Artist and Stanford professor Nathan Oliveira diesNathan Oliveira, a renowned artist and longtime Stanford University faculty member, died Nov. 13 at his Stanford home from complications of pulmonary fibrosis and diabetes. He was 81.
A painter, printmaker and sculptor, Oliveira was a leader in the Bay Area Figurative movement in the 1950s. With his interest in the human figure, he took a different path from the many artists who were pursuing abstract expressionism.
"I'm not part of the avant-garde," he said in a 2002 interview with Stanford Magazine. "I'm part of the garde that comes afterwards, assimilates, consolidates, refines."
Oliveira also gained a wide reputation from his work in printmaking. Art historian Peter Selz credited him with helping revive the art form after its decline in the 1960s and '70s.
During his long career, Oliveira held exhibitions in cities as far-flung as New York, Melbourne, Stockholm and Paris. But he was also a familiar face locally, walking Stanford's Dish to seek out the birds he loved painting.
"I always felt he was a painter of extreme talent and ingenuity, right to the end of his life," Selz said.
Oliveira was born in Oakland to Portuguese immigrants. He started art lessons in high school and later earned bachelor's and master's degrees in fine arts at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland (later the California College of the Arts). He married Ramona — the daughter of Cincinnati Reds baseball player Walter "Cuckoo" Christensen — in 1951.
After teaching at various schools and holding artist-in-residencies at Harvard and other universities, Oliveira joined the Stanford faculty in 1964. Over the years, his honors included being elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and receiving the Commander of the Order of Henry the Navigator from the president of Portugal in 1999. The latter award is granted to people who have augmented Portuguese culture and history.
Oliveira retired from Stanford in 1995 but continued to create. In 2008, a large exhibition at the Palo Alto Art Center highlighted the unusual textured patinas that Oliveira added to his bronze sculptures.
"Each piece has a very particular patina," he told the Weekly at the time. "The painterly part of me keeps coming out."
Oliveira's wife died of cancer in 2006. He is survived by his sister, Marcia Heath of Millbrae; three children, Lisa Lamoure of Fresno, Gina Oliveira of Maui and Joe Oliveira of Palo Alto; and five grandchildren.
A memorial is being planned at Stanford Memorial Church for the afternoon of Jan. 12, 2011, with the time to be announced.