Mirrored Stories

Amsterdam-based artist Natisa Jones shares fragments of memories, poetry and confessions in her work which she hopes mirror the feelings of its viewer.

I’ve always been a creative child and I was always drawing and making things. As an only child it was how I kept busy an occupied a lot of my time. I grew up playing in my mother’s painting studio where I learned and observed a lot, my dad occasionally would take up water colour and paint cityscapes as a hobby. My grandmother wrote poetry and enjoys making things with her hands. Among my family are jewellers and designers so it wasn’t out of step to end up in the creative field. It was a path that I was never discouraged to explore and ultimately pursue. Before committing to painting full time professionally, I was freelancing in illustration, graphic design and other creative work which taught me a lot and I think sometimes still informs the way I think about aesthetics and visual language. I felt painting and art-making gave me an outlet to connect to people while exploring myself in real time. I feel very lucky that so far I’ve been able to make it a career.

There are two ways I go about thinking of influence and inspiration in art and in my life. A key inspirational figure in my life overall has been my grandmother (and the women that raised me). But my grandmother’s relationship to creativity is not something overly intellectualised or analysed but one that is heartfelt and genuine which I continuously return to when thinking about the essence of creating. She makes things out of love, joy and curiosity–as a way of gifting to her family, friends, neighbourhood or herself. At a point in her life where she lost her husband and had to raise her 4 children as a single mother, her creativity was key for survival. As the matriarch of our family, she is someone I look up to and draw strength from always.

"When gazing upon my work I hope to take the viewer to themselves mostly"

As far as talking about art-making specifically, I have many but three of my major influences are Pablo Picasso, Louise Bourgeois and M.I.A (Maya Arulpragasam). I always return to study these three artists throughout different creative periods and I take away so much I can apply to my own practice.

Identity is a topic I am consistently grappling with. I felt like I was always in a cultural identity crisis growing up (haha) and I guess this longing for a sense of belonging has triggered the need for me to understand what connects or disconnects me with others. I make art to contextualise myself and navigate the displacement I often would feel. The rules in art are bendable and negotiable. My work and I can exist beyond geographical, physical or theoretical boundaries and potentially find association with something I never thought to, to begin with. Themes that come with that exploration often revolve around spirituality, desire, duality, conflict, reconciliation, transformation, balance.

The act of writing and drawing supports a degree of urgency, impulsion and candour that to me provides a stage for truth to reveal itself. I write routinely as an act of confession and often phrases would find their way onto my canvas. It allows me to deal with themes of vulnerability and connectivity. With text, I am able to document moments, explore memories, preserve statements, or re-organize narratives. Sometimes it’s as simple as a ‘note to self ’ sentiment, other times it is to implement a sense of poetry and at times a tool to interrupt.

“Relating to a piece of art and seeing yourself in it, in some truth, feels like coming home.”

When gazing upon my work I hope to take the viewer to themselves mostly. I tell my story as genuinely as I possibly can in my own little way. Hopefully if I feel something, someone else out there will feel it too. It starts off by mining from my own experiences, but once it is released into the public it’s no longer mine and hopefully it’s useful to someone else in their journey however that may be. When I become immersed in a work by my favourite painters, it allows me the space to explore a part of myself I haven’t seen or have yet to articulate to myself. While it takes form in someone else’s language, colour, lines, it acts as a mirror to my own human condition where we are threaded closer to each other. I don’t much care to dictate how people should feel or react to the work really. Nothing is right or wrong but simply sharing to have the chance to understand and empathise with one another. If people see themselves in my work, and feel like their story has been mirrored in some way shape or form, it’s the most gratifying feeling because I feel like I’ve been useful. Relating to a piece of art and seeing yourself in it, in some truth, feels like coming home. That’s a big part of what drives the decisions in my work.

The flower imagery in my work used to symbolise fear. In making art, I often question what is good or bad within aesthetics and this pressure was personified in drawing flowers. Something associated with beauty and decoration. It was a way to display and reconcile my anxiety about making something beautiful or aesthetically acceptable. Drawing them out or incorporating them within my visual language was a way to frame the fear and face it. They’ve taken up different positions, changed in scale and form. So my relationship with this fear has also been able to shift. Not to ignore it, nor to take it too seriously, but in a way to be playful with it and allow it to teach me something.

I find home in different places. Bali and Jakarta, where most of my family live, are home. Chiang Mai, where I went to boarding school and where my parents live, has a piece of home for me.Amsterdam has slowly become a space I call home the past few years.

We (my husband and I) knew we wanted to live in Europe as we mostly grew up in Asia. I completed my university studies in Melbourne, Australia and always learned about the masters and museums and the way art is appreciated here. The art history is obviously impressive and I wanted to spend part of my life living amongst what I spent so much time studying. I wanted to really breathe it and exist near it. As soon as it was a viable option for us, we decided to take a risk and make this city home for a little while. It has been inspiring and nurturing to the creative process for sure. It’s been nice to be able to go for a walk and meet an artwork in person and stand in front of it in the flesh as opposed to books and thumbnails that I was used to.

OH! Open House Singapore

Culturally people here are quite individualistic and although it can be challenging at times (as I come from a very communal, affectionate culture), it is also very liberating. Pushing my own boundaries and getting out of my comfort zone has given me a lot to be inspired by. The process of growing thicker skin can be painful but rewarding. I learn different ways to operate, process, and communicate and these transitional phases often give great material for me to create work from.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city to walk aimlessly in (when the weather lets you). The houses are stacked against one another and often wonky. You can always see into people’s homes because the Dutch don’t really draw their curtains. So the city has a very whimsical feel. It’s a relaxed, dreamy, whimsical, and organised city. Under the sun, it’s warm and quite green. Under the clouds everything is grey.

"If people see themselves in my work, and feel like their story has been mirrored in some way shape or form, it’s the most gratifying feeling"

My interior style is eclectic and playful. I try not to take it too seriously but to be intentional. To me, balance comes through having different elements in the house. We try to play with combining different shapes and textures, merging unlikely things together. We have themes in each room to enhance how we want to feel in the kitchen versus in the living room.

Amsterdam flats are considerably small and awkwardly layed out so we got good at negotiating space. It’s all a fun process of trial and error and we’re always learning. all in one place.

In my studio I need a clear and clean space to allow ideas to come and movement to happen with ease. Clutter creates blockage so we can’t have too much of that. I need a comfortable place to sit and read and write and have a good rug for the colder days. I like to have objects around me that make me happy and feel inspired, but also have a space neutral enough that can still provide a blank canvas feel for the creation process to really take over. I can’t have any statement pieces in the studio because the work needs to be the statement and for that to happen I need a considerably aesthetically unbiased space.

Going to Amed to spend my days snorkelling, eating, writing, staring at the volcano, is a trip I do almost every time I am home in Bali. I always feel re-energized and reconnected with myself and nature. It was a trip we did every year when I was a kid as a family holiday. Now as an adult, I sort of continue this tradition with my husband. It’s a way of touching base for me. Volcanic beach, great snorkelling, very calm waters, traditional fishing boat rides, kind people.

My favourite thing about spring in Amsterdam is definitely the shedding of winter. It gets very cold, wet and grey here so it’s easy to welcome the sign of it ending. The summer can also be very hot and brutal so spring provides a sweet spot to exist in. I enjoy seeing the trees return with new skin during springtime in general. It’s nice to see a sense of renewal unfolding around you in a tangible way.

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