During her first pregnancy, Natalie and her husband became increasingly unhappy with where they lived in London. They believed it was not a safe place to bring up children and so, decided to move. The problem for them, as it still is for most people, owning an affordable property in a good area in London is almost impossible. As they had had their wedding ceremony in Brighton, they knew something about the area and one of her friends from Paris who had previously lived in the seaside town told her that it would be a good place to bring up children. Knowing that it was a commutable distance to London and her beloved art galleries, the couple moved out of the capital in 2002 and relocated to the south coast town. In 2004 Natalie gave birth to her second child, another son, Tadhg. Now having two young sons, who were not great sleepers, put a lot of pressure on Natalie as she tried to continue with her art.
In 2007, motivated to focus on combining her research with her studio practice, she went to Florence for a short Intensive Painting Course at the Angel Academy of Art, a private institution, founded by the English artist, Michael John Angel, in 1997, where one is taught drawing and learns the classical painting techniques of the Old Masters.
In 2009, finding it difficult to work from home, Natalie took a studio in the Phoenix Art Space, a five-storey building in the centre of Brighton close to her where she lived. There are four floors dedicated to a diverse community of artists. It was originally started as an artist-run space and a charitable organisation offering affordable studios. Initially Natalie had to share a space but eventually she got her own studio on the second floor.
One of the artists who influenced Natalie was Eleanor Antin. She had created a body of work that explores history, contemporary culture, and identity from a feminist perspective. In 2007 Antin produced photographic tableau entitled Casting Call and from that work evolved Natalie’s 2016 painting, The Masquerade. Antin’s tableaux was based on the story of the Greek painter, Zeuxis. He was considered the greatest artist of the era and was asked to do a painting of Helen of Troy, considered to be the most beautiful woman. Claiming that there was no such thing as a perfect woman, Zeuxis took the five most perfect women from the town of Croton and took a different characteristic from each. In Antin’s photography, the women appear as if at a casting call for a movie.
In The Masquerade, Natalie replaced Antin’s women with her own performance stills, which she made whilst at college, in different masquerades and at various stages of her pregnancy. She is rewriting the narrative from her own perspective whilst inserting herself into an artistic historical discourse.
In 2017, Natalie completed two large works (200 x 170cms) entitled The Society of Outsiders (after Eleanor Antin) I and II.
These were again based on the photographic tableaux by the conceptual artist, Eleanor Antin, entitled The Golden Death from the Last Days of Pompeii by Eleanor Antin (2001).
One of the original photographs by Antin was based on the Lawrence Alma Tadema’s 1888 painting, The Roses of Heligabalus. In this painting the decadent Roman Emperor, Heliogabalus, kills his guests by smothering them to death with rose petals.
There is an unusual story behind these two large works of art. In late 2016, Natalie had been invited to create two paintings for an exhibition in Central London for a charitable event. She was shown where the paintings would be hung so that she could tailor the canvases to fit neatly in place. She worked on the paintings up until the end of 2018 in preparation for the exhibition which was due to take place in January 2019. She eventually completed the two works but a month prior to the exhibition the Charity organisers baulked at the depictions and said they did not want them in full view and allocated her an alternative space on the back staircase. They then said they did not want them at all and later excluded more of her paintings, deciding that it was best not to show any of her work. Who said the life of an artist is easy !!!
In her painting, Self-Portrait at La Salpêtrière, Natalie is once again reimagining an original work of art.
This time the artist is Andre Brouillet and the painting is A Clinical Lesson at La Salpêtrière which he completed in 1887. La Pitie-Salpêtrière is a famous hospital for the mentally ill in Paris. The original work depicts the renowned neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot, giving one of his regular Tuesday lectures in how to treat an hysteric. It depicts the ‘queen of hysterics’ swooning and being caught by the nurses.
In Papamichael’s painting the hysteric is replaced by Natalie’s own Self Portrait. Instead of passively swooning like Brouillet’s hysteric she is actively reading a book entitled ‘The Science of Woman’ and defiantly challenges the gaze of the male doctors. Of the depiction, Natalie comments:
“…In my paintings I am both performing as the ‘male artist’, but also as the traditional, passive, female subject of the painting, thus challenging the binary opposition inherent in Art History. It is a way of inserting myself into the narratives and combining the past with the present to illustrate the similarities as well as to subvert the meaning…”
Another of Natalie’s works featuring the science of medicine is her 2018 oil on aluminium panel, Anatomical Venus, which is based on the wax model which was created in 18th century Florence and displayed as part of the city’s public science museum, La Specola. It was used for instruction in anatomy. The models were also entitled ‘Slashed Beauties’ and ‘Dissecting Graces’. The doctors in the painting are from the 1931 black and white Frankenstein film. The painting juxtaposes the grotesque with the beautiful.
One of Natalie’s works which she considers as being of great importance is her painting entitled Herstory Rhymes which she feels encapsulates everything that is relevant to her practice and shows the most development from her early stages. There is reference to the film ‘Fahrenheit 451’ as the setting. She has changed the book titles so that each book is important in terms of censorship as well as her personal story. The poster which is about to burn in the background is ‘Ghost Town’ by the Specials. This references the deep recession of the 1980s and suggests the notion that ‘history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes.’ Of the painting she said:
“… My self-portrait is again a reflection of the apathy of people ignoring what is happening around them whilst looking at their mobile phones …”
Natalie Papamichael’s painting entitled Docile bodies is a re-imagined painting adapted from a still from a Karl Lagerfield fashion show. The original image resembled an old Masters setting with the futurist models walking forwards. Natalie explains:
“… I wanted to integrate the absurdity and the futuristic look of the models walking forward in a regimented style and integrate this with a reference to the setting of the Old Masters and integrate this with my performance stills from the LSHTM (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine). In this performance I reference the poses of models from 16th and 17th century medical dictionaries and had misogynistic quotes from throughout history in which woman is subjugated because of her body and her bodily functions. Relating the historical subjugation of women through their bodies to culture today. The last model at the top of the staircase, is overