Portraying Narratives Through Many Lenses - 10 Questions with Multidisciplinary Artist Susan Gibbs Natale
Susan Gibbs Natale is not a Jacksonville native. In fact, she isn't even native to the South. She was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in the North. Natale spent her formative years in Brooklyn and on Long Island and a large portion of her adult life in Manhattan and the mountains of Pennsylvania.
Natale began visiting Jacksonville in 2012 to relocate her aging father-in-law and be near to her then pregnant daughter. Natale fell in love with the First Coast's creatively fertile grounds. She quickly became a part of the arts community by mounting initiatives such as a 20' air puppet and the Sparkmobile at ONESPARK, directing and performing in the Jacksonville Historical Society's annual "Halloween Party at the Casket Factory," and other community based projects, such as exhibiting with the Northeast Florida Sculptors at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens. Through these creative and communal endeavors, Natale blossomed as an artist.
Natale creates in a number of different mediums, though she is perhaps best known as a painter and assemblage artist. Other creative art forms that she has explored include puppetry, writing, glasswork, and pottery. She's a shining example of lifelong learning and the continued pursuit of knowledge.
As a child, Natale was raised in a household that valued the arts. Because she was exposed to the arts at a young age, Natale started utilizing the arts as a means to express herself and examine her surrounding world during her elementary school years. Living with astigmatism, she was drawn to works of art that exhibited different perspectives and views.
Perception is a common thread woven throughout the body of her work. As an assemblage artist, work of yesteryear is repurposed and integrated in the works she creates today. Natale has shown in earnest since the 1990's in Tobyhanna, PA and later in Albany, NY and New York City. Since 2012, Natale has exhibited throughout the Greater Jacksonville community, in galleries and museums including The Karpeles Manuscript Museum, The Space Gallery, The Museum of Science and History (MOSH), and The Vanderhoss Gallery at the Jewish Community Alliance (JCA). Her work has also been exhibited abroad in England and Israel.
Recently, Natale and her husband made the decision to return to New York. The two of them will leave Jacksonville in June 2018. Though she may be returning to the North, Natale will continue to foster the relationships she has established during her time spent in Jacksonville. She will also continue to work as a full-time artist in the City.
10 Questions with Susan Gibbs Natale
What have you learned about yourself through your artistic and cultural endeavors
I have learned that I really am an artist. These past six years of being an active part of this amazing arts community have helped me to understand and accept what being an artist means. It has also taught me to be true to my core and my roots, no matter where I am.
How do you define success in what you do?
Specifically to creating art, success on an individual piece, or a project, is when I say: "Done." I see what I was hoping to accomplish and am OK to heed the proverbial "Ma'am, step away from the painting." The piece de resistance is when my audience sees it too. I also think committing to and being able to get your work out there is a measure of success.
What patterns, routines, or habits do you think advance the likelihood that any given project will be successful and how do you integrate those behaviors into your workflow?
I work whenever I am inclined, wherever I can carve out the space, and with whatever materials I have on hand. I have learned to be more flexible. I used to be the night owl until 2012, when my glorious studio abutted a preserve and giant flying roaches invaded my nightly space. So, I adapted. The mornings were less infested and my husband was available to save me from these creatures. Much of my "Made in JAX" series was created in the wee hours of the early dawn. Our current Jacksonville condo is way smaller than our first place but has an attached garage. In New York, I have precious little space. That's a key to success: Be very flexible and creative with time and space.
You've been making art for more than four decades. You've taken elements from your earliest works, pieces you created in junior and senior high school as well as college, and have re-purposed them in your assemblage series. What do you see when you revisit your early work and what does it tell you about a young Susan?
Ha! Are you insinuating that I am no longer young?
That's a great question, because for me, one object can document an entire era of my being. Details long forgotten are revived when seeing -- or smelling -- or touching an item. In Jacksonville, my stuff was all in one place. And I had the time to devote to making the art that I had always intended, as well as further exploration of found and recycled objects.
Growing up in Brooklyn, NY (and later Oceanside, Long Island) I spent much of my childhood on my bicycle. My parents told me not to leave Brooklyn, and I took it literally.
I rode to the foot of every bridge and highway. I often carried a sketch pad, a slab of watercolors, and a few brushes in my basket. One favorite destination was The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, where I would use the water from the stream in the Japanese gardens to paint. I love when I peek at one of those!
When I find any objets from a longtime ago it triggers a happy memory with smiles that apparently last through the decades, and most of all, keeps the young Susan very much alive.
You were living in New York City during the 9/11 tragedy. Making art is how you processed that experience, which resulted in your White Ash series. Did you feel any resolution when creating that series and how does the first piece in the series compare to the last piece in the series?
Yes and no. The "Angel Flying" sculpture, created for the "9/11: Ephemera" show at the The Carling Hotel, was to be my last piece. But, then I did one more small project piece as an afterthought. So, I learned that a tragedy like that always is with you, but as my mentor advised, "Have a box. Put it away. Open the box if you need to, but you will need to less and less." She was right. But all the pieces in that series remain powerful.
Why do you feel it is important to return to New York City at this point in your career as an artist and what are some assumptions you have about returning to the city?
Another great question!
"Made in JAX" is coming with me. How will it translate? I have no idea.
I am as equally confident as I am terrified. While New York will always be home, Jacksonville has claimed a piece of my heart, and it is embedded throughout the entire series. I can only hope that my northern friends and family will see my intentions, and appreciate the work inspired by issues that confronted me and transcend time or place.
I am a hard swimmer no matter the size of the pond.
Much of your work is about perspective and viewing the world through a different lens. How has being an artist influenced how you see the world around you?
I am grateful for my vision, and take that privilege and responsibility to see what I see and create. Thus, I share my view. Whether the audience thinks they understand my position and approves or rejects what they perceive to be my position, I leave that to the discretion of the viewer. But, I hope that if you take the time, my work will reveal something, or be a catalyst for you to see something -- anything -- from a different perspective. That is the beginning of change through art. Some of my art is obviously intentionally rooted in social action. I hope it morphs into engaging social justice.
You primarily create using paint, textiles, and re-purposed items. However, you've also worked with glass, iron, and clay as raw materials. Why do you think it is important that artists step outside of their comfort zone and play with materials that they may not be familiar with and what percentage of your art making focuses on materials and processes opposed to the end results?
Yes, I have been super lucky to have had so many diverse opportunities. Pottery -- and glass -- and iron -- would never have been so readily available to me elsewhere. Making art with these materials allows for creative play and much artistic license. It garners a whole lot of respect for the professionals in these arts and encourages me to get back to work refreshed by different challenges, successes, and failures.
What are the greatest challenge(s) you have faced as an artist while working in Northeast Florida?
Seeing some of the overt prejudices and social disparity that seems way more apparent in the South, and less ostensibly prominent in the North. Racial and gender issues seem less resolved, and sometimes, in an attempt to bring them to the forefront of conversation, the divide increases.
I have seen a great deal of what I consider to be positive change in these past few years. Making art here has encouraged me to address contemporary issues, especially with concern for human rights and the environment. I believe that artists have an obligation to portray narratives through many lenses, views, and perspectives. They can offer hope and seek resolution by exploring subjects in a different light.
What would you like to see as an effort to support and grow Jacksonville's arts and cultural sector and creative industries?
Artist live/work communities. An investment in the infra-structure that would connect communities. Truly affordable housing for multi-generational artists, with racial, socio-economic, and ethnic diversity as a natural and embraced component so inherent in the arts.