Natalia Jheté’s art can be described as a little whimsical, possessing dark undertones, rife with abstract conceptualism and laced with fin de siècle influences. Every piece she creates can be interpreted in a myriad of ways and that’s the exact experience she intends for the viewer. She’s also inspired by the true icons of the fashion world and several of them (Karl Lagerfeld, Diana Vreeland, Rick Owens etc) appear in her art.
Read our interview with the Miami-raised, Brooklyn-based artist below:
"Art is about giving the viewer a moment to step out of the real world." - Natalia Jheté
Could you give us a brief description of your background?
I was born and raised in Miami. At a very young age I was enrolled in magnet schools for the arts and by the time I finished high school I had studied fine arts, 3D sculpting, film, computer graphics and fashion design. I was a VERY busy girl.
When did you know that you would be dedicating your life to art?
There was never an exact moment when I realized that I was dedicating my life to the arts. As I mentioned previously, I always attended schools that were intertwined with the arts so I found it strange not to be doing something art-related.
How would you describe your art style?
I am not too sure how I would describe it. It’s got a little dash of all the different types of work that I admire. Some people say that they notice a bit of a fin de siècle reference to it, which I am always happy to hear.
What is your favorite medium to work with and do you experiment with others?
My favorite medium has to be watercolor. This may sound cheesy, but there is something super relaxing about watching the way watercolor flows on paper. You can pretend to control it, but it really has a mind of its own. I also experiment a bit with ink and pencil.
Who were/are your biggest influencers and motivators when it comes to art?
When it comes to my art, I am influenced by a range of people from all different fields. There are amazing fashion designers, painters & photographers that I constantly find myself looking to for inspiration but Tim Walker, Daniel Merriam & Alexander McQueen are the top among the bunch. Each one of them infuses such wonderful elements of surrealism into their art and that’s something I hope I can create in my work as I continue to grow.
How does your love for art and fashion juxtapose?
Having studied fashion design & fine arts, the two naturally fall hand in hand. I constantly look to fashion to inspire my illustration work because clothes can really create a mood and define your muse.
What is the biggest compliment you’ve ever received about your art and who was it from?
Biggest compliment … Hmmm, I'm not too sure I've ever gotten anything more than the standard "nice work" and a pat on the back. However there was one time that I reached out to another illustrator that I admire to ask a few questions about their life as an artist and she responded back with an email that said she was a fan of my work and had a few questions she wanted to ask me. That e-mail pretty much made my day.
What is the most insightful critique that you have ever received about your art?
There’s one line that always sticks with me as an artist and it is "if someone else can already see it, don't bother.” I basically interpret it to mean that if you are an artist, create something that people can't see unless you choose to share it with them. I'm not sure if I read that somewhere or heard it, but it is always in the back of my head.
Your work has a whimsical darkness to it, where does this aesthetic come from?
I'm not too sure where the whimsical darkness comes from, but it's a characteristic I've been drawn to that as long as I can remember.
What are you trying to convey with your work – are there any messages that you want a viewer to come away with?
As an artist, I think it is very difficult to try to convey a particular message because people are going to interpret it however they want. Personally I think art is about giving the viewer a moment to step out of the real world and if you can do that then the art has served its purpose.
Some of your work has commercial overtones, what is your philosophy with regards to commercial art versus fine art?
Some people get a bit crazy in regard to this topic, throwing around words like "sell-out artist,” but I don't really have any strong feeling towards commercial art be it negative or positive. My thoughts are that at any job there are going to be things that you might not want to do but if doing those things make it easier to do the things that you do enjoy doing, then why not do it.
What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your work?
Ultimately I would love to be able to merge my interests - fashion illustration and design. It would be amazing to create a line and be able to develop my own fabric prints. It is something I am slowly but surely working towards.
What are the greatest challenges that you face as an artist and how have you overcome these?
The greatest challenge you'll face as an artist is getting through the first few years. The beginning is always most difficult because you have to work extra hard and often times you don't get the response you think you deserve. I truly believe that luck is a big part of success and if you continue to put your work out there for people to see, hopefully the right person will see it at the right time.
What song/movie/book or other external stimulus gets you back on track when things get difficult?
Whenever things get a bit rocky I have a little ritual.... It starts off with my "sad playlist.” There’s a little bit of Cat Power, Radiohead, Alpines and Little Dragon on there. Then I switch to watching any old children's movies such as Alice in Wonderland, Gremlins and Edward Scissorhands. Finally to end the ritual, I normally watch a marathon of Too Cute ( a T.V. series that follows the lives of 3 different baby animals every episode). After a day or two of that, I can get back to work like nothing ever happened.
You live and work in Brooklyn, NY, (but you are originally from Miami) - some have called Brooklyn the new hipster haven, how does your surrounding affect your work if at all, and has Brooklyn changed anything about you or your work?
Living in Brooklyn hasn't particularly changed anything about my work but New York in general has taught me to hustle and stay busy. People here are constantly on the go, so when I am not doing something productive I kick myself in the butt to get myself back on the grind.
Switching gears to fashion, how would you describe your personal style, and how is it different or similar to your art?
How you dress and how you want to dress can be two very different things while living on the budget of a starving artist. Right now I would say I dress pretty relaxed with a designer top or jacket here and there. I'm a strong believer that with the right pair of shoes you can wear anything you want, so I always try to wear a nice pair.
What fashion item or accessory can you not live without?
I am 100% a high heels kind of girl. Even if I am carrying my portfolio, lap top and watercolors I wouldn't think about stepping out of my apartment without my extra 3 inches.
We recently ran a story called “Unspoken Attributes That Define A Man.” In your opinion, what are some unspoken attributes that define a man?
I think a man’s ability to respect, trust and love others are among the top qualities that define who he is as a man. After that perfect facial hair is the icing on the cake. Think Joe Magliano.
(See more of Natalia's art in the slideshow above)
All Natalia Jheté photography provided by Daniel Clavero.com
To see more of her work, visit www.NataliaJheté.com