In light of Earth Day this month, I went deep into my files, scouring numerous photos and scribbled notes that I’ve gathered over years as an arts writer. I was searching for a local artist who looked to Mother Nature for inspiration, and not just thematically — one who embraced that concept with his or her materials. It took me combing back to 2008 to find what I was looking for. The piece that had caught my eye was ‘April’ from Natalia Williams’ Calendar Girls series, which was then on display at Riverside Studios in Truckee. It was stunning. Color, texture, and form came together in a seemingly simple collage that unfolded its complexity upon a closer look. Williams used not only magazine and paper clippings but also dried Sierra flowers, crushed up crystals, local sand, photographs, fabric, and acrylic and oil paints to create 12 female headshots, each correlating to a calendar month.
I called up Williams right away, hoping to hear of more earthy endeavors, and hit the mother lode. At her sunny Tahoe Donner home and studio, she introduced me to her latest works. After her successful Calendar Girls series, which she started in 2004, as well as her early artistic leanings towards the female form, painted bold and bright on canvas and even snowboards (Williams is a former pro snowboarder), she had many requests for toned-down versions of her vibrant girls. She then embarked upon her Vintage Series, which not only incorporated muted colors but took a marked personal turn as well.
Williams, who had fled Poland as a political refugee at age nine with her mother and older sister, called upon relics from her past to piece together the Vintage Series. She used scraps of her grandmother’s old tablecloths, lace and fabric brought from Poland that she dyed with tea and coffee, old documents, and even photocopies of her hands to collage scenes of animals, sports, landscapes, and women — a recurring theme in her oeuvre.
When I asked about her inclination towards depicting the female form, Williams answered, ‘Female energy — and imagery — has a lot of power. The female is behind it all, the foundation of things.’ By the end of our interview, she articulated another influence: her mother’s strength and love, which she is now passing on to her two-year-old daughter, Cassique, named for a peace-making French Native American.
The mother of all mothers — Mother Nature, Mother Earth — though omnipresent in all her art, is best seen in her two current series: Sierra Pressed Botanicals, a simple collection of local flora that she prunes, dries, and arranges on watercolor paper with calligraphy (works from this collection can be seen at the Ritz-Carlton Highlands), and a series of panoramic Tahoe landscapes in her signature collage style. ‘Lake Tahoe East Shore’ is a standout, depicting the East Shore’s Flume Trail and Sand Harbor in summer. Various magazine cut-outs of trees create a diverse forest that meets real East Shore sand mixed into paint. The cerulean lake shines with crushed crystals, and a human element (precisely placed images of a sailboat and Flume Trail mountain bikers) lends a feeling of coexistence, of humans interacting with nature. ‘A lot of people relate to my work because I’m taking the earth and putting it on canvas,’ Williams says. ‘It feels like real life.’
This act of weaving the natural within each work’s fantastical atmosphere is proof that art’s greatest muse is Mother Nature. Happy Earth Day!
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