by Helen Dwork | March 27, 2015
Natalie Tyler holds an MFA from California College of the Arts, and has studied drawing, sculpture, museum studies, and art history in both the United States and Italy. She has participated in solo exhibitions on both coasts, and her work has been included in group exhibitions in New York, California, England, and Ireland. She has participated in a number of art residencies, including a year as a Visiting Artist at Cornell University, and received numerous awards for her work—most recently the Mass MOCA Assets for Artists Grant. More information is available at her website, www.natalietylerart.com.
How does the experience of having taught yourself glass casting affect your methods and teaching process?
Having come from a background of bronze casting, kiln-formed glass casting felt like a natural progression for me. With glass, I am able to incorporate light and color into the work, giving my sculptures another dimension—one that feels a bit more alive. When I am teaching kiln-formed glass, I feel that my own experience of learning through experimentation has given me more information to share with my students. Most of my students return to take my class because as their understanding of the process evolves so do their sculptures.
How does the process of molding with wax change based upon the media you are planning to use to cast the sculpture?
Wax is a forgiving material to sculpt in, similar to clay in that it is both additive and subtractive. It also allows for many different possibilities in adding textures. The glass takes the form of the sculpture and picks up great detail on the surface. Glass sculptures that come out of the kiln have a frosted look to them, but are able to be buffed to highest clarity.
Your work takes on the concept of the cabinet of curiosities from a twenty-first century perspective. Unlike earlier viewers, we now have access to an abundance of information; we just fail to examine it. To what do you hope your pieces will draw viewers’ attention?
My sculptures are inspired by nature. I have always felt that nature is the best teacher, in many ways. By casting my work in precious materials, I highlight the importance of our natural world. I have created a place where the viewer can study the art of nature, giving our environment the appreciation it deserves. In the past, cabinets of curiosities were places where scientists collected specimens from the natural world to study and learn about our environment. These cabinets evolved into museums. When I was travelling in Prague, I stumbled upon the Strahov Monastery. The monastery is home to a stunning cabinet of curiosities, acquired in the eighteenth century and filled with nature’s wonders and oddities. I felt so inspired by this collection that I began working on a collection of my own sculptural and more metaphoric curiosities.
What is the role of art in science? The role of science in art?
Science and art have more connections than differences. Both scientists and artists research, plan, experiment, and discover. In education, our departments have become so compartmentalized that a science major rarely takes an art class and vice versa, even though both sides would be so inspired by each other. In the near future, I believe crossing over the science/art barriers will not only be more exciting for students, but will become a necessity for innovation.
You’ve spoken about nature as a metaphor that transcends language, and your oeuvre illuminates a link between the natural and the manmade, particularly with regard to dwellings—like tiny houses and human-sized cocoons. How do your artistic choices reinforce this connection?
Visual art has the power to communicate to the masses, transcending language barriers. That is why artists have a unique ability to reach all people on a deeper level. In my artwork I have chosen to explore the enduring strength of nature, encouraging others to see both how delicate and how powerful nature is. My sculptures of dilapidated barns speak to the disappearing of American farming culture. In the past, family farms fed the masses. Now nature is reclaiming the wooden dwellings and barns, returning them to the earth, while corporations feed the masses.
How does your work as an art director for feature films inform your art?
What drew me to filmmaking was the collaborative effort in creating a large-scale project. Most of my time working in my art studio has been very insular. Filmmaking is an opportunity to have a creative exchange with many people working together for a common goal. My background in making art and sculpture helped me advance very quickly. If a film needed a specialized prop, I could make it on the spot.
Your studio in North Adams, Massachusetts, is also a storefront. Does that interaction with the community have an effect on your art?
I recently received a grant from Mass MOCA’s program Assets for Artists to start a glass studio in North Adams, MA. This program encourages creative businesses to relocate to North Adams. My glass studio will be open to the public this spring, and it is a storefront in the downtown area, giving the community a chance to engage with the arts and creative process.
Natalie will teach a five-session Glass Casting workshop at the League’s Vytlacil campus over the course of three weekends in April. Free shuttle buses are available from the League’s 57th Street campus. More information about this and other workshops is available on the Art Students League’s website.