Natalie Shaw: Finding Freedom in Art
Natalie Shaw is a fine artist in Northern California. Her works are 'narratives' – explorations – of flight and movement. With a background in design, her journey as a painter is one of purpose, significance, and growth.
Why did you begin painting when your background was in design?
Growing up in a more traditional Asian home, you could say art wasn’t really a hot topic. (My dad was pretty stoked about us being lawyers. He’s since come around.) But I was visually driven whether I liked it or not. I remember throwing a mini-tantrum at age six when my mom chose the “wrong” color purse. We were going somewhere, and I think I refused to leave the house.
Design ended up being the closest way to sort-of do art and have a “real job.” I considered close-to-art things like fashion and interior design, and landed in graphic design, but never realized they all had art at its core. There’s art in clothes, art in spaces and art in graphics, but at the center is art in its purest form – no agenda, no client, no limitations. I couldn’t shake the thing I felt and finally gave in. Pretty much felt like breathing for the first time.
Has formal training been of value to you?
I was lucky enough to have a pretty incredible relationship with my professors, so I’d say formal training was a game changer. Most of them tailored their expertise to who I was. Collectively, their input hit the sweet spot of academic practice and highly individualized guidance.
What influences your art the most?
Most of the work seems to have a pretty consistent narrative of flight and movement. I used to dance so I guess I’m always aware at some level of how we move through the space around us. Those movements have been trained into my body over the years, so I guess it’s not surprising that they inform the mark when I approach a surface. There’s always a push and pull, an up and then letting go, a play with gravity. It’s more about the physicality of the movement than a physical object you see every day.
When I first began painting, I also realized pretty quickly that my goal is to keep the work free. I look at it and get upset if it starts to feel contained. Like it’s alive and needs air or something.
You don’t have much of a plan when you start a piece. Does this enhance your creativity?
For some, not having a subject matter is intimidating. I guess I find it liberating. Like skinny-dipping – there’s a thrill and underlying fear, even. You have to strip down, to just you, and go for it. There’s no trees or people on subways to copy or hide behind. It’s just you and your own expression. And that’s the last thing to be afraid of.
What advice would you pass along from your journey as an artist?
To really be free, you have to figure out your relationship with fear. People sometimes confess they’re trying to work up the courage to paint on a big surface. I always tell them to take it out already, because they’re bigger than it. The underlying fear is, “If it looks like crap, it’s going to look like huge crap.”
Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. But the bigger issue is how you feel about that. Let’s say you make a huge mark and hate it. So what? Can you be okay with whatever is in front of you? The creative process can make you crazy at times, but I think you can. If you hate it, fine. But do something about it. Change it, do it again, but do something. As long as you do that, you’ll keep moving forward.