Natalie Collette Wood
By ANNA SCOLA September, 2019
Natalie Collette Wood’s new body of work questions how the spaces we inhabit and the stories we are told become an intrinsic part of who we become. Through this series of collages, Splendour at New York City's Freight+Volume examines the transcendental quality of memory and history.
I had the chance to walk through the show with the artist herself. Wood spoke of her studio in the Bronx that inspired the exhibition. She has a studio in the Andrew Freedman Home, a mansion built in the early 1900s. The mansion was originally occupied by wealthy New Yorkers who lost their fortunes during the great depression, yet could not remove themselves from their lavish lifestyles. In the 1960s, the house was then abandoned. It was over thirty years before it became repurposed as an artist's residence and creative space. Much of the interior of the building remains as it was years ago. This sense of history within a physical place appears in Wood’s mental space and arrives on her canvases.
Wood’s Splendour is a collection of collages dense with imagery. Some images are sourced from thrift shops and old magazines and others are of her own making, but it is difficult to discern which belong from what time. The works begin as intimate and tactile collages in Wood’s sketchbook and, subsequently, undergo numerous waves of construction and deconstruction before arriving as they are on the canvas. The delicate memory of the black and white photographs reveals itself amidst expressive painterly strokes and contours where Wood captures a dreamlike iridescence within fragmented memories. There is an obsessive process of layering that communicates the visceral reflection of a past that unfolds seemingly out of the control of the maker.
A figure is strung through all the pieces, often appearing as a silhouette between strokes of paint. She is stilled in different poses and accentuated by the curves of her body. What we see of her gestures are bold and open. She exudes the classic Hollywood glamour and, yet, the image is so overexposed that there is still a mystery to her; she is revealing only an facade of herself. These stills were gathered from around the artist’s family home. The woman in these frames is her mother who worked as a Las Vegas dancer before Wood was born.
A sense of mystery underlines the entire exhibition. The title itself is also in reference to the artist’s accidental namesake - Natalie Wood, the 70s icon. On a November evening in 1981, Natalie Wood suspiciously drowned while on board a boat called Splendour. It is a cruel irony when the word of magnificence also becomes attached to tragedy. Natalie Collette Wood actively embraces this dichotomy. In her pieces, the sunset hues wash over elegantly aged photographs that are burned and torn at the edges amidst which the silhouette of the woman is both spotlit and engulfed in flames.
Observing Wood's collages is like engaging in a scavenger hunt—a clarity is revealed in the details. The viewer sees a jaguar crawl through fanciful interiors; chandeliers and velvet curtains hang in gardens; the glamorous dining rooms embody a dusty saloon entrance which is a reference to "The House of the Rising Sun".
The dimensionality of the subject is composed into a flat surface. With this, Wood is not only collapsing space, but also time. She explores the sensations of existing beyond personal restrictions of space and the limitations of time. The mixed media collages transcend these constructs, approaching fantasy but not far enough to lose a sense of reality. By overlaying family histories with American folklore, Natalie Collette Wood’s work recalls a time before her own and treats it with the delicacy that assumes she had lived through it herself. WM
Anna Scola is an American and Russian artist, writer and curator based in Singapore and New York. As a practicing artist, Anna uses performance and installation to explore issues of identity and insecurity that arise from personal and socio-political relations to contemporary migration. As a curator, she has conceptualized and managed a number of exhibitions that create unique conditions for the artists and explore the potential of a gallery space.
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