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“Installation TrollLolLol”, Elijah Wheat Showroom, March 2018, photo Joshua Simpson, copyright Natalie Baxter
Natalie Baxter, visual artist originally from Kentucky, creates works that boldly and unusually address controversial identity concepts and gender stereotypes, through playful and fun-looking textile sculptures, extravagant and soft shapes made with brightly colored fabrics that immediately capture the viewer’s attention.
Her work has been exhibited in international galleries and museums with solo exhibitions at The Elijah Wheat Showroom (Brooklyn, NY), Next to Nothing Gallery (New York, NY), Cunsthaus (Tampa, FL), and Institute 193 (Lexington, KY ). He currently lives and works in New York.
Below is the link to her website:
“Barstars”, 26 x 26 inches, 2019, copyright Natalie Baxter
Can you tell us your story as a textile artist, how you started and why you chose the textile medium?
I didn’t make any work with textiles until moving to New York after graduate school. In school, I made some sculpture and video art that evolved into documentary film work. My thesis from graduate school was a documentary of portraits of women from ages 5 to 85, many of whom are my relatives, including my grandmother.
That same grandmother taught me to quilt and sew when I was younger, but I never thought about bringing these skills into my work until I started thinking about making work around gun culture in 2015.
I was home in Kentucky for the holidays and at a friends house who had a collection of guns on the wall. This is not something I would have found odd had I not moved to New York City, where you would never see this in someone’s home. I started thinking about the different cultures within our country and at that time leading up to the election of Donald Trump, how apparent this difference was becoming.
At the time, I was working in the documentary film and television industry in New York and had juststarted quilting again – I was finishing a quilt my grandmother had started. It was so nice to be using my hands again – a nice relief from editing film on a computer screen. As I was looking at that wall of real guns, I wondered what a wall of stuffed, quilted guns would look like on the wall – thus, my series of Warm Guns was born.
Using the craft of sewing and quilting, a skill passed down to me from the women in my family, tocreate this work got me thinking about how gender identity and gun ownership are linked. It was then that I started making the guns with exaggerated, droopy barrels – more impotent. 🙂
Guns Guns Guns curated by Lauren Wolchik, photo by JoshuaSimpson, copyright Natalie Baxter
“Automatic Wedding 1”, Warm Guns Series, made from a wedding band quilt top purchased on ebay&polyfill, 2016, copyright Natalie Baxter
“My Super Sweet M Sixteen”, Warm Gun Series, fabric and polyfill, 20x60x3.5 in, 2015, copyright Natalie Baxter
Warm Guns Series Installation, copyright Natalie Baxter
In the path you took, was there an event or a person who revealed to be important for your professional growth? Can you tell us about it?
I think moving to New York was very beneficial for me. I know you don’t have to be in a large city to be an artist, but for me, it really helped to see people who were living their lives as full time artists to be able to visualize myself as doing the same. I have had many wonderful mentors along my path as an artist – art instructors and teachers throughout my schooling who noticed my need to create art and fostered it.
Most importantly, I believe that creating a network of other artists is extremely important. I have been fortunate to meet so many wonderful friends who are artists through residencies or at openings in New York. You don’t have an office full of colleagues as an artist – it can be very lonely and isolating. I recognized this early on and made it a priority to build up a network of artists in my same boat and it has been extremely rewarding.
“America, Current Mood”Bloated Flags collection, fabric and polyfill, 63 x 36 x 5 inches, 2016, copyright Natalie Baxter
What are your sources of inspiration? How do you choose the subjects for your artwork? Are there artists, artistic currents or contemporary art movements that stimulate your imagination?
I pull a lot of my inspiration from what’s happening in the world around me. I consume a lot of news media and am interested in exploring the hot button issues and the culture and social divisions they have created. I believe that art is able to explore these differences in a unique way. I have also recently been looking more at my personal experiences as a new mother and stereotypical roles that I have found myself in as I navigate my life with a new daughter as well as in a partnership throughout this weird new time in quarantine.
“Bloated Flags” collection, copyright Natalie Baxter
“Bloated Flags” collection, copyright Natalie Baxter
“People Will Think You’re Making a Trump Flag (a yuge one)”, 41 x 73 x 4 inches, fabric and polyfill, 2016, copyright Natalie Baxter
Among your textile works, which one represents you more and to which you feel more attached?
There are always some works that I think are just better than others, but I’d say I feel most connected to the process. I don’t see myself as a medium specific artist – I stray away from calling myself a fiber artist or a textile artist, because I think one day I will move on to another medium if an idea for new work makes more sense in a different medium. However, I feel very attached to the act of sewing because of the connections it has to a long line of women in my family.
How important is the choice of materials to you? Do you experiment with the use of unusual, recycled or alternative materials?
At first, I purposefully sought out the most flashy and “feminine” looking fabrics I could find – hot pink spandex, florals, lace, etc. I am now somewhat of a fabric hoarder and visit quilt shops and fabric stores when traveling, purchasing whatever fabric I like without a specific purpose in mind forthat fabric. I also use a lot of old quilts in my work – some that people give me, some that I purchase from thrift stores or on eBay. I also buy a lot of quilt tops from eBay that I incorporate into my work.
“Déplorables” Bloated Flags collection, fabric andpolyfill, 37 x 14 x 2 inches, 2016, copyright Natalie Baxter
Can you tell us about your quilts from the ALT CAPS series? How were they born? What are they about?
In December of 2016 a friend sent me a link to an article about my work that I wasn’t aware existed. “Feminist artist takes on ‘toxic masculinity’ by making ‘soft, impotent’ sculptures of guns,”was published on Glenn Beck’s website, The Blaze. Through a hodgepodge of misquoted and outof context statements pulled from other articles, it was clear that the author was not a fan of myWarm Gun series.
Everyone tells you that you aren’t supposed to read the comments on articles about yourself, but I couldn’t help but read the over 90 comments at the bottom of the article: “Just a man hating feminazi with no redeemable qualities (not to mention no brain),” “Demoncrats just wanna be sluts,” “This Libtard is out of her freaking mind,” “clearly Natalie Baxter is confused about her role as a woman,” and “This chick needs a good railing.”
I was interested in the angry (mostly) male energy that had surfaced since the election of Donald Trump. It was the same masculine aggression and identity that drew me to create colorfully
quilted, limp assault weapons to begin with. When the internet provided more examples of this type of anger, I knew I needed to incorporate it into my work. I used some of these comments to create wall hangings and banners, echoing those created in the late-1800s by suffragists – women who were fighting for equality over 100 years ago.
In your opinion today, has the art world fully succeeded in overcoming the idea, or rather the preconception, that textile art constitutes mainly female territory?
When an artist chooses to work with any material, they are inescapably bringing the history of that medium into their work. For me, I knew that choosing to work with fabric and use sewing and quilting skills to construct my work, I am purposefully inviting gender into the conversation around the work. This could change over time, or, perhaps some people don’t see fabric as a gendered medium as I do. Every viewer is approaching work with their own experiences that inform the work.
I will say I have seen a lot more textile work in exhibitions lately, so perhaps the art world is embracing textile work more, or perhaps it’s just having a moment.
How do you see your work in the near future?
I love the challenge of creating installation based work and am moving towards doing so with a solo show I have coming up at Gloria’s Project Space in Queens, NY this November. I am in the beginning stages of creating a series of housecoats – a garment my grandmother often wore that I see as homemaker workwear. I want to build a scene where my housecoats are part of the
exhibition, but accompanied by a built environment, perhaps using papermache and paint.