In back-to-back interviews, Natasha Wright and Nancy Elsamanoudi discuss each other’s work. They are both young painters in New York City who incorporate figurative and abstract elements in their paintings. Writing at THE LIST, David Cohen observed how they each “celebrate empowered figuration through confessionally expressive subjectity”, and issues of feminism and painting inevitably emerge in both these discussions.
On Friday, September 28 the two artists are set to dialogue in Elsamanoudi’s show at Amos Eno Gallery in Bushwick (56 Bogart Street), kicking off the final weekend of Nancy’s show and the immensely popular annual Bushwick Open Studios festival. artcritical will post extracts of this conversation on Saturday. The previous weekend had seen a pop-up exhibition of Natasha Wright, curated by Jeffrey Morabito and Martin Dull, which forms the basis of the conversation here.
Coincidentally, both Wright and Elsamanoudi were featured by Harpers Bazaar online – along with three other figurative painters – in “The Best Female Art Exhibitions to See This Fall.”
NANCY ELSAMANOUDI: I’ve been following your work for some time and I noticed a shift in the paintings in your last show “Les Biches”. In this body of work, the palette seems to be more restrained, the female figure emerges in a more abstract and less narrative way.
At the same time, I also noticed that the figures are often at times unusually cropped, so that just the torso is visible and the rest of the body is alluded to outside of the picture plane.
This way of cropping the figure seems to make the image more ambiguous, denying the viewer a certain expected satisfaction that may come from being able to identify the figure as a particular person or with a particular narrative. Does some sort of refusal to please factor in the way you have chosen to crop the image and limit your color palette? And what is the relationship between abstraction and figuration for you?
NATASHA WRIGHT: My work used to be far more narrative. Over time I’ve become more interested in merging figuration and abstraction. This has allowed for a more ambiguous and slower read of the paintings. Fragments of the figure are excavated out of the gesture and are buried or exposed. In a way the act of painting creates the abstraction.
In this group of work I was thinking about a more emblematic representation of the female experience and ideas of sexuality and power. I wanted the women to be universally read and began the paintings with this in mind.
I think the cropping comes from wanting to highlight a particular moment of heightened sensation or a need to draw attention to an archetypal reading of femininity.
This is the case in “Power Women” which was included in my recent show “Les Biches”. I think a lot about the representation of females throughout history from the Venus of Willendorf, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon to depictions of females today.
Over time I evolved the schematic and symbolic structure of the paintings to include a more expressive and painterly approach. Materiality is something I’m increasingly interested in. I go through so much paint that the only option is to make my own….
I like this idea of female power. Can you tell me more about how it is at play in your work?
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 think a lot about attitude, to me the attitude is just as important as the subject.
The large scale and fast passages mean I have to feel strong and confident when I approach the canvas. The paintings go through many iterations but in the moment there is absolutely no second-guessing myself. I often paint with my hands. In some ways the form is just a structure, a container for my own energy, power and confidence. I’m always navigating structure and application.
In my work, the substance of paint becomes an analogy for the body. Paint is used as a metaphor to create a skin of human experience. I use a wide variety of media and processes – pouring, bleeding and dyeing the canvas. I like to think of the unpredictable nature of paint as being a parallel to my life which is alive and questioning.
I can definitely see that in your work-especially in your drawings. There is an energy, directness and power in your drawings that comes out of the way you handle the materials. Is drawing important to your process?
Drawing is essential to my process. I’ve been drawing the figure and had a fixation on the female form ever since I can remember. My grandmother was an artist. From the age of four I started drawing with her. We would spend the weekends in her studio. She taught me about art history and how to respect my materials. I’d copy the front cover of fashion magazines and make hundreds of cut out dolls. Drawing was what brought me to New York and to study at the New York Studio School.
I can see this understanding in your drawings even when you’re not working from the figure. The drawings seem to have a clear structure that comes from an understanding of anatomy. The linear qualities in your paintings are strong. How important is drawing to your overall process?
It’s crucial. All my ideas come from my drawings. My studio usually has a rotating wall where I pin up the latest works that are inspiring me. Sometimes I photocopy my drawings and leave them on my studio floor. Naturally they become ripped, tattered and splatted with paint. Occasionally I bring these qualities or incidental marks back into the paintings.
For the last few years I’ve been trying to bring the spontaneity and playfulness of my drawings to my large-scale paintings. That’s something I think you’ve been doing very successfully Nancy. Your paintings reflect the energy of your drawings.