Tucked into the back of a long narrow lot near Salt Lake’s 9th & 9th district, Nathan Florence’s artist studio is a creative oasis in the midst of a bustling neighborhood. It’s a spot filled with natural light pouring in through the second-story windows on the west elevation, dappled by the shade of mature trees growing around the structure. On every surface are objects that he finds beautiful, from vintage tools to the paintings gifted him by other artists and the paint-encrusted palette knives he inherited from famed artist Trevor Southey.
“My idea for a designated creative space was informed by so many professors I knew in college and the studios of artist friends all over the country,” says Florence, who attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania for his undergraduate work. In particular, Florence’s design aesthetic was deeply influenced by his mentor in Philadelphia, Randall Exon. Says Florence of Exon, “He was a farm kid from Kansas, and I often felt like I was at a similar disadvantage coming from Utah. I thought, ‘If he can do it, I can be an artist, too.’”
So he has, and with gusto. In addition to his work as artist-in-residence and teacher at the Weilenmann School of Discovery in Park City, Florence has created an acclaimed body of work in both oil painting and multimedia pieces. He also directed the documentary film “Art + Belief” which will be released later this winter.
With multiple commissions and projects ranging from ethereal portraits to brooding landscapes, Florence needed a close-to-home designated studio space. In 2009, he saw an opportunity to create that space when the family built a new garage on the back of their residential lot.
“Our contractor suggested that we place the studio space next to the garage instead of a loft above it, as we’d originally envisioned.” That design shift made all the difference, creating convenient ground-floor access for moving huge canvases and supplies, along with installing full plumbing for easy cleanup.
But more importantly for Florence, his wife Marian, and two teen aged children, “There’s a lot of back-and-forth with me taking breaks with them in the house, or Marian and the kids coming out to talk, do homework, or listen to music while I’m working.”
Florence says of his space that he’s often reminded of the quote by John Cage: “When you start working, everybody is in your studio—the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas—all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.”
The best part, says Florence, is that when he leaves his studio, he’s just going a few steps back home.