Damaris Athene Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Natalia González Martín I grew up in Spain in a very small village. I went to school there and that’s quite a boring part of my life, until I was 18 when I came to London for my foundation diploma at City and Guilds, where I also did my BA. Now I’m trying to be a practicing artist, trying to live off that and see what happens. Complicated! With part-time jobs, little things, whatever comes. Recently I opened this space in my own home to promote the work of other artists and curators.
DA What’s that called?
NGM Subsidiary Projects. Some friends and I wanted to do an exhibition and we set up a space in my house. It’s too perfect not to continue doing it so I’ve gone further with it. More than just putting my own work and my friends’ work. I find other people and it’s a great way of getting in touch with different artist that I didn’t know about before. I’m not asking economically for anything, it’s art for the sake of art. I think everyone after Uni goes through a period of disenchantment with the art world. I wanted to make something genuine and for the process of experimentation. You can take a risk and make something that doesn’t work at all and you don’t have the pressure of having to answer to a big gallery. I think it’s relieving to have a space like that that isn’t just your studio.
DA Can you tell me about your practice?
NGM The very basics of it is archaeology. Around 2/3 years ago I realised that was what linked everything together. I had always been extremely interested in materiality in a very visceral way. My dad is a vet so I’ve seen a lot of horrid, horrid carcases through his work. I always saw it as something quite appealing and, colour palette wise, quite beautiful. I incorporated that with artefacts and history through objects. Now it’s turning into this experimentation of the things man have made with their hands. Forms we’ve been drawn to and ways of representation of materials, but giving it that organic quality that I cannot seem to get away from. Which makes sense with my idea of archaeology itself, because I see it as nothing stable, something quite alive. Not in a beautiful sense, in a precarious way. It has so much potential to decay and be forgotten and die.
DA How do you usually work? You graduated in the Summer of 2017, and you’ve been working as an artist since….
NGM It’s hard to keep up the momentum after Uni and I think everyone finds themselves in this place of ‘What were all of those ideas?’ ‘Where have they gone?’ ‘I had so many ideas for the Degree Show’ and now they go back to basics. That’s what I’ve done - going back to the first sources that inspired me and continuing to analyse them. Maybe it’s because there’s no pressure of having a mark on what you’re doing and it’s finally more for yourself. It doesn’t last but you’ve got this period just for yourself. It’s enjoyable to go to the most naïve, basic aspect of that. ‘I’m just going to do this’ - there is a reason but at the beginning it’s ‘because’ and then it all comes together. It’s challenging after Uni.
DA What were the things you were drawn back to?
NGM I had completely left out figuration and now I see myself representing certain images that I had in the back of my head, trying to do them accurately or just replicating an image, which at the end of Uni I was almost against. Like, ‘Oh no, you cannot just make an image and that’s it’. I find it so vital for going back to progress somehow. I don’t know, maybe I had left out so many materials because I had also thought that they’re not professional enough or…I don’t know, you have that pressure when you’re at Uni, especially towards the Degree Show, and you have to deliver this very stable product. It doesn’t have to be that stable after which is nice.
DA Some freedom.
NGM Yes, in many ways. In materials, in presentation. It cannot go on forever otherwise it’ll all crumble, but for a bit I think it’s healthy.
DA You said you’d been working Part-time trying to support things. Is it a patchwork of work to try and pay your rent?
NGM Yes, I'm a part-time Art Teacher, doing freelance private classes. I’ve also been working at Block 336, at the private views. It’s nice because it doesn’t take too much time from the studio. However, I am looking into getting something more constant. I had a bad experience just after Uni. I was freaking out looking for jobs and I found this one Photographer job. Everything seemed ideal, apart from the fact that it was a recent graduate job and the pay was nothing. Legally there are some things you cannot do for free and I feel people really abuse recent graduates. It was taking all my time, some days were 10 hours long. I chose the studio and not being able to pay rent!
DA It’s tricky, a lot of the friends who I studied with have stopped making work - they had to earn money and when you lose momentum it’s so hard to start up again.
