Natalie Reis Faces Down the Pink Elephant in the Room
Natalie Reis is a figurative artist from Montreal whose work addresses issues of gender and femininity. Her third solo show Compendium opens this weekend at Galerie Trois Points. Moving away from representative work with precise narratives, her new work dismantles the body and has open-ending, viewer-interpreted messages. She spoke to us about her upcoming show.
Rachel Levine (RL): What kinds of pieces should viewers expect to see?
Natalie Reis (NR): The work is more disembodied. Large paintings are placed next to a sculpture and next to a drawing and maybe a huge canvas with text across it. Viewers can piece together meaning when looking at entire show. Before I was presenting clearly defined meaning on separate canvases. There are some figures, but they are less descriptive too. I have an outline of a figure. It’s a suggestion, not a clear reference to history or the media, where I’ve appropriated images from in the past.
RL: Why have you introduced a change in your work towards disembodied pieces?
NR: I think it’s an effort to simplify the narrative and ask the viewer to implicate themselves more and bring their meaning to the work. There’s an effort to invite the viewer to be part of the process. I want to offer a visceral experience of the work. I want sentiment in the work, where the viewer comes up with their own interpretation, or really to be be faced with their own sensibilities of how they interpret the work. It’s more raw, and less of an imposed description. Of course, all of this is done through the conventions of traditional arts of painting and sculpture.
RL: Was there a more personal reason for the change?
NR: I think exhausted my own interest in what I was doing. I pulled a lot of topics from media and art history and reinvented them, or was critiquing these images and ideas. I went as far as I could on my own with that technique. Now, I want to construct the paintings in a physical manner, or have a huge canvas with a single sentence that overpowers the viewer because of its size. It’s almost like a mental pause in production for me, but it invites the viewer to be present, rather than having me tell them something. Overall, its a quieter interpretation, but with a heavier load.
RL: Can you tell me about some of the works?
NR: Ballistic Pendulum is a large painting on raw canvas with a large black sphere at upper centre of the painting. The large dark circular void feels like a pendulum. There’s a female figure lying down — an outline. Within that outline is a venemous bouquet of flowers. The flowers are paint, medium, and breast milk. So there’s this fat overlay.
RL: Breast milk — that’s not the easiest material to come by. Where did you get the breast milk?
NR: The breast milk was supplied by a good friend of mine. People have asked me if I kept my own in the fridge, but I didn’t. A friend of mine just had a baby and she donated breast milk for art. She likes that idea.
RL: What are some ideas embodied in this painting?
NR: I gravitate towards feminist ideas, or rather ideas about femininity. The bouquet of the flowers references the history of women within art. There is a phase in the history of art where women were permitted to paint still-lifes but weren’t allowed to paint figures. So, the flowers point to historical rules. I’m interested in how these ideas are still pertinent today. How ideas about gender is polarized within us and at the same time defines us. There are also ideas about motherhood being something of a taboo. Mom art — it’s not really valued to some extent. Yet, it’s so much of who we are, or not of who we are.
It’s the pink elephant in the room. Our notions of femininity and womanhood and motherhood deserve a platform. Even outside of parameters of art, these are marginalized topics, yet they defines how our society functions.
RL: Has being a mother had an influence on your work?
NR: Two shows ago, my son was born, and my daughter was born before the time of last one. This is the first time I’ve allowed a personal presence in the work. I had to permit myself to go there and let the work go there, instead of being just critical with it.
Natalie Reis’ work is on display at Galerie Trois Points (372 St. Catherine W, #520) from February 22 to March 29. The vernissage takes place Feb 21. 3 p.m. Along with Natascha Niederstrass, she is conducting a drawing and casting workshop as part of the Nuit Blanche on March 1 at the gallery.