PHOTOGRAPHER NATHANIEL RYAN THOMPSON: Breaking down barriers in the art world

What an absolute pleasure to meet Eduardo Capilla, the generous-hearted, Argentinian visual artist and film maker behind the recently opened installation space, Capilla Studio. The studio first came to my attention  when I attended a beautifully conceptualized and pure show by fibers artist Samantha Mack ( I mentioned my excitement in a 2023 year-end review of the arts scene in Savannah). Mack’s meditative and thoughtful installation, entitled “Things Removed” was the second show Capilla curated in the 31st Street home. He had previously organized a solo show for James Bailey, a self-taught artist working in wood who I reviewed in February of 2022.

Splitting his time between Savannah where son is attending SCAD, and New York where his daughter is attending Parsons, Capillo (b.1960) has enjoyed a storied career both as a contemporary artist/creator and as a promoter of others who deserve the art world’s light to shine upon them. In the past he has helped showcase such important contemporary artists as fellow Argentinians Judi Werthein and Tomas Saraceno, and American portraitist Elizabeth Peyton. Moving here, Capilla felt, “there are so many artists, and so few spaces,” and so he and his son Lucio opened three rooms of his son’s 31st street home to show art (he does not call it a gallery as he takes no commission on sales).

The upcoming show by self-taught photographer Nathaniel Ryan Thompson (b. 1997) is a beautiful example of Capilla’s generous spirit and his genuine excitement to nurture new and interesting work by new and interesting artists.

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Nathaniel Ryan Thompson
"Crazy Joe's"

Thompson was born to missionaries in Thailand, grew up in Georgia,  and currently lives and works in Savannah. He considers himself a multidisciplinary artist who specializes in photography, primarily using vintage and analog devices such as early digital cameras, 1980’s slide projectors, medium formats, 35mm, and instant film. The son and grandson of photographers, the young man says he’s had a camera in his hands for most of life, and says, “I try to shoot all of my printed artwork on film.”

Thompson’s website states that he “finds inspiration through his current geographical location, road trips, and historical reenactments, then channels this inspiration to explore themes such as the mundane, transformation, and the relationship between the past and present.” He likes to document “the subtle changes in Southern Georgia landscapes” with work that straddles “the line between memory and reunion, capturing the feeling of nostalgia when recalling a place of the past and viewing it in the present.”

Thompson’s first solo show, entitled Reunion: An Anthropological Study of Family and Nostalgia held in the spring of 2022 at SoGlo Gallery in Brunswick, GA,  epitomized this genre perfectly. He installed an exact replica of an early 20th century office complete with wall art, and recreated a southern grandmother’s living room where one could sit down and flip through pictures in a photo album (remember those?!) Wanting to “document our time and place in history,” the office, living room, and photographic images together made up a road trip through time which perfectly reflected the ephemeral landscape and timeworn vernacular of the deep South.

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Nathaniel Ryan Thompson
"Grandma's Living Room" from the artist's 2022 "Reunion" show

Thompson’s themes of blank signs, homes, kudzu vines and peaches, bring back memories of commerce in small-town Americana. Many are reflected in his self-published book “Planet Georgia,” the cover of which sports an image of Savannah’s iconic globe on DeRenne Avenue. The photographs of roadside shacks, convenience stores, and simple white churches remind me of the work of famed Alabamian multi-media artist William Christenberry (1936-2016)  and of images by former Savannah photographer and gallerist Meryl Truett, who described her 2003 book “Thump Queen & Other Southern Anomalies” as a collection of “eccentric southern images exploring the world of Thump Queens, Velvet Elvises, Soul Palaces, and Bad Antiques” from the “vanishing authentic South.”

Thompson’s new show at Capillo Studio, entitled For Your Convenience, opens on the evening of Sunday, February 25 and features an installation project; Visitors will be attending and experiencing the grand opening of Nat’s Variety Shop. A little tight-lipped about the surprises in store (pun intended), Thompson hints at recreating a convenience store inside the 32nd street home, complete with many of the products and items one would expect for sale…Claxton fruit cakes are mentioned (!) It will be an experiential show “with photos in places you don’t really expect…all the rooms in the house are part of the show, and also the canvas.”

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Nathaniel Ryan Thompson
"Central Hardware Interior" 2023

"With this show I’m focusing on spaces of commerce because in the south, especially in the smaller towns, the convenience store is more than just a place to get a soda or a snack. It can be a grocery store, a meeting place, or the center of a town. As we start moving towards  more homogenized  and corporate commerce [think Dollar General and Wal-Mart], we are losing these places, which I think of as very beautiful. I’m creating an archive of spaces that I don’t think are being documented.” Capilla and I discuss how this phenomenon is worldwide; I reminisce about the corner confectionaries/news agencies in my native Ireland, and he reflects on how the almacen (bodega) is disappearing and being replaced by huge supermarkets in his native Argentina.

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Nathaniel Ryan Thompson
"Bradley's" 2023

“My goal with the show is that people should appreciate and experience these spaces now, while we still have them,” Thompson continues. Then he says something important: “Coming from a self-taught background, I can understand how there are barriers with the fine art world. People who haven’t learned about art can feel separation when they see work on a wall, in a frame, behind glass. There are multiple barriers between the viewer and the art world. So, I’m trying to use this show to break down those barriers.”

At this point, Studio Capilla’s producer Victoria Gatlin joins the conversation. A dynamic young woman on a gap year between school in her native Costa Rica and university in Madrid, Gatlin is helping with marketing and social media. She says, “We’re inviting not only those in the fine art world, but people from the community – like the people from Randy’s BBQ [the baby blue cube building on Wheaton Street is the subject of one of Thompson’s photographs]. It’s to make this art form more accessible, to destroy those barriers. Because art is expression, and it’s for everyone.”

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Nathaniel Ryan
A flyer for the store opening

Part of the artwork is the advertising that Gatlin and Thompson have developed to show that this is a genuine place - that is really opening. As you go around town, keep your eyes peeled for flyers and coupons for the grand opening of Nat’s Variety Shop.

As Gatlin says, “I think the reason people should see this is to experience the childlike wonder of when you were younger and walked into a convenience store with your parents. I feel so much of this work is to do with the wonder and the love that Nathaniel has for these spaces, for the community, and for people.”

An art happening not to be missed.

Nathaniel Ryan Thompson’s For Your Convenience opens on Sunday, February 25 from 6 to 9pm at Studio Capilla, 806 E. 31st Street. Look for information on events and talks @nr.thompson and @studiocapilla, and visits can be scheduled for other times through [email protected]. The show will be on display through March 25. Find out more about Thompson at nathanielryanthompson.com