Natalie Stallings is a fine artist and musician living in Utah. She had her work accepted to the Spring Salon at the Springville Art Museum the past two years and currently works a graphic designer and illustrator. When not making art she is writing music and playing vocals and other instruments in groups with her husband, a jazz pianist and composer.
Describe yourself as an artist. As an artist, I’d say that I’m a bit of an eclectic mess. In school I was often taught to find “my tool”, and stick with it. I tried many times, and failed. If you were to imagine a person as a room, I think I’d be a room full of notes (so many notes…it’s a problem), black and white photography, bottles of paints, chemicals, old and new brushes, bags of pens, a few instruments, boxes of fabric, and stacks of paper and canvas. However, I’d like to be a large white room filled with nothing but a piece of paper and pen. I think I have come to find a lot of my work actually might reflect that inner conflict. I am not sure yet.
Your family includes landscape painters, comic illustrators and metalworkers. Why did you choose your particular medium? I don’t know that I can say I really chose my medium! Or what that medium even is. I do tend to work a lot in oil paints; they come naturally to me and I love so many things about them. The color is unbeatable, and they are incredibly bold but not too stubborn (like acrylic paint can be). But I never consciously made that decision. I also work with photography, ink, film, and sometimes a bit of sculpture. I can be a very logical and analytical person — but if there is one place I try to be intuitive, it is in art. I like to think the most authentic works of art were not so much choices as natural expressions; like expressing happiness or sadness in the moment, as it comes, how it feels right.
Talk about your experience working with Brad Holland and Brett Helquist. What an amazing honor; befriending two of America’s greats. I lived in a room about the size of your broom closet along the Hudson River. Every other day I’d travel to Brooklyn or SoHo to study with Brett, then Brad, and on a free day spend time at museums or visiting my uncle (a carpenter and metalworker in Brooklyn). I spent a lot of my time organizing their files and preserving/storing art they’d done, sometimes meeting up with publishers at editing houses that Brett set up for me.
Overall I think I learned three major lessons: 1) I found that the greatest lessons to learn from these men were about who they were as people, and how they lived and thought about life. I was really touched by talking to them about everyday things. They both have incredible work ethic, dedication, sense of humor, and a willingness to give of themselves and their time. 2) Visiting my uncle in Brooklyn was forever and indefinitely valuable to figuring out who I am as an artist. He had posters of Mt. Everest on the walls, music playing, loud machines running… I connected with his world of more hands on work more than any children’s book industry or office I had been looking into. Although I still have a love for illustration and the unique gifts it has to offer there is something about the world of fine arts that is infinitely more satisfying to me. An unexpected result of my time there. 3) Having good time and a good environment is priceless! Using as much time to study at museums or drawing in my tiny dark room as I needed, was unbeatable. And the environment there is so inspiring, full of so much energy; so many amazing art shows, installations, music, and people to meet. Although I come across as pretty quiet, I really thrive off of a certain amount of chaos, I guess.
How does your religion shape your artwork? My religion has everything to do with my art. First of all, I’m not always making art because I’m in love with it; in fact I regularly renounce it. But because at some point I realized it was one of the best ways that I could do my part in contributing to the world and a community. Seriously. I am incapable of really doing anything else for extended periods of time — I go crazy if I don’t make art. Art has, in the best way possible, become a plague. Which is absolutely part of what I believe in – not plagues – but that service (thus joy) is what God wants for us. That being said, the images I make are also very much a part of my religious beliefs; they explore ideas of exploration, and the innate desire humans have of wanting more in life. It has a lot to do with my own history and love of outdoor adventure/sci-fi, but even more to do with my Mormon pioneer ancestors and struggles with existentialism and finding God. I am in love with the ideas that surround such stories — That we are, for some reason, born just knowing there is something more to life… and we will spend years and countless thoughts, dollars, and excursions to find that. Does that not hint that we are more than just developed animals? We want life to make more sense, to be more excellent. There is something inside of us, pushing us further. Perhaps to a point no one will get to in our mortal lives, but at least through art I can contemplate it for a couple of decades. I’d say that’s pretty satisfying.
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