadin Trojan Horse elicits Pirandellian questions about identity. When a man wears a mask, sometimes his own features grow to fill its interior contours, resulting in the death or at least transformation of self.

© Daniel Rothbart, 2000.

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