Born in Oakland, California, Nathan Oliveira earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in fine art at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1952. He also studied during the summer of 1950 with Max Beckmann at Mills College in Oakland. His early works are mainly expressive in form, color, and line. In 1956 Oliveira began teaching at his alma mater and also at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. One year later he received a Louis Comfort Tiffany grant for lithography and began more in-depth work in prints. In 1958 he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, which enabled him to travel to Europe. As artist in residence at the University of Louisville from 1961 to 1962, Oliveira had a solo exhibition at the university's Krannert Museum. From 1963 to 1964, he was a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Los Angeles, after which he accepted a permanent teaching position at Stanford University. Oliveira became interested in monotypes about 1972 after seeing an exhibition catalogue on Degas's work in this medium. In 1994 he was elected to membership in both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1995 he received an honorary doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute.
Joann Moser Singular Impressions: The Monotype in America (Washington, D.C. and London: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1997)