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Natasha Bieniek

Studio

Varia Karipoff

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Studio

Natasha Bieniek captures gardens in painstaking detail as her Southbank studio is ever more engulfed by construction.

Photograph by Jesse Marlow for Art Guide Australia.
Photograph by Jesse Marlow for Art Guide Australia.
Photograph by Jesse Marlow for Art Guide Australia.
Photograph by Jesse Marlow for Art Guide Australia.
Photograph by Jesse Marlow for Art Guide Australia.
Photograph by Jesse Marlow for Art Guide Australia.
Photograph by Jesse Marlow for Art Guide Australia.

Natasha – We’ve got apartments being built on this side – that huge monstrosity has been built up in the last 12 months so it’s been absolutely chaotic. There have been times where my easel has just been shaking.

I had to get these little pads to stop the vibrations. I don’t know if there’s another suburb that has so much development. [Boyd Community Hub] is like a little dollhouse in a sea of high-rise apartments but for me it’s like a sanctuary.

I like this building because it has so much history; it’s heritage-listed and was built in the late 1800s.

Originally it started as a primary school and it became a women’s finishing school at one point. Women learnt how to be women, all those sorts of cooking, economics kind of classes. And then it ended up becoming part of the University for a little while before the City of Melbourne took it over to do this.

It’s good in the winter ’cause we have heating and 24-hour access and it’s managed by the Creative Spaces programme so it’s heavily subsidised. I have to reapply for the space each year, which is quite a lengthy application form, but definitely worth it. There are other creative people in the building and it’s always nice when people are working and motivated, I think it also pushes you to be motivated in the same way.

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Plants

There are many gardens in Melbourne that I’ve painted time and time again; I’d have to say that probably my favourite one would be the Royal Botanic Gardens. It’s so amazing to me that you can be in that space and not feel like you’re in the middle of the CBD. I think many of us are totally divorced from the natural world and many of us su er from nature deficit disorder, so I think it’s really important to connect with nature for a more fulfilling existence and more fulfilling experience in life.

It was definitely a conscious decision to bring the plants into the space, there’s something very calming about having green plants in the space and also being able to nurture them and look after them and watch them grow.

I think it’s a good parallel to the artwork, I’m very much interested in how people relate to nature in an urban context and that’s one of the strong themes that is running through my work, so it’s very important for me to bring greenery into the space for sure.

Process

I suppose I just really love the labour involved and the intensity and getting to know my subject really well, and also I love creating that illusion on such a flat, two-dimensional surface. It’s a very traditional approach to painting; I build my work up over several layers, adding a little bit more information within each layer. It’s very laborious, very time consuming; it’s quite physical work. I tend to hunch over a little bit, so I leave my studio with lots of aches and pains.

The most I can do in a year is between 12 and 14 paintings, but that’s pushing it, that’s working on weekends and doing long hours in the studio.

I have the advantage of painting full time, which is really wonderful to be able to do that, I’m grateful to be able to do that, but yeah, it’s very slow. It’s really hard because it means that I often have to say no to opportunities that come up and be quite picky about what I do. And I’ve got two art dealers.

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Prizes

I’ve been shortlisted five times [for the Archibald Prize]. It’s a great platform to connect to such a broad audience; it’s one of the only prizes that the general public know about. It’s always an interesting topic of conversation, who’s going to win. This is good, this is bad, why did this get in, why did that get in.

It is a huge investment to enter into the Prize. I’m not talking about a financial investment; I’m talking about it in its entirety – deciding who to paint, trying to get them to say yes. And then, hoping that you’ll make the finals. And then once you’re in, you’ve got to do a lot of publicity, articles, you’ve got to do a lot of Q and A sort of stuff at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and especially because I painted such a cultural icon, Wendy Whiteley.

Projects

I abide by the philosophy – if you don’t grow, you decay, so I’m someone that will want to explore new things. Right now I’m content with the themes and the subject matter that I’m working on but it definitely will change at some point. I worked with portraiture for a long time before I changed subject matter – that was something I’d been doing for 15 years. It’s important to keep growing and trying new things, as Brett Whiteley said, repetition kills the spirit.

The paintings that I’m working on now are quite a new direction.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to unwrap them because they’re still wet and I’m still working on them, but what it is, it’s actually a large piece of gold mirror Dibond. I’ll show you what it looks like.

You do have to get really close to it, and that’s creating this unavoidable intimacy but with these works you’ll actually be able to see your own reflection in the background as well and that’s creating another interesting duality between the work and the viewer.

So this is the new body of work that will probably … well, I’m just waiting to see how it works out before I decide where it’s going to go.

Natasha Bieniek is represented by This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne and Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane.

Varia Karipoff

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