Nathan Oliveira Biography

Nathan Oliveira




Painter and printmaker Nathan Oliveira was born Nathan Joseph Roderick in Oakland, California on December 19, 1928, to a family of Portuguese immigrants who had changed the family name from Rodrigues. His father died when the boy was an infant and she later married another Portuguese immigrant, George Oliveira, whose last name his stepson adopted. Originally considering becoming a bookbinder, a chance encounter with a Rembrandt portrait in high school changed his trajectory.

His family relocated across the Bay to San Francisco where they settled in the Haight-Ashbury district following the end of the second World War. Oliveira studied painting and printmaking at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now the California College of the Arts or CCAC) in Oakland, earning his BFA in 1951 and his MFA in 1952, and also studied with Max Beckmann at Mills College in Oakland during the summer of 1950. He then taught printmaking and watercolor at CCAC (1952-'53) and then spent two years in the U.S. Army as a cartographic draftsman. In 1955 he spent as year as Chair of Graphic Design at the CCAC, followed by guest teaching appointments at various art schools and universities, among them the University of Chicago, UCLA, and Cornell University. He held a tenured teaching position at Stanford University from 1964 until his retirement in 1995.  

In 1959, Oliveira was the youngest painter included in the important exhibition New Images of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A survey of five years of his paintings and works on paper was shown at the Art Gallery of the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1963, and a fifteen-year survey of his paintings was organized by the Oakland Museum of California in 1973. He had a print retrospective in 1980 at California State University, Long Beach, and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco organized a survey of his work in monotype in 1997. In the meantime Oliveira exhibited regularly, especially throughout the Bay Area but in major cities across the U.S. and abroad, including New York, Washington D.C., London, Tokohama, Melbourne, Paris, and Stackholm. He is considered one of the most prominent artists of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, though he never considered himself a part of any particular genre, showing the influence of abstract expressionism and post-impressionism as well.

Oliveira was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1994 and has received many other awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, two honorary doctorates, and, in 2000, membership in a distinguished order conferred by the government of Portugal. His work is in the collections of many museums, among them the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Nathan Oliveira died in Palo Alto, California on November 13, 2010.

A detailed obituary can be found here.