Artist shows challenges facing LGBTQ youth


Mixed-media artist Nathan Austin discussing his work "Few of Days, Full of Trouble" on display Friday at Palouse Books.

LATISHA JENSEN, Evergreen mint editor

A local artist shines light on a dark, and often overlooked, reality facing American youth through a series of paintings and screen-prints.

Mixed-media artist Nathan Austin began creating artwork at 16 years old. As Austin got older, he said he recognized the stark differences between himself and the conservative Christian community he grew up in, he said.

“I realized at some point that I’m a gay man and came from a community that didn’t accept that so I came out and rejected that eventually,” Austin said. “Now I’m at a point where I want to reconcile that part of my past with who I am now. This series is an attempt at reconciliation with a community that rejected me.”

Austin said he is offering his voice and experience for the discussion of the nationwide issue at hand, expressing this through his art.

“I’m putting my life into the larger conversation of spirituality and queer identity,” Austin said.

The Williams Institute concluded in a study done between 2011 and 2012 that about 40 percent of homeless youth is non-heterosexual, yet only about 10 percent of the U.S. population is LGBTQ.

Austin said this shows a clear disproportion and underlines the discrimination that the non-heterosexual population faces.

His work focuses on American conservative political Christianity and its effects on non-heterosexual people, he said.

“It does that by re-contextualizing Christian archetypes like Job and Satan or Lucifer and comparing them to non-heterosexual people,” Austin said.

When Job was faced with the possibility of leaving his religious community, he lost his home, family, possessions and health — similar to many non-heterosexual people today, he said.

“I see the parallels and I draw them and make people think,” Austin said.

Rose Nesbitt, a friend and fan of Austin’s work, was at the exhibit and has known Austin and his art for almost a year.

“There’s so much movement in his work,” Nesbitt said. “Everything is surreal and along the lines of gothic architecture and art deco.”

Nesbitt and Austin have talked about how people are raised in households that do not support any lifestyle except the one they’ve grown up with.

“Queer kids then try and move beyond these internalized prejudices and their own expectations of themselves,” Nesbitt said. “This is doing a wonderful job of that, especially using Job as the proxy of people coming to terms and then not being able to.”

Austin’s favorite piece in this series, called “The Fall,” is an image of Lucifer that was originally a painting by William Blake. He reprinted it eight times by screen-printing in radial symmetry, he said.

“It’s supposed to play with the idea of the fall of Lucifer in an abstract way,” Austin said. “There’s this rich visual history of biblical art specifically about Job and Lucifer and their relationship, and I wanted to rebrand that history in this work to give it some weight, some depth, and take advantage of images that already exist to more eloquently express what I can’t.”

The exhibit will be on display at Moscow’s Artwalk, but Austin wanted to display his work a week early for friends and the local art community to check out before the large event. Austin has a long history and strong relationship with Palouse Books, where his work is currently presented, he said.

“It feels so special to be able to have my art displayed here,” Austin said. “I wouldn’t want to have my work up anywhere else.”