Currently based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Natisa Jones was born in Jakarta, Indonesia who works between Bali, a place where she grew up and Amsterdam. As a visual artist, she uses texts and drawings to reflect her philosophies and curiosities as well as to navigate self-reflection and identity. Her work signifies a duality between abstraction and figuration, which has become the key concepts in what she creates. In this conversation with Natisa, she shared some insights into her personal experience in starting the artistic journey, staying motivated when discouraged, as well as her thoughts on her experience exhibiting her works in different countries.
What has influenced you to follow your career choice?
I just felt it was the thing I knew how to do, best. Everything else was a natural progression. As a kid, I drew all the time, anywhere. I'd watch my cartoons and try to copy the characters obsessively. I would watch with my drawing pad always with me and I still remember the feelings of being incredibly frustrated when I couldn't get a shape right. I was obsessed with the 'behind the scenes' segments on channels like Nickelodeon where they would show the illustrators at work. Once I understood this was something an adult could do for a living, I didn't really look anywhere else. I wanted to grow up to be a cartoonist and work in those studios. I considered something to do with psychology but I think it's a topic I tend to flirt with in my art-making anyway. I grew up engaging in all types of creative activities in school. And I come from a creative family who were / are very encouraging, so deciding on this career path was not something I had to contemplate on too much.
This pandemic has taught us how to keep ourselves motivated even when we get discouraged. How do you handle discouragement in this predicament and how did it affect your creative process?
My creative process and my life in general, are always holding hands.
One way of going about it is to turn things upside down. Get creative, really. If one method isn't working, I try another. I do this with painting - when I am working on something and I reach a point of frustration or things feel like a dead-end and start to become discouraged - I interrupt, disrupt, destroy, deconstruct in order to rebuild. This allows space for new perspectives. It often relieves me from what I think I know and redirects me to focus on what I am capable of / what is possible. I try my best to apply this to various aspects of my life outside of the studio as well. I change the way I dress, the way I cook, the orientation of the furniture in my home, the type of entertainment I consume - things of that effect.
My process has definitely been affected by the weight of it all. I just had to dig deeper to find reasons to create in a time where everything felt like it was closing in. I had to change my perspective somehow and find another angle to keep going. When I did that, my work also shifted. I accepted that things were slower, things are less certain, the same with my work. I embraced my frustrations, hesitations, my doubts and allowed them to exist on top of the canvas. Pieces took longer to form, and I had to learn to be okay with my new pace to honor the vulnerability and honesty.
If you could become one of your works, which one would you choose and why?
I think this changes depending on the day. Lately, probably my work titled ' I Never Go For The Obvious Kill', 2017. For me this work dealt with breaking habits and embracing what is unfamiliar in order to evolve. It was the first large scale canvas I did, where the human figure is absent. There's this sort of large tree / coral-like form with knobs, flowers, shrubs growing in and out of it. I felt really proud when I came to complete this piece and I still feel that way when I look at this painting. To me, it felt like it was the beginning of something. It felt new, it felt brave, and to me that's always a good indication that I'm on the right track. I chase that feeling to keep pushing my work forward and not get too cozy. This wild thing that is ever-growing, never stagnant, with a sentiment of never settling for something for the sake of being comfortable, palatable or easy. I would love to be in that state of conviction, confidence and have an all-embracing attitude for change and growth and harness that fearless/unapologetic wildness on command. But of course life fluctuates and that's part of the beauty.
As seen from your site, you use drawings and texts in the hopes of exploring identity. Can you tell us more about how you use those elements to navigate self-reflection and identity?
For me, the physical act of writing and drawing is consistently accompanied by the notion of urgency, impulsivity and candour. These thoughts, ideas, feelings embody personal philosophies and curiosities. They live within me in mind, soul, spirit - and I practice to be able to translate them through my physical body as close to raw as possible. Sometimes sentiments come in the form of poems, sometimes narratives come from literal accounts of my day, sometimes phrases appear to me representing a memory. All are significant in facilitating to investigate who I am, where I was, where I'm at, where I am going. It always begins with some form of purging. Then, running it through a strainer to sift out what part of that experience holds both personal and universal value at the same time. This balance is crucial to my work and this entire process is one of reflection.
Do you critique your own work? And can you explain why you do or don’t do it?
Yes, I do. I think it's important to be critical of what you do. It just means you care and you respect the job.
Especially in a field like art, where there is endless freedom and possibilities. Technically, no one can tell you you're wrong. I think creating some sort of structure / rules for yourself can assist in developing artistic language. Knowing how to exercise freedom productively, knowing when to employ restrictions, when to allow indulgence, what is worth keeping and what to discard - is important to me. There's a sort of suffering in this process that I sometimes enjoy. It's a thin line between being constructively critical, and letting doubt and fear run the show.
I do it, because as much as I need it to harness everything that's going on within the studio, I know it will eventually leave. The work needs to be able to exist in the outside world and hold its own.
Ultimately, the dream is for the work to be as useful to someone else, as much as it has been useful to me.
Do you find yourself being impacted by other artists? If so, who and how?
Usually I am impacted by how bold an artist is with their expression. I tend to be drawn to works that are personal, emotional, expressive and somewhat autobiographical in nature.
Schiele, Munch, Picasso, Bourgeois, De Kooning, Tracy Emin are some names I've been deeply impacted by growing up.
They've all managed to interpret and articulate the vicissitudes of human life by boldly drawing from their personal lives with such universality and timelessness.
I'm impacted by older artists mostly, or ones that have passed. They've completed or are further along in the battle of art-making. They also have cracked codes that us young artists have yet to begin to even understand. I enjoy engaging with art history as there's a lot to learn from the journeys that come before me.
You use concepts like abstraction and figurative language to create most of your works. Do you find yourself leaning more towards one than the other?
It fluctuates. I weave in and out abstraction and figuration depending on what I am trying to express. More often than not, the figure is my comfort zone and they appear. The human form enables the embodiment of emotion and feeling, much more directly. You can identify with it, instantly. But as I am getting older, I'm becoming more comfortable with their absence. Relying more towards suggestions, hints, and redefining how I identify. I can appreciate working with the openness that abstraction provides more and more. I think this fluctuation of abstraction and figuration for me, is forever.
So, you have participated in international group exhibitions in many countries like Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Amsterdam, Germany, Australia and your country of birth, Indonesia. How is your experience in each country? In what ways are they similar and different when exhibiting your works?
I was actually discussing this with another artist friend of mine who is also from Indonesia and is making work here. But here I feel, the less I explain the specificities of my work to a viewer - the more romantic the experience of the work becomes. Viewers are quite happy to react to the works emotionally and in their own interpretations. I'm fine with that. I find that here, the emphasis and primary intrigue lies more in material, technique and execution. Whereas in Asia, I feel the romance and connection is stimulated by the story-telling of the work. But overall, the experience to me personally, isn't different in the way people receive my work. The work all stems from a personal space - so vulnerability becomes the star in these exchanges with people, wherever I am. It doesn't matter where they are from, how old they are - everyone knows what it's like to experience love, joy, fear, defeat, to feel hope, to fight for a sense of faith and purpose.
What other skills would you want to acquire?
Last but not least, what is your favorite dessert?
A Bobba Milk Tea - classic or with palm sugar.