Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Studio Visit & Interview: Natalie Smith

I recently had the opportunity to visit with MFA student Natalie Smith in her studio at UNM and check out some of her current work, inspired by everyday objects, DIY initiative and textiles. Be sure and check out her website to see more of her work.  

Big tapestry in progress that Natalie fashioned from a tarp, with custom-made grommets and tassels at the bottom. 

Detail. Everyday objects, most reduced to minimal shapes

You're from the mid-west, what made you decide to come to Albuquerque?
I didn't really realize it until I got here and got in the studio but I think I was really thirsty for a new context for my work, and new visual collateral if you will, to start leeching into my painting. All I knew on the outset was that I wanted to live in the wild west, and Albuquerque is pretty much premier wild west territory.

You are also currently working towards an MFA at UNM, what are your thoughts on graduate school so far?
Yep! Graduate school is great. I feel really supported here in my work, while still being pushed and pointed in different directions, which is a hard balance to achieve. There's something nice about being in this new chapter in your practice without the distractions that some other programs might have because they are in bigger cities with more things happening. Sometimes I crave that, but mostly I think UNM is a fantastic place to get lots of work done. 

Do you find it hard balancing class work, teaching and working in your studio? Or is that just life as a grad student?
Oh yeah. But it will always be something. I was talking to a fellow grad last night and realizing that there will always be a million things keeping you out of the studio. At least in the academic setting everyone gets it, your boss, your students, everyone in your life, knows that working is most important, so I'm sure I will look back on this fondly as an easy time for working, even though at times it's totally a struggle/juggle.

Some people would suggest that pursuing a career in the arts in this day and age is ill-fated. Do you ever wonder what you're getting yourself into? 
Again, oh yeah. But you have to keep those thoughts far away, far out of mind, if you're ever going to accomplish anything. My best friend is a comedian and some big stuff is happening in her life and it's only because she has believed she could do it for years and still believes it everyday. The scary possibility is always there that one day you might have to evaluate where your practice fits into your life and shift from it being a priority but I will always be an artist, somehow. I plan to keep making work in some context, for my whole life. So an art career doesn't have to be a scary thing.  As long as you can keep working, keep plotting along, everything will be okay one way or another. 

Has New Mexico been influencing your work in any particular way?
I've always been attracted to pattern and geometry and textiles, and I've totally been discovering those things in new ways. Its super exciting to find a new context for the kinds of abstraction that I've worked with for a while now. I'm officially on the southwest bandwagon: I'm painting rugs people!

Recognize these?Can you give some background for the basis for your work? Sure. Right now I'm thinking about a few things--the domestic context for paintings and how art objects share space with other objects in the home...textiles, furniture, etc. Pattern is the other biggie, forming patterns in my work through different means. Finding and creating patterns through imagery, shape, painted mark...And then thinking about patterns as they appear in domestic and designed objects, Marimekko textiles, macrame wall hangings, tapestries, shelves for display...a lot of 60s DIY objects floating around in my head...I'm interested in where the experience of looking comes into being for the different kinds of paintings that I make. Some of my paintings are very photographic, closely tied to an image, some are much more mediated interventions and feel more abstract I guess, but there is a moment of observation of the thing that happens in both cases. Sometimes its immediate, while I'm painting, figuring it out as I go.  Other times I've reduced and reduced and reduced a form so that by the time I'm painting it, the looking had happened long before. 

More minimal, tapestry-inspired works on linen. Take a closer look...

Details. Really cool visual effect.

You mentioned working for Crate & Barrel and CB2 in Chicago. Did that experience inform your work in any way? 
I think I was attracted to working for those brands for reasons that are very true to my visual instincts. Creating environments in a store design situation is a pretty fun job, really physical, kind of like being a painter actually, but in the end meant not making work, which is why I'm here. Interior spaces and objects are really important to me and to my work, and were long before I was a painter actually, since being a kid. I grew up with two architects with lots of Crate and Barrel furniture -- that black and white helvetica logo? It's an icon of my life! Been in my head for a long, long time. That job has given me lots of places to go in my practice, thinking about the objects that people buy and place in their homes. I see my paintings as being slipped into that exchange somehow...

Shrubbery is on display thru April 28th as part of New Mexico Showcase image ©Natalie Smith

, 2010 image ©Natalie Smith

I noticed that several of your pieces are installed on shelves and Shrubbery at 516 ARTS, is one of those. What that just an aesthetic for display choice or was there another goal in mind? 

That is definitely connected to the previous question...People buy shelves from Ikea and CB2 and wherever else to display things, and I think of little paintings as being one of those things. Its a joke in a way, and the title is a little joke too, a wee little art joke. I like titles and I think they can transform work. That work is a kind of exploration about patterns and making connections with images. My kitchen window and a little pot in my studio, paintings and color studies at the same time. The third painting is like a little map of possible positions of the three paintings on the shelf, but I like that it pushes the work from being directly about depiction. That there is this little key to the whole bizarre system that I've set up. All three paintings are built in different ways. That work really opened up a lot of things for me.

Milk, 2011 image ©Natalie Smith

Panels to get painted

The drawing board

What has been your impression of Albuquerque's art scene? Anything that Albuquerque needs to do differently to make it a more appealing place to artists for the long-term?
I think that there is starting to be a buzz about how the city would benefit from having more outlets for exhibiting that are more specific. Sometimes exclusion is a good thing, a sense of urgency is a good thing. I'm not sure if Albuquerque has the size or the ability to be that kind of place. People are too nice here probably. But I think artists will always be attracted to being in New Mexico. It's pretty easy to just be here. That helps. And it's beautiful, that helps too. There are a lot of good youngish artists/painters floating around and not going anywhere--so that's nice.

Nice works on paper Atelier 1 (top) and Atelier 2 (above)

From the flat file

Any favorite artists?
Lots. Tuttle takes the cake almost always. Dan Walsh and Amy Feldman are blowing my mind right now, making me think I should start using acrylic! Manifred Pernice's sculptures, and Richard Artschwager and Rebecca Warren too. Jonathan Lasker, Josephine Halvorson, Britta Bogers. Albert York made the most beautiful little paintings. I could go on.

Hingea diptych to be hung in a corner

Any projects or exhibitions on the horizon?
Hmm, nothing on the books right now...Keep an eye on my site and if anything comes up I'll post it!

Natalie in front of another tapestry in progress.

Thanks Natalie!

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