"I'm fascinated by the process of deconstructing photographs of objects or places that i find beautiful, and recreating them on a large scale using islands of colour. While up close these islands look like random puddles, from a distance the eye will automatically reconstruct the original image. It's magical! Because the acrylics i use are liquid, the canvas must lie flat until it is completely dry. The final effect is only seen when i can finally lift it up into a vertical position and step back. It's often a breathtaking moment! All of the richness, the depth and the emotion are suddenly there."
Natalie Corman was born in 1963 in Belgium and grew up in Canada. Her subjects range from architecture and interiors to animals and urban scenes. Natalie has exhibited in various group and solo exhibitions in Italy and Switzerland, and was invited personally to exhibit with Hugo Boss in Basel. She currently lives and works in Riehen, Switzerland.
Getting to the Core of Artist Natalie Corman
By Megan Rodgers, independent curator and artist. September 2017
I sat down recently for a conversation with the enthusiastic painter Natalie Corman at the Birseckerhof in Basel, where her large, bold painting of the restaurant’s interior in a limited palette of ochers hangs proudly above the long, wooden tables.
What attracted you to painting the interior of this restaurant, as well as other restaurants?
It's one of the first things i fell in love with in Basel -- the amazing restaurants. And i love the atmosphere when friends sit down and enjoy a meal and a bottle of wine together — the image evokes such positive emotions in me. I guess that’s mostly how I choose my subjects – whatever I find beautiful. That can mean a cozy restaurant or a cow or a bouquet of flowers, but it can also be a tram depot, a rusted shipping container or a heavy chain around an old bike. I’m always curious to find out if these subjects touch others the same way they touch me. I love to hear the viewers’ reactions when they come to my exhibitions.
So you prefer painting recognizable things?
Yes, I like the viewer to be able to identify what the subject is. They don’t need to really know anything about me or my ideas before forming their own opinion of the artwork. Of course I hope they find both the subject and the representation of it beautiful, but they bring their own background to looking at it and of course we don’t all have the same tastes, thank goodness!
And when viewers really like a piece and take it home, what do you hope they think about?
I hope it boosts their spirits whenever they look at it. I hope they find it uplifting. I think that’s why i never paint anything with a negative message. I thrive on these representations of beauty as a kind of resistance against all the ugliness in our world.
I know that your paintings begin as photographs you’ve taken in your immediate surroundings. What else should we know about your process?
Once I’ve chosen an image (which is sometimes a difficult process!), I analyze the shot, possibly crop it, work with the lighting and contrast, sometimes re-compose it, and run it through several filters until i am happy with it. Then i decide on the final size (most of my pieces are quite large so I can get the detail I like) and the final colour palette that i will use. I spend a long time separating out the colours and i limit my palette to 8 to 12 tones, sort of like making a musical scale. Sometimes I keep basically to the original set of colours as I did for my Ring and sometimes I reduce everything to limited palettes of blues or greens like for Kunsthalle or my pop art cows Oh Les Vaches.
After tracing the image onto the canvas I get to work filling in the colours. This part of the process is time consuming, but it's also a kind of trance-inducing process. I've probably avoided hours of therapy thanks to it! (laughs). It’s really breathtaking how everything comes together in the end -- all these islands of colour meld together and they re-form the original image with all its depth and warmth and emotional impact!
You’re quite detailed and methodical in your planning and process. You’re no Pollock flinging paint at a huge canvas.
No, definitely not -- think more David Hockney or Toulouse-Lautrec. But of course, I’m just as passionate! I can’t wait to get into the atelier each day and I always have my next five or six paintings lined up in my head well in advance. The only reason I get anything else done in life is because I have to wait for the separate colours to dry, otherwise it would be difficult to pry me out of my atelier!.!
You’ve had a varied work life: you’ve been a biologist, an assistance dog trainer, a furniture refinisher, besides also raising two boys …. How have these experiences informed what you put into your art?
I’m a very active person. I always need projects to work on with my hands, new stimuli, something to be passionate about. I grew up surrounded by creative people, but it was really my mother who encouraged me to experiment with different disciplines and media. I was never afraid of trying something new. I started painting in 2012 after I stumbled across the work of Canadian artist Dorian FitzGerald and felt a rush of excitement to try his technique for myself. I have the luxury now of having time and space to do what I want to do and I don’t think I’ve ever been as passionate as I am now, creating my own paintings and exhibiting them.
You’ve lived in the small town of Riehen, just outside of Basel, since 1987, but you grew up in the big city of Montreal. Would you call yourself more of a ‘small town’ person or more of a ‘big city’ person?
I've fallen in love with small town life, the quietness, the flower beds, chickens in the back yard, but i still need my big city fix once in a while, you know, that urban vibe, the thrill of all of these people and their passions coming together. It's pure inspiration!