Fashion Quarterly: Get to know this New York-based artist before her homecoming exhibition
We catch-up with the New Zealand-born, New York-based artist – who counts the Venus of Willendorf, the Three Graces and Cardi B as muses – on her way home to exhibit Angels and Icons at Parlour Projects.
The women Natasha Wright paints are strong and otherworldly. Depicted with thick oil paint, glitter and sand they materialise with an almost ethereal presence. Although they may be seen as an embodiment of the divine, Natasha’s women are not put up high on a pedestal. Instead, painting all day and all night when she can, Natasha ensures all sides of their characters are shown.
The Auckland-born artists says: “I like to think my paintings create my own symbol of female power and energy. This doesn’t only involve the subject and composition but also the attitude I bring to my paintings – I’m interested in the idea of attitude, to me the attitude is just as important as the subject.”
After her solo show ‘Les Biches’ was named as one of the five best female art exhibitions in her new hometown of New York in 2018, she is heading back to New Zealand to show new work at Parlour Projects in Hastings, Hawke’s Bay.
On her way here, via an inspiring holiday in Italy, we talk to Natasha about the all-consuming life of an artist.
Can you explain your career path to date?
I’ve made art since I was little… I always loved making things, it’s part of my DNA. I’m fortunate my parents really encouraged creativity. My grandmother was a painter and art has always been a big part of my life. I studied fashion and textiles in undergrad in New Zealand but took as many art and drawing classes as I could. The female figure has always been integral to my work. I think the relationship to making clothing and physically dressing the body really helped with this understanding. When I was about 18 I started working as a freelance illustrator for fashion brands and the New Zealand Herald. Line has always been an important part of my work. Drawing is where all my ideas start and is crucial to the large scale paintings. About 6 years ago I decided to move to New York to study my Masters of Fine Arts at The New York Studio School. The studio school was amazing and really connected me to a close community of artists. We worked long hours and would stay there as late as the night guards would allow. At the moment I have a studio in Bushwick. For the past few years, I’ve been showing my paintings in galleries around New York City.
What are you doing now?
Right now, I’m taking a break in Italy. I’m meeting my best friend in Florence to look at art and have some downtime before my exhibition back in New Zealand. It’s been a kind of crazy year! This summer I had a solo show in upstate New York at John Davis Gallery. I’ve just shipped out my paintings for my ‘Angels and Icons’ show at Parlour Projects Gallery in Hawke’s Bay. This will be my first show in New Zealand, so it’s a really exciting time for me. After a trip home I’ll fly back to New York to finish working on my paintings for my December show at SFA Projects in their new Chelsea space.
What themes do you explore in your work?
I think a lot about the representation of females throughout history alongside contemporary references. The Venus of Willendorf, The Three Graces and Cardi B are some of my many muses. Some of the themes that motivate my work include gender, sexuality, vulnerability and power and the political and personal. I’m interested in the dualities and tension between opposites – beauty and ugliness, love and obsession, improvisation and control.
What does a typical day look like for you?
No day is the same however I try and have some daily practices. I like to draw every day to keep my imagination flowing. Other than that I try and spend as much time in the studio as possible. When I have time I see shows around the city and go to friends’ openings.
What do you love most about being an artist?
Listening to loud music in my studio. Uninterrupted days and nights painting.
What is your biggest career accomplishment or a moment you’re most proud of?
I can’t think of one accomplishment. So far any success I’ve had is from putting in the work and taking small steps which I have built off.
What are some challenges you’ve faced or had to overcome?
Having enough time. As artists, we are often told to take every opportunity that comes our way but sometimes it’s important to say no to things.
What motivates you?
I’m motivated by the fact that I have the time to do what I love.
What’s the best piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t be defined by other people’s definition of success. The path to becoming an artist isn’t linear. Use your experience to tell your own story. This will take an interesting blend of confidence and humility
What would be your advice to aspiring artists?
Inspiration isn’t necessary and can be somewhat deceptive. I usually find my most interesting ideas come from working and often my mistakes. I don’t go to the studio when I’m inspired, I go every day.
What is the best advice you have been given?
“Tell your own story, and you will be interesting.” – Louise Bourgeois
In another lifetime, what would you want to be when you grow up?
I’d spend more time painting.
How do you relax away from your work?
I like to wander around my Lower East Side neighbourhood, visit galleries or head to a rooftop bar.
You currently live in NYC. Have you taken anything special from home to have there with you?
Whittaker’s chocolate and Georgia Alice dresses. Also, I always wear a gold necklace my mum made for my sister and I.
What’s the first thing you do when you return home to NZ? And more importantly, what’s the first thing you eat?
Vogel’s toast and a flat white. When I’m home I always try and spend as much time as possible at the beach. My favourites are Waiheke and Hahei.
Who do you most admire in your industry?
Marlene Dumas, Kara Walker, Rita Ackerman, Amy Sillman, Katherine Bradford, Rose Wiley, Susan Rothenberg and Joyce Pensato. For the majority of history, female artists have been dramatically unrepresented. Recently there has been a surge of strong, powerful and unapologetic female painters, I find this really inspiring!
Who do you turn to when the going gets tough?
My family. Even though I live on the other side of the world I get daily messages from the five of them on our WhatsApp chat. We are constantly in touch. I’m also lucky to have a few close artist friends that I really trust and can rely on professionally.
You have already achieved so much, but what’s next for you?
Next up after my trip to New Zealand is a solo show in Chelsea, NYC this December. I also have a few exciting things planned for next year…