The Woskob Family Gallery is a space for contemporary arts and culture in downtown State College, PA.
Artist Q & A: Natalie Baxter
August 1, 2017
Natalie Baxter (b. 1985, Kentucky) received her MFA from the University of Kentucky in 2012 and her BA in Fine Art from the University of the South in Sewanee, TN in 2007. Her work has been exhibited recently at Mulherin (New York), Spring/Break Art Fair (New York), Alison Milne Gallery (Toronto, ON), Institute 193 (Lexington, KY), In Ersten (Vienna, Austria), and The Cornell Art Museum (DelRay Beach, FL). Baxter’s work has been featured in Vice’s The Creator’s Project, Hyperallergic, The Huffington Post, The Guardian, W Magazine and the London Observer. Baxter has been an artist in residence at The Wassaic Project and a fellowship recipient at the Vermont Studio Center. She currently works in Brooklyn, NY.
What interests you about working with textiles? What impact does working with these materials have on the type of work you create?
My grandmother taught me to quilt when I was younger, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I started using textiles in my work. I tend to come up with a concept or idea first, then look to what materials would work best to convey that message or concept. A few years ago, while home in Kentucky, I was faced with a wall of handguns in the midst of thinking about way too many acts of gun violence that had happened around that time. I had just started to quilt a half finished quilt my grandmother started at the time and wondered what a wall of stuffed, quilted guns would look like hanging on a wall. With that project I call, Warm Gun, I looked into how gender roles and masculinity play within ownership and acts of gun violence, so using this skill to create this work that had been passed down from women in my family made the material more loaded than if I had created them out any other material.
I’ve also stayed in the realm of fabric and soft sculpture because of its approachability and because of the humor aspect that it brings. While I make a lot of work that tackles political and controversial subject matter, I strive to create work that is approachable to a wider audience than those who share my political beliefs. I think that art has the ability to create an alternative context for dialogue on issues that elsewhere divide us.
From where do you draw inspiration? Why the use of flags in some of your more recent work?
I draw inspiration from what is happening in the news and political landscape of the day. I started making flags last summer while at a residency at the Wassaic Project. I had started thinking about making work with flags after the tragic Charleston shooting sparked a debate about the confederate flag. I was intrigued at how this flag, this symbol, had the power to mean something so drastically different to people and how societies had changed it’s meaning and power over time.
I started to think about how this symbol of the American flag can bring us pride at times and shame in others. Last summer, in the midst of a divisive election cycle, I wanted to explore what this symbol meant to a variety of different people all at the same time.
Could you talk about your process while in the studio?
Recently, my studio has been a space of production rather than exploration. I spend my time outside of the studio working out ideas (usually while on subway commutes) and sketching out ideas that I then execute while in the studio. I usually listen to talk news radio while I work – ideally I make it there by 10AM to catch this call in show on NYC’s public radio with Brian Lehrer. I’m always impressed with how Lehrer is able to handle a variety of callers with different views on whatever the subject matter with such even keel. I strive to create that ability to reach that balance in my work. So I listen to the radio while I do the usually labor intensive work that is sewing and dealing with fabric.
In a previous conversation, you had mentioned how some of your titles are based on conversations you’ve had with people about your work. Can you elaborate on how viewer feedback affects your work?
When I was at a residency just starting to make this flag work, I had a studio visit with someone who saw my gold flags and said, “You need to be careful with these because people will think you’re making a Trump flag.” I found this comment very interesting because she was dismissing half of the country from this work, from the context of the art world even. So I made a lot of these gold flags and titled them all People Will Think You’re Making a Trump Flag (I, II, III, etc).
I’ve learned that I have to wait until my work is at a certain point to then invite people into my studio. I have to let ideas marinate in my head before I can talk about them with others and inevitably receive their opinions and suggestions. It took me a long time to learn to selectively take advice about my work.
Where do you see your work going next?
I’m working on another series in fabric at the moment I’m calling Alt Caps that looks at the world of online commenters. I received a lot of press about my Warm Gun series that inevitably led to numerous hateful comments and articles. Much of the hate and anger was directed at me personally as well as my sexuality and “role as a woman” which I found interesting enough to explore through making work about it.
For more information visit Natalie Baxter’s website at http://www.nataliebaxter.com/ and follow her on Instagram at @nattybax