I had the opportunity to first meet Natalia when she contacted me to photograph her studio for her website and marketing. I was blown-away by Natalia’s spirit, creativity, and the way that she talks about her art. Read more about Natalia below and check out her work at www.nataliaswrobel.com.
1 – Describe your career and life in a nutshell.
I am a painter passionate about color, dualities, and finding the spirit and beauty in everyday simple moments. I grew up in Southern California and studied Studio Art and Art History at Dartmouth in New Hampshire and later in Florence and New York City. I currently live in Cambridge, MA with my husband, and love to travel the globe seeking new experiences as much as I can. My paintings are my visual interpretation of the liminal realm beyond our physical world. The idea of the interconnectedness of all things—people, history, nature and spirit—and the convergence of the micro and macro cosmos, fuels my studio practice. Painting for me is a contemplative exercise, an avenue for prayer and meditation. I am fascinated by the harmony of contrasting elements; grit and beauty, strength and fragility, dark and light, coming together and breaking apart. I also write poetry while I paint, taking note of anchor words that come into my mind as I paint. The writings accompanying the paintings offer a snapshot of the painting process. Over the past six years I have exhibited my work in public and private spaces around the world and have given lectures on the connections between story, creative process, and art. I am grateful to say that my paintings are part of private collections around the world. My work is represented by Abigail Ogilvy Gallery in Boston, a young gallery run by the super smart and driven Abigail Ogilvy Ryan. It’s such a joy to work with a passionate, go-getter woman in the arts.
2 – Tell me about a project that you’ve been involved in that you were particularly excited about.
Over the past few years, I’ve been working on a painting series called the ‘Hidden Histories Series’ in collaboration with the Warsaw Uprising Museum in Poland, where I am creating a series of paintings and corresponding memoirs based on my private interviews with surviving Polish Underground Resistance veterans from WWII. This is a personal passion project of sorts, as my 90-year old grandfather is one of the surviving veterans of the Polish Underground Resistance and my 84-year old grandmother survived the Warsaw Uprising as a child. Of the estimated 400,000 members of the Polish Underground Resistance, the largest resistance movement during WWII, only a few hundred are still alive today. I hope to not only illuminate these heroes’ neglected histories, but also highlight their remarkable capacity to transform fear into resilience, a skill critically relevant within today’s strained global sociopolitical climate. I hope to display my paintings in a culminating exhibition that encourages empathy, strengthens resolve against injustice and serves as a platform for cross-cultural dialogue and understanding.
3 – How do you stay inspired?
Being surrounded by nature is my number one inspiration. I like to be reminded of how small I am, and our infinitesimal place in the world as humans, so being in the mountains, near the ocean, or surrounded by ancient trees, rooted deeply and stretching wide, as often as possible is paramount. I love hiking and running in forests or along the beach, and taking long walks in cities. Moving helps clear the cobwebs to make room for stronger connections. Also, yoga puts me in the right mindset, and creates an opening in my physical body, mind, and spirit. This breathing room is essential to creativity, and prepares the ideal tapped-in atmosphere for painting. My painting process is extremely physical and kinetic, as most of my paintings are human-scale and I am standing (or dancing, squatting, stretching and jumping:) all day in the studio, so physical exercise keeps me in the right shape to create my work. I also love reading poetry, especially my favorites, Mary Oliver, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Rumi, as well as Stoic philosophy and historical non-fiction. I love traveling, exploring unknown places, and getting lost in art museums. I would have to say though, that slowing down and paying attention to the little moments in life is the most inspiring activity, reminding me of the space and majesty around us at all times.
4 – What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
Use your fear as fuel. Undoubtedly, we all feel lows and highs. Such is the balance of an authentic life. We are bound to feel doubt and fear as much as we feel confidence and hope. One skill I will never underestimate is the ability to transform this fear into fuel. At the beginning, before I decided to dive full throttle into life as a painter, I absolutely felt that pang of fear. But the fear of diving in and giving painting my all was far less than the fear of regretting my decision to not pursue painting in the first place. Now, when I feel that pang of anxiety or fear, I remind myself that this lifestyle career is a choice, and that freedom is a blessing, and this mindset transforms the negative fear into fuel to embrace the unknown and keep moving forward.
5 – Who has been the most important influence in your professional life?
That is a hard question to answer, as I am grateful to so many people along my path. I’m incredibly lucky to have a family that admires my pursuit of art and a husband that is always cheering me on. And my professors and mentors from college were pivotal inspirations, as they were the first working artists I met. I’m lucky to call many of them friends to this day. I would have to say though, that my first patrons, an older couple that have become some of my dearest friends, have had the biggest influence on my professional life. They were the first people to purchase my work, and encouraged me from the very beginning to pursue painting seriously. We have become pen pals over the years, exchanging articles, books, recipes, movies as well as critical feedback and encouragement. They’ve introduced me to some of my cherished art master heroes- Stephen de Staebler, Alberto Burri, and Richard Diebenkorn, as well as the idea of ‘wabi sabi,’ the brilliant Japanese aesthetic philosophy that highlights the beauty of imperfection.
6 – What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
It’s not actually advice given to me personally, but my great-grandmother Marysia gave my grandmother a notebook for her 12th birthday in 1946. On the inside cover, she wrote in Polish: “Kochana Corko—Chcesz miec silny character?—Wypracoj go sobie—Zacznij dzis.” Which translates to “Dearest Daughter—You want to have a strong character?—Work hard to create it yourself—Start today.” My grandmother gifted this tattered, treasured notebook to me a few years ago and I have it open to that page on my dresser. I read this inscription almost every morning and it reminds that with hard work, discipline, and intention, I am in charge of my own character development and destiny.