Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Artist of the Week - Natalie Martin

Born in 1972, Natalie Martin grew up in an environment dominated by art and literature. Graduating with a degree in sculpture, she continued to work in conceptual installation until discovering a talent and love for painting. Focusing primarily on depictions of urban architecture, her painting has developed into a highly detailed, representational style that still retains painterly qualities.

Where did you train?
People are often quite surprised to find out that I studied sculpture rather than painting. I went back to university as a mature student and managed to get a place at Brighton. It was quite a big step coming to a place where I didn’t know anyone and dragging my eight-year-old son with me seems crazy now. It’s still one of the best decisions I ever made.

What did training teach you and what do you wish it had taught you?
The course at Brighton was more about conceptual art rather than carving wood or chipping marble so it was great to be in an environment where people were doing so many different disciplines; photography, sound installation, performance, everything. I think there were two main benefits for me. Firstly, learning the language of art, learning how to talk about art in an academic way and to not be afraid of doing that. It’s not something I would do everyday but it can be daunting expressing your feelings about something visual in words and it’s nice to have the confidence to do it when I need to. And secondly, learning how to work with other artists. We’re not necessarily the easiest bunch of people to organize, so learning how to hang a show, get the work straight and working together, and for everyone to get the maximum out of it was invaluable.
They didn’t give us much guidance on making a living though, but I guess any subject in the academic world is removed from real life to a certain extent but it made it pretty hard to figure out how to survive financially as a practicing artist.

When and where did you first want to do what you do?
After leaving university, I tried various disciplines but concentrated mainly on making conceptual installation and sculpture. About three years later, I made an abandoned dollshouse, all moldy and disgusting. I had thought several times about doing a project about staircases and making the stairs for the dollshouse reignited that idea again. I had also picked up a couple of canvases along the way and thought, “Well, lets try a bit of painting and see how that goes.” I knew the basic principles of painting, just got on with it and really loved it. The feedback I got was incredible and managed to get a place at Brighton Art Fair on the strength of the first three paintings I had ever made. That’s when I knew painting was definitely the thing I was supposed to be doing. The dollshouse was part of the Selector’s Choice “House” exhibition as part of Brighton Open Houses in May 2009.

One favourite living artist?
This might be a bit odd but I quite admire Damien Hirst. I quite like his work but I love the fact that he’s so successful. There are plenty of really talented artists out there but you really have to combine that with luck, tenacity, a good business head and a hell of a lot of cheek to get what he’s managed to achieve. I don’t know if it’s a route that I want to take but knowing that he’s achieved what he has makes me smile and want to keep on keeping on.

One favourite historical artist?
Vilhem Hammershoi. He was a turn of the century (not the last one the one before that) Danish painter who did a lot of architectural interiors and exteriors, as well as portraits. The quality of the light in his work is astounding and his brushwork brings dynamism to the most mundane of scenes. I went to see an exhibition of his work at The Royal Academy and I had a tear in my eye going round as it just seemed impossible to ever achieve anything like that myself. Now I keep several postcards of his work on my easel to remind myself that I too could make something that beautiful if I put my mind to it and keep working hard. I also have to mention Norman Rockwell, as I love his illustrations and when I found out that he used photographs to paint from, I didn’t feel so bad about not painting en plein air.

Where do you get most of your inspiration from?
I think its light that actually inspires me. Sometimes I’ll walk past a building or place that I’ve walked past a hundred times before but the light hits it in such a way that I’ll notice it and really see it for the first time. And architecture is such a great thing to paint, there are just so many different flavours available, I never get bored of painting it.

What is the most interesting / fun job you have had?
Boring, but being a mum is the most fun and interesting job ever. Having kids really keeps you focused on what’s important and what’s ridiculous about life at the same time. Whatever’s going on, kids will bring a perspective to it that blows your mind. My son’s speciality would be walking in on me when I was at the point of tearing my hair out over a particularly tricky creative point, take a quick look at what I was doing, blandly come up with an outstanding, yet simple solution and then walk off again, leaving me open mouthed. I’m so lucky that I got the opportunity to be at home with him through his childhood and now that he’s a grown man, I’m so lucky that we continue to have a good relationship and spend time together. He still drives me crazy.

Do you work mostly on your own? Have you had any interesting work related collaborations?
I don’t think I’d do very well at collaboration. I find it hard to paint with someone else in the room and I find it very hard to take suggestions. Criticism yes, suggestion no. I guess I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to my work. I do like to contribute to group shows with a theme though. It’s quite liberating to step out from your safety zone and try something different and I find that kind of exhibition a good excuse to try new things. The last show like that was “Outpost”, a small exhibition organized by Cat Ingrams of Blue Monkey Studio as part of the Eastbourne Festival. She managed to collect a fantastic selection of small works on the theme of ‘outpost’ to compliment the “Archipelago” theme of the open studio work. I made some questionable lino-cut prints which she managed to hang and look lovely. The whole thing was really good fun.

At age 18 who most influenced your style?
I don’t think I had any style at 18. I find it bizarre to think of myself at that age. Life seemed so overwhelming that it was too hard to not be influenced by anything and everything. I think it took at least another decade before I even began to figure out who I was and what was important to me.

How much do you bend your 'vision' to suit the marketplace - if at all?
Before I started painting I tried that but as soon as you start trying to second-guess the “market” you lose something in your work that makes it saleable. Trying to emulate what someone else is doing just because they’re successful is never going to work because it won’t be authentically you. I have found that the paintings that people like the most are the ones that I’ve most enjoyed painting so I just try and stick to doing what I love and loving what I do.

Who would you say buys your work?
I’m not sure. Quite a few of the people who buy my work seem to be collectors and very often come back and buy more work later. I think my paintings are contemporary but they have a bit of a traditional feel to them, which can make them more accessible to people who like different kinds of art.

Where and what is your studio?
My studio is in the corner of my bedroom. Not very glamorous but it works well for me. I don’t need that much space and I like that I can get to work early in the morning, still in my PJ’s if need be, plus there’s an enormous window so the light is just brilliant (in my bedroom not my PJ’s). I have a couple of shelves for small canvases and tools, a great big box full of canvases, a table for my paints and brushes and a standard easel. All the rest of my art stuff (and there’s quite a bit) is squirreled away in drawers and cupboards in the rest of the flat. I’m pretty lucky that I don’t have to trudge to work in a studio and my musical taste means that none else would want to share with me anyhow.

Do you have a good work/life balance?
I try really hard to but it’s difficult when one of the things you love doing most is actually your job. I try and make sure that I work set hours during the week and take the weekends off unless I have a really urgent deadline or an event but I always end up sketching or sorting through images when I’m not supposed to. I try and console myself with the fact that being self-employed means I can take the day off to sit on the beach whenever I like which offsets the midnight emails. I can’t remember the last time I actually did that though.

What one word would describe your feeling of doing your work?
I can’t decide whether it’s “Contentment” or “Anxiety”. I guess a combination of the two would be “Excitement”. I love the process, preparing the images, laying out the composition, actually putting the paint on the brush and smearing it on the canvas, it’s very gratifying but it’s nerve-wracking sometimes, not knowing how it’s going to turn out, whether you’re doing the right thing or knowing this stroke could ruin all your hard work and you’d have to start over. But “Satisfaction” sounds right too, as whether I’m planning which painting to do next or washing my brushes at the end of the day, that’s the feeling that underlies everything.

If you could be doing anything else what would it be?
If I could be doing anything else…swimming…on a tropical island or just somewhere hot, in a private pool just before lunch. I love swimming, I hate being cold and I like eating so this would be perfect. If I could be doing anything else for a job…I wouldn’t. I don’t expect to do this forever but at the moment I’m so glad to have the life I live I wouldn’t want to give it up right now.

If you could exhibit in any gallery in the world, which would it be?
I think it was Picasso that replied to the question of which of his paintings was his favourite with the answer, “The next one” and I think that applies to this too. The next thing you’re doing is always the most exciting. It doesn’t matter if it’s a regional show in a village hall (Art and Soul in Falmer Village is next on the calender) or the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy (it was really very cool) whatever is coming next is and should be the focus of 90% of your attention.
If I could have one thing that I’d really want and aspire to, I wouldn’t care which gallery it was in but to have a piece of my work hang next to a Hammershoi, that would be my absolute moment of perfection.

Exhibitions in the past 12 months.
• Cambridge Art Fair with The Liberty Gallery
• Life In the Cotswolds: Iona House Gallery, Woodstock, Oxfordshire
• Trinity: Bath
• Bristol Affordable Art Fair with The Liberty Gallery, Bristol
• The Claremont, Artist Open Houses: Hove
• Outpost: Eastbourne Festival
• Blue Monkey Open Studio, Eastbourne Festival
• Glasgow Art Fair with The Liberty Gallery
• Art at The Claremont, Hove
• Blue Monkey Christmas Open Studio, Eastbourne
• Windsor Contemporary Art Fair, Windsor Racecourse
• The London Group Open Exhibition, The Menier Gallery, London
• Brighton Art Fair, Corn Exchange, Brighton

Natalie will be exhibiting at the Brighton Art Fair and the Palace Art Fair.

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