Step into the abstracted, poetic, and wonderfully fleeting world of Natalie Shaw. In her ethereal work, the power is in the mark-making. For Natalie, her work is an invitation to "witness things while they’re still being formed as a challenge to our need for instant gratification.” In this in-depth interview, the artist discusses the importance of letting go of results, what her process reveals in her, and her continuous connection with the sky.
Natalie Shaw is a painter whose work explores ideas of freedom and the power of process. Her work has been exhibited across the U.S. and acquired by private collectors in Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and the Caribbean. Born in Chicago, she holds a studio art degree and is a graduate of Yale University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Shasta College. Natalie currently practices in and is pleased to be part of the artistic community in Austin, TX.
Abstraction is a very specific visual language. What led you to your non-representational style of painting?
I like being able to create my own world. Without objects, I can move the brush, graphite, whatever, across the surface so the mark itself is the picture of what I want to say.
There's also something cool when you're moved by something your brain can't immediately recognize, and file away. When you can directly access an emotion or thought without the help of an object, it somehow seems more pure. One of my favorite moments at a show was when a guest pointed to a line, and called it poetic. I never forgot that.
Would you describe your painting process as intuitive?
The one skill I practice the most is my intuition. Because as long as you exist, the work is there. Your work is you. And your intuition is the way to find it.
I lean in, notice what it feels like, and commit it to memory so I can access it more easily next time. Because the unspoken, unintelligible stuff, that's where the good stuff is. That, far more than technique, is what sets your work apart.
In your artist statement, you talk about your fascination with the sky. Can you talk a bit about this and the ways it inspires your work?
I still, as an adult, have dreams about what it’d be like to fly. And I’ve dreamt about being a bird since I was little. So there’s an underlying connection with the sky, and what it’s like to move through great expanse.
I sometimes think about it as a state of freedom we all want, and I think we were made for. Someone once looked at my work at a show and was like, “Whatever realm that is, I feel like I can breathe there.” It was cool to hear someone get it just by looking.
I’ve also had both a toddler and my 90-year-old grandma, both of whom couldn’t speak English, both at different times, in different states, with different work, point and immediately say, “Bird.”
There aren’t any birds in my work. And I wouldn’t recommend you necessarily look for them. But moving through the air is what birds were born for, and what continues to be one of my main preoccupations.
You’ve exhibited in many exhibitions all over the US. Can you tell us about one in particular that stands out to you?
They've all been really special, though there was something magical about my first solo show. My studio at the time was 1700 square feet, so I had the space to produce a series of pretty large works, about 4x6 feet each. They stretched about 30 feet across the wall. It created that sense of magnitude similar to when you look up into the sky and forget where you are.
What are you currently working on? What concepts are you currently thinking about?
I started working exclusively on transparent plastic film this year. I’ve thought about working on clear surfaces for a bunch of years. (At one point I was doing studies on saran wrap.) I'm a fan of the milestones in life just as much as anyone else. But most of life is lived in the in-between. There's something revealing, and honest, about a transparent surface that captures this concept in a meaningful way.
What drives you to keep painting, to keep making your art?
I’ve always said the air feels different in my studio. Like it’s easier to breathe, and to exist there. As if it’s a place I’ve known my whole life. If I stop, I start to feel lost. There's something deeply rewarding (and grounding) when you can connect to, and express, the core of who you are. Even if you don't fully understand it. I haven't found anything else that does this for me.
What part of being an artist do you wish you had more time for? Which part would you recommend other artists to focus on more?
Haha. I laugh because I'm always thinking about how much more time I'd have if I didn't have to document the work. I've worked it out now, but working on white (paper) the last few years has meant there are a hundred shades of white to make consistent. If you can partner with a good art photographer, they can be life changers. Ask me how excited I am to pass that off one day.
What brought you to Austin, Texas? How would you describe the creative community there?
I love our little art fam here. The arts can be pretty solitary so it's pretty inspiring to see how we all rally behind each other. I was last in a beautiful part of northern California but am a Chicago native and was ready for a city again, and a larger art community. Whether it's a creative collab, or swimming in the springs at 11pm after an opening, it makes a big difference to do this thing together. If you'd like to see some of the process, I try to share it on the site and IG below. This was really an honor, thank you Christina!