Tate, Nat (William Boyd and others)

In 1998 writer  William Boyd published a book entitled Nat Tate - An American Artist 1928-1960 that was the biography of a fictional American artist.  The book takes the form of a traditional artist's monograph, with illustrations including photographs of Tate's work and documents from his life. The fiction is supported by statements attributed to various celebrities such as Hans Hofmann and Gore Vidal (who was an active collaborator on the project). Among Boyd's other collaborators were musician David Bowie, who hosted a book-launch party on April Fool's Day 1998, and art historian John Richardson (best known as a biographer of Picasso).


Nat Tate book coverNat Tate is usually treated as a hoax, as a good many notable New York art world figures were taken in by the story (at least at first). However, the project may be considered a boundary case in fictive art because of the effort put into creating the realia of Tate's life, such as his purported oeuvre and miscellaneous documents. Like many fictive art projects, it also borrows credibility through a deliberate assumption of authority-- in this case, the twin authorities of the biographer-historian and the trusted source (known individuals like Vidal who vouched for Tate's reality).

Boyd's novels show a continuing interest in the use of authoritative forms to lend credibility to fiction. For example, a 2002 novel, Any Human Heart,  takes the form of an autobiography told through extracts from the fictional narrator's journals; among those who figure in these journals is Nat Tate. Taken together, these works suggest that Boyd, unlike traditional novelists, thinks of the world of his novels and that of 'reality' as being coextensive, a single field of expression rather than a pair of separate universes.


Biography of William Boyd. Retrieved on BookBrowse.com, 22 feb. 08.

Wikipedia article on Nat Tate