NGM Almost impossible. I think we invested too much money in University to let it go. I’d rather starve for a few months than loose the dynamic of coming to the studio.
DA What difference have you found between studying in Spain and studying here?
NGM The thing is in Spain I’ve never studied Fine Art in my A levels (Bachillerato). You can find one that is artistic but because it’s Spain, it’s a very old minded country, and it doesn’t have a good reputation. I chose what we call ‘pure letters’ - Latin, Greek, History of Art. Fine Art in Spain is very academicist and not conceptual at all. No self-development of practice. You don’t have your own studio. The exam, for example, will be copying a torso very accurately, which is more of a skill than a profession. Then at the same time I’ve seen some things lacking in the English system - there's not much emphasis in the history of Art itself, which I missed. I think it would be great to do a course in Spain and learn everything until the 18th century and then come to England to learn all the rest. So, just a bit of a balance. I’ve seen what is missing in the two of them.
DA How have you found living over here? You’ve been here for 4 years now.
NGM It sounds a bit like the typical story – a small village girl coming to a big city, but it didn’t feel like that. It felt like the right place. Some people say, ‘Oh in London you can feel lonely in such a big city’, but I don’t feel that as much. There’s too much going on. I think it’s too easy to get by. I really like this city. Never going to leave until they kick me out. They’re trying but no way. I’m waiting for Theresa’s call!
DA *laughs*… What have you been doing since your graduating?
NGM I had a solo show at St Catherine’s Church, in Neasden. The building is so beautiful I almost didn’t want to put anything in it! I could put up some of my pieces but I had to keep it palatable for the church goers. You don’t want to disturb too much and it’s tricky because you do want to put across a message that’s risky.
DA Are you religious yourself?
NGM I am not religious. In my work there is a lot of religion, because of my Catholic background. We love the icons! I think that comes across in my work. I’m drawn to the aesthetic of processions and celebrations.
DA What have you been working on recently?
NGM I’ve been really interested in marbling and limbs. I have a need to completely cover something in marbling and maybe put it in weird spaces. I’m into the idea of art in non-art spaces. There is this Instagram profile called Great Art in Ugly Rooms where they post pictures of famous artworks in motels or toilets or McDonald's, etc... It’s such a great concept! It goes as well with the idea that I put into my work of the value of art. Is it the piece? Is it where the piece is? Is it what has been said about the piece? I’m sceptical that it’s not the object itself at all. Maybe changing the context will enhance that?
DA Have you got any spaces in mind?
NGM Well the other day I put some clay sculptures in Sainsbury’s. I took some milk off the shelves and just displayed them.
DA Ah, brilliant!
NGM More than the display itself it was the peoples’ reactions. No one, literally no one, was weirded out that I was taking these big sculptures out of my bag, placing them there and looking at them. Everyone went through them to get their milk and went back to the queue. None of the Sainsbury’s people said anything. So that was surprising – no impact at all.
DA Wow, do you think they just were too busy to bother? They thought – Oh that’s weird – but didn’t think much of it. That’s so interesting.
NGM I don’t know if it’s something to do with England. If you see a horse riding a bicycle no one will look. They’re not surprised…It’s not like not surprised it’s very polite. I think it would really change if I did it in Spain. I want to try it and see the peoples' reactions.
DA I think you should do it again and you should film it.
NGM Yeah, I mean I have a Sainsbury’s next to my house, I can always use it. It’s my new gallery space.
DA They might start knowing you, 'Come along at 12 o’clock on a Sunday to see the sculpture in the milk fridge!'
NGM Maybe I should advertise it! Who knows! Free marketing.
DA What have you got planned for the future?
NGM Applying to more contests and getting more of those dreadful rejection emails. I’ve learnt that we have to live with that. It’s part of it. I was considering a Masters degree but I think that England is far too expensive and I think the masters is like a business. You cannot pay that much money to receive so little space and tuition. I just feels wrong. I’m against it but at the same time I feel like it’s the only way to do it. Maybe I’ll go back on my word and do a Masters. Maybe that’s the plan.