Patrick Nagatani, 1945-2017
Nagatani once wrote of his work and unique “tapist” process that, “the Zen of the material and process moves me to spiritual happiness. I've been in the zone off and on for over 30 years with this work. Most things seem to now have a place in the cosmic meaning of things … I believe that the pieces have a life of their own and will change very slowly in time, much like mummies from ancient Egypt have lasted through the centuries but nevertheless have changed.” The work of Nagatani, a longtime faculty member of UNM's renowned photography program, will certainly endure, though it is with great sadness that friends, family, students, admirers and the art community at large marked his passing during the last week of October.
Nagatani was born in Chicago in 1945 to Japanese-American parents who had survived internment during World War II. Nagatani later moved to Los Angeles, where he earned his MFA in 1980. He produced numerous photographs during his storied career—keen inquiries into staged scenes and studio set-ups. These images, and much of his work, often explored the topics of Buddhism, nuclear power, history and the multitudes of identity. In 1982 he began his “tapist” work—that is, transforming found printed photographs into icons, relying heavily on the often disregarded material of masking tape. In 1987, Nagatani joined the UNM Departments of Art and Art History, where he was a much admired educator, receiving many accolades and awards during his tenure, which ended when he retired in 2007.
“Through his photography and teaching, Patrick devoted his life to finding and sharing the deep generosity of the soul. His art revealed the location where creativity, interior life and the life of the spirit are mysteriously woven together,” Director of the UNM Art Museum, Arif Khan wrote in an announcement last week. For those of us who will continually return to Nagatani's work, through all the years and all its inevitable changes, what will never be altered is its abiding soulfulness.