Natalie Abrams – Charlotte, North Carolina

untitled 13.08

reef studies: west 82.169 north 23.19

Briefly describe the work you do.

My work is rooted in the concept of systems theory and explores the relationships which develop between species in biodiverse ecosystems and how those relationships are mirrored between people in the urban environment. Furthermore, how both natural and urban systems are affected by external stressors such as climate change, loss of habitat and loss of bio-diversity.

My sculptures consist of vibrant yet unidentifiable creatures and delicate environments created using both organic mediums and man made materials which are new or diverted from the waste stream. Using these different substances, I create playful landscapes which break down to reveal their fragile underpinnings of a system in flux. 

I’m also launching a new project, Define Earth, where my partner and I will sail to different coastal locations experiencing some form of environmental degradation, creating responsive artwork. In each location, we’ll meet with local organizations working to correct the damage, blog about the findings and I’ll create artwork centered around the issues to help draw attention to the challenges they, and we as a planet, face.

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

I grew up running around outside and exploring everything nature had to offer. My family moved around a lot, so I always had a fresh place to explore. I think that contributed to being abnormally observant. Being fairly introverted, I also spent a lot of time alone and developed a very vivid and active imagination.

I learned about systems theory as a small child, and grew up seeing the relationships which form the structure of our lives. That concept, along with my connection to place and nature, formed the basis for my work.

I have a background in architecture, construction and project management. I find those interests have continued forward into the structure of my work; how I design and build my pieces, as well as how I see environments as urban areas.

creature documentation

Mari Flore Damnatis sp. Mlif-ral Rebeus and sp. Mlif-ral Dura Caerulus

The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.

For years, I’ve been a very traditional studio based artist although what I used for a “studio” varied. In the good times, I had a dedicated studio to contain my madness. In the bad times, I had a corner of the living room barely larger than the tables I worked on. 

Over the last 15 months, I began to break up that practice by completing three residencies at the McColl Center for Visual Art, Escape to Create and the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation for the Arts. These residencies gave me the space and resources to expand my work beyond the limitations of my small studio. The residencies also enabled me to begin exploring new work and new mediums. I find the change of environment and exposure to artists working in completely different ways to be really stimulating. I mainly focus on my signature body of work in my own studio, but use the time at residencies to really explore new avenues and ideas. These breaks have been particularly important this year as I prepare for huge changes in my “studio” practice. 

At the beginning July this year, I’ve been transitioning from living in an apartment with a studio and wood shop, to living on a sailboat and beginning a multi-year environmental art project, Define Earth. In each location I sail to, I’ll be creating new methodologies of how and where I work, including what mediums I use. Some of the tools and materials will be the same, but I’m learning how to be much more flexible in my practice.

latex_14.01-house_paint_on_panel-30x60x12-2014What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?

It never occurred to me that, through my artwork, I would become an activist. 

When I first started painting, I envisioned that stereotypical notion of artist. Isolated in a studio creating. The work was mostly non-objective and I maintained a very neutral position within the concepts. 

Over time, and through many conversations with different people, I decided I needed my work to take a stand. To mean something. It is the best means I have of communicating my ideas and fear. I go back and forth about how aggressive to be with my work. In the end, I always come back to building relationships. Establishing a connection between the viewer and those whose lives are falling apart because of our careless decisions. 

When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can? 

I’m very fortunate in that I’ve been free to focus full time on my creative practice for the last few years. Even with that freedom, my schedule varies. I’ll go for months developing ideas and concepts, conducting research, working on the business side of my practice, etc., but without actually creating work. Once I’ve reached a place where I’m ready and set up for working, I become almost manic and that period itself can last for several months. Residencies have provided a lot of that dedicated time and space to complete work. 

My work habits are still evolving as I transition from the traditional studio format to working from a sailboat in continually changing environments.

How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?

The aesthetic is the same, albeit evolved. The concepts behind the work have completely changed. Where the work had been completely non-objective, once I gave myself permission to be forthright about my interests and intent, everything about my artwork, practice and life changed. While I’m still completely in love with the creation of new work, and the work’s development is just as crucial to me, the information and concepts behind the work have become equally if not more important.

During Define Earth, all aspects of the process will really be exposed. The transition and exploration of new locations and populations, the research end of the project and the creation of the artwork. 

Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?

The people I find most inspiring are those who lead interesting lives. Those who reach beyond their comfort zone to experience new things. Leaders who exhibit grace while standing up for what they believe in. 

My work is more directly influenced by artists and projects that provide tangible links between people and their environment. “Human/Nature: Artists Respond to a Changing Planet”, tasked eight artists to create work after visiting and examining changes in bio-diversity at different locations. Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ “Unburning Freedom Hall” created a personal link between the viewer/participant with ‘unburnings’; pieces which held symbolic representations of what participants wanted to honor and give to the world. Eve Mosher’s “HighWaterLine” and Maya Linn’s “What is Missing?” are subtle artistic works which demonstrate the real effects of environmental degradation and loss of bio-diversity.

There are a number of artists, some I know personally and some I don’t, whose work I really admire. They inspire me to work harder, reach farther, be more than I really ever thought I could or would be.

If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?

I’ve had a number of different careers outside of being an artist, but I can honestly say what I’m doing now is exactly what I should be doing.


Through exhibitions across the country, natalie abramsAbrams’ work has increasingly focused on symbolic use of materials to explore environmental and social issues. Her process utilizes both organic materials such as beeswax and wood, and increasingly inorganic materials otherwise destined for landfill, to create works representing theoretical landscapes.The incorporation of these new materials creates a more thorough representation of the issues Abrams explores, as well as will become the foundation for a long term life-as-art project focused on the parallels of life and viability amongst bio-diverse ecosystems and the urban landscape. In its simplest terms, a circumnavigation exploring environmentally threatened areas and the populations dependent on those areas, with the findings being used to develop site specific installations, exhibitions and publications.

Abrams’ work has been exhibited in national invitationals including the Third Annual Encaustic Invitational, as a highlighted artist at Ball State University with Encaustic Works 07, as well as the 2010 book “Encaustic & Beyond”. “Losing Ground, Gaining Perspective”,Abrams’ first curatorial project, was held at Gallery X at Castle Hill, Provincetown, MA including work by noted artists Laura Moriarty, Lorrie Fredette and Paula Roland and herself. Additional exhibitions include “Dear Nature” at Artspace, Raleigh and “Objects in Perspective” with Aspen Hochhalter at the Gaston County Museum, a solo exhibition “Beneath the Fold” at City Ice Arts in Kansas City, MO and an expanded presentation of “Objects in Perspective” with Aspen Hochhalter at CPCC in 2014. Residencies including the McColl Center for Visual Art, Escape to Create and the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation for the Arts have helped Abrams’ further explore our relationship to our surroundings in the form of multimedia sculptural landscapes and topography.

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.

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