Natasha Walsh
 

‘Dear Frida’

Partially an expression of admiration for the work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, this piece was created as a painted letter which I addressed to her. It felt appropriate to make the work in this form due to the often very personal and lyrical themes within her work. 

The body of the letter, i.e. the painting itself, was created with Kahlo’s ’Self-portrait with cropped hair’ (1940 MoMA) in mind. I chose to work within a very similar scale to the painting in question when viewed unframed, utilising similar compositional elements. In both paintings a female figure sits centre stage on a straight-backed chair, in costume, with hair being a central theme. 

Created after the artist’s divorce from her husband Diego Rivera, Kahlo depicted herself dressed in a man’s suit, her long hair cropped and strewn about her on the floor. This was an action which I always interpreted as being both of independence and loss. In donning a suit Frida ultimately divested herself of her other implied costumes and roles. 

Having had very long hair in the past I was interested in reversing the work. Symbolically ‘growing’ out my own shortly cropped hair so that it became once again a heavyweight down my back. Wearing a confining and luminous red dress. Red attracts the eye but it can also be a very violent colour. For me, it seems to be a very literal colour of womanhood and our cyclical biology that is denoted by red. 

Where Kahlo chose a costume that symbolically liberated her from her previous gendered role, I chose one which I felt reflected the gendered assumptions I had inherited, as had the women who preceded me. In doing so, I wanted to present the limits of these different costumes and how inadequately they define the complex human beings who inhabit them. 


‘A liminal space’

‘a liminal space’ is that undefinable threshold, when you have left something behind but have yet to become something else.

This work is a liminal space in the following ways. Firstly, as with all my works on copper, the very process I developed in creating these pieces exists on the threshold; waiting for the reaction of pigments with the copper support to stabilise and set at a point slightly beyond my control. Secondly, the painting itself shifts between the perception of a surface and an impossible ‘space’ within. Thirdly, the subject of the painting exists between an interior space with hard wooden floors and an organic one; between a real space and an impossible one, without gravity. We may see a chair at first because we remember what a body being held by one looks like. But it is absent because the work is not only the representation of a tangible body in real space and time, but also it's invisible self, manifested to overlay the real. 

From this we can see that the invisible self is also on the cusp of different definable states: precariously balanced somewhere between sitting, standing and falling; impossibly still within the many moving forces that surround her. In part this was a response to the shifts occurring within my larger practice. The resulting uncertainty and energy which built like a charge within me, an invisible, immutable call to action. However, on a deeper level this painting was an attempt to explore the liminal space which depression itself generates when it muddles the experience of time and place. In this state events can seem to run into each other in a confusion of fragmented memories. The result is a loss of the stable narratives from which we define who we are and how we relate/(are tethered) to the world.


 
 

‘nUMB TO TOUCH’

The hand, which reaches out from an illusion of space to touch the painted support, serves as a reminder that the entire painting is, in fact, a surface. Particles of pigment suspended in oil have been pushed to and fro on this surface by my own actual hand. As such, touch is a quietly pervasive presence within the painting. These particles react in a kind of alchemy to my mark-making and use of the copper support to produce a temporal illusion of flesh and space.

There is a point of separation between everyone. We are all trapped within a kind of glass box, seeing everything from our own perspective. The only mediator is language, art being one of its forms, which serves as an imperfect point of contact between two minds. Literally suspended in a prism of observed time, the gesture made by my representation illustrates my attempt to speak through my work directly to the viewer, from within my own glass box. Trapped within the non-existent space of the painting, however, this yearning to touch is impossible to fulfil.


 
 

‘tHE CICADA’

The cicada, an insect long associated with immortality and re-birth, represents here a state of being. Her shell is an old mouldy dress and veil, which has become disappointing, constrictive and confining – a representation of self which we uncomfortably wear and present to the world.

In this case, the veil conceals not only our imperfect, changing, true self from the world, but also obscures our vision in turn. These roles become confining and yet comforting, however growing pains make them almost impossible not to shed. As such this piece is primarily a work about vulnerability and self-awareness as she removes the veil, shedding her clothing like a cicada does its shell.

The painting, in turn, is also aware of its own alchemical construction, as the figure ‘holds up’ her own illusion of space and form from the flat and reflective copper support with the same hand that pins up a non-existent veil. A painting is itself a shell, which artists leave behind. It imitates the form and mind which once occupied it, however, it is not immortal. It only prolongs an older state of being, and once being created will eventually wither and die.


This painting occurs a few moments after my work ‘the cicada’. Here we see a metamorphosis, as two versions of a self temporarily overlap within the same space. One is a hollowed out shell, from which the other is in the process of pulling herself away. This shell is the representation of the boundaries and assumptions which once defined her edges.

The work is thus an attempt to manifest the idea that we are in a constant state of becoming what was once other. Redefining the boundaries of who we are so that our stories become littered with the many deaths of who we once were. These boundaries are not always chosen by us, but are the attempts of others to comfortably situate us within their own narratives. As such it lacks the vivid colour and vitality of our present self. This work is in some respects a morning of who we once were and the daring step into something unknown.

Generated through my experimental play with the different possible reactions of pigments, salts and acids to the oxidisation of my copper support. It was also painted over many weeks, from life, in a mirror. As such the work itself is generated through this process of attempting to fix my present into a medium that is equally responsive to change in time. Therefore the painting is the same as the shell lying discarded at the bottom, a fingerprint of my mind and body over the span of time in which it was created.

‘The eternal metamorphoses’


 
 

‘The scent of rain’

‘This self-portrait offered me a means of exploring my own mortality through the immediacy of working from life on the equally ephemeral support of copper.

Additionally, it enabled me to explore the relationship between the internal sense of self and an external appearance, which can define us in another’s eyes.

I am struck by the otherness of my appearance, simultaneously familiar and strange, never seen directly but through another lens, such as a camera or a mirror. Painting enables me to claim this appearance, as the external is diffused intimately through my internal self into paint.

The imaginary impression of a cloudy sky is even more revealing of my internal self, hinting at layers brewing beneath the surface, like the threat of rain.’


‘self-portrait’

‘We generally see women through the eyes of male artists. The way female artists represent themselves through their own eyes and hands contains a wonderful directness.

This painting speaks about looking. I’m in the midst of capturing my own directly reflected gaze, while at the same time my painted self is in the midst of capturing the viewer’s.

You are constantly changing with time and so every stroke of paint captured the death of a moment on my face. I attempted to retain the vulnerability and directness of this confrontation with the self through the dimensions of the painting.

I have painted the work on copper as it behaves very differently from materials like wood and canvas. Until it is sealed by the layers of paint, it is a very active surface. From the moment that I prepared the surface, it began to naturally oxidise. Different pigments changed colour in response to this process and the painting visibly aged as I worked on it. I would make a mark and the material would respond.’