During COVID-19 times, Blackheath artist Natasha and writer Sally Marwood opted for a telephone hook up with emails sharing images of artworks and paintings to punctuate and illustrate her words.
SM: You grew up on a farm just outside of Brisbane. You’ve come along way as they say from a girl from the bush with Russian heritage who had intentions of studying music?
ND: Hmm, from about 6 years of age I wanted to be a concert pianist. My mother was a choir master in the Russian Orthodox Church in Brisbane and so I grew up singing and learning the piano. I also loved drawing. At 18, my mother died and whilst I straddled for a while, studying a Bachelor of Arts and Diploma in Education at Queensland University and piano at the Queensland Conservatorium, it was the Teaching Scholarship that won through because it was my only means of financial support.
SM: So did you start as an art teacher?
ND: I actually taught English and History for a few years and would have continued if a transfer to Mount Isa had not eventuated. I refused to go and ended up in London. On my return in 1984, I moved to Sydney which felt like a country town after the excitement of London-life but at least it had some decent galleries.
SM: So when did art come into play?
ND: It’s quite a long story. As a Russian, music, literature and art were always part of my life. At St Mary’s Cathedral College, Sydney I was required to set up the junior art programme – this was because everyone said that I could draw! It prompted me to study for a Fine Arts Diploma, studying drawing, photography, printmaking, sculpture and painting at the National Art School.
It wasn’t until, with my husband, Nick’s encouragement to ‘jump off the cliff’, that we moved to Blackheath where we landed in a cottage with a studio. That was 23 years ago.
SM: What qualities drew you to live in the Blue Mountains?
ND: I fell in love with the landscape, the escarpment, the stunning valleys and the beautiful village of Blackheath – all away from the noise, traffic, air pollution of Sydney. And I had a studio and the opportunity to create a garden.
SM: So did you start painting landscapes straight away?
ND: It was after a four week residency at Hill End that kick started my interest in landscapes. How do I interpret landscape? How do I paint en plein air? My childhood was peopled with characters from Russian folktales which I imagined lived in the bush around our farm. How does my cultural identity relate to the Australian bush, Blackheath, to Hill End to my life in Queensland?
SM: That’s interesting – your reflections on landscapes moved you to investigate your Russian family heritage and capture this in a body of work exhibited at Bathurst Regional Gallery?
ND: In my exhibition ‘Treasured Layers’ the intertwining histories of Russia and Persia (my family lived there for 20 years before coming to Australia) were captured in mixed media encompassing archival material, sepia family photos and documents with motifs such as Persian rugs, Russian folk patterns, family jewellery and icons from the Russian Orthodox Church.
SM: And this ultimately led to more study?
ND: A Masters of Art Painting at COFA (now UNSW Art+ Design). I am always busy.
SM: You are without a doubt an eclectic artist. It is obvious from your artwork that you have visceral connections to objects and how they sit in space, the dance of light and shadow reflecting over bodies of water, ethereal distant mountain-scapes and close-ups of tree-barks. Can you elaborate?
ND: I paint what I feel, what I remember – a sense of place, rather than the actual image or objects connected to people and memories. I like to use the poetry of light and shadow to suggest the half-remembered; that point when one state of being slips into another.
SM: Your painting is figurative. Lately you have been focussed on water in the landscape?
ND: Water is life. I am amazed about how people treat water as a simple commodity. There is a fragility, a beauty to water. You look at the surface, beyond reflections, staring deeper into its depth. I am interested in positives and negatives. The edges between day and dusk, dark and light and the edge or moment where light diminishes, perhaps suggesting some reference to good and evil and the shadows in between. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the current state of the world.
SM: And fire in dramatic and vibrant depictions?
ND: In response to this year’s devastation, I have been painting a ‘bushfire series’ which was to be exhibited at Everglades Gallery Leura. Cancelled due to COVID-19 but later exhibited at Gang Gang Gallery in Lithgow. Then I was invited to enter a drawing for the Kedumba Art Prize. I chose the fire affected escarpments as my subject. Their presence, endurance and timelessness is awe-inspiring.
I have always experimented with oils, ink, charcoal and mixed media. For me art is constantly dynamic and cathartic – it is about endless curiosity and play. I see where it leads me and where my moods take me. Art is an escape yet I rely for inspiration on everything that has touched my life.
SM: Can you tell us about your process?
DN: With music, always with music, Borodin, Glinka, the Orthodox liturgy, early baroque composers and a few modern classics. I begin with a drawing and then apply acrylics (which lend themselves to layering and the portrayal of memory) collage, text and oils. Oils are ‘delicious’ to work with. Someone said ‘All art is political’ – there is always a context even if that is the pursuit of beauty. For light relief, I am dabbling in still life inspired by Margaret Olley and Lucy Culliton – persimmons, salvias, foxgloves and columbines and inclusions of Russian motifs.
SM: Finally how do you know that a painting or artwork is finished?
ND: When a painting has its own separate identity and personality and when it talks, that is when it is finished.
Discover Natasha's work on new Hidden Vale here
Visit www.natashadaniloff.com and on instagram @natashadaniloffartist