Artist Q & A with Natalie Ryan

Term: 1 Year: 2021

Natalie Ryan is an Australian Artist based in Melbourne. Ryan holds a PhD at Monash University, titled Imaging the Dead: The Cadaver in Western Culture and Contemporary Art. Her practice explores themes that surround the aesthetic representation of the cadaver and natural sciences throughout history and their inclusion in contemporary art.

As a child, how did art first manifest itself to you? 

I always remember making things when I was little, we had amazing parents who always encouraged us to use our imagination. A specific memory when I was eight was when our nan came over from England. She gave my two sisters and I $100 each which was an insane amount of money for us. I bought one toy (a blue troll) and spent the rest on craft supplies. Mum and dad then helped me put on a garage sale with everything I’d made – first solo show, haha. Mum still has some of the things now, unfortunately I never learned my lesson on finances and the arts!

What was your experience of art at school? Did you have a particular teacher or a ‘teacher moment’ that encouraged you as an artist?

I was pretty lost at school, but art really saved me in a lot of ways. I had a phenomenal VCE art teacher, Ron Barron. I remember my first lesson in year 11 with him – he opened the door and pointed to it and said, “Right, if you’re here because you think art is easy or going to be a bludge, there’s the door and get out of my class.” That was it for me, I was so unbelievably excited, because for the first time someone was taking it seriously and it made me realise this was a thing I could do, this could be my life. I became obsessed – I was in the artroom every lunch/after school and did classes outside of school on the weekend. It completely shaped me as a person and I’m very thankful for that, my parents were incredibly supportive and were there with me for every crazy dream! At VCA I was also very lucky and had David Wilson (who I can never thank enough) and Kit Wise at Monash, who really helped shape my practice conceptually.

How do you begin your process of making a body of work? Where does the impulse to create come from?

For me, the impulse to create is there all the time: it is like a compulsion, obsession, addiction – which can be good and bad. My mind is very active and I am constantly thinking about making. I also have another practice, The Ryan Sisters, with my incredible sister Pip. I always want to be learning, so I often shift materials and mediums. For me that’s what art is – it’s about knowledge, trying to understand the world around you and challenging yourself.

Nic Plowman
(Zart Education)
in conversation with Natalie Ryan

Upcoming for Natalie
New series of drawings, supported by the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grant:
• Blush Response at Fletcher Arts
• Papier-mache at Missing Persons (The Ryan Sisters)
• Ever Artist Ever at Stockroom Gallery