Nathan Oliveira Biography

Nathan Oliveira




Nathan Oliveira (born Nathan Vargus Roderick), painter and printmaker, was born in Oakland, California on 19 December 1928. His parents were Portuguese immigrants who had their family name, Rodrigues, changed at Ellis Island. Nathan’s father died when he was an infant and his mother later married another Portuguese immigrant, George Oliveira. Originally considering becoming a bookbinder, a chance encounter with a Rembrandt portrait in high school changed Oliveira’s trajectory.

At the close of the second World War, the Oliveira family relocated to San Francisco where they settled in the Haight-Ashbury district. Nathan Oliveira graduated from George Washington High School in San Francisco in 1946 and the following year he enrolled in the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland where he studied with Otis Oldfield, Karl Baumann, Hamilton Wolf, and Glenn Wessels. He also studied with Max Beckmann at Mills College in Oakland during the summer of 1950. Oliveira received his BFA degree in 1951 and his MFA degree in 1952 from the California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC).

Oliveira taught printmaking and watercolor at CCAC during the school years 1952 and 1953, and then spent two years in the U.S. Army working as a cartographic draftsman at Fort Winfield Scott, Presidio Army Base, San Francisco.

In 1955 Oliveira began teaching painting at California College of Arts and Crafts and drawing and printmaking at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). In 1956, he began drawing the Bay Area figurative group that included David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Paul Wonner, William Theophilus Brown and Elmer Bischoff. His first solo exhibition took place at the Eric Locke Gallery in San Francisco in 1957 and the following year his first solo New York show opened at The Alan Gallery.

In the early 1960s, Oliveira was Artist-in-residence at the University of Illinois, Urbana; and the University of California Los Angeles. In 1964, he was offered a tenured teaching position as associate professor of art at Stanford University which he accepted. He retired from Stanford 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.

Oliveira exhibited internationally and 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 received at Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation grant for lithography in 1957; a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for Printmaking in 1958; a Tamarind Lithography Fellowship, Los Angeles and Arte Actual de América y España Special Prize, Madrid in 1963; a Doctor of Fine Arts degree, Honoris Causa from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1968; a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1974; A Doctor of Fine Arts degree, Honoris Causa, San Francisco Art Institute; and was awarded titled of Commander in the Order of Infante Dom Henrique from the Republic of Portugal. Oliveira was also elected an Academician, Graphic arts, National Academy of Design in 1985; elected Academician of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York; and elected Academician, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1994.

Nathan Oliveira is represented in the collections of many museums, among them the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; the Dallas Museum of Art, Texas; the Detroit Institute of Art, Michigan; the National Collection of Australia, Melbourne; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the Oakland Museum of California; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; and the Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio.

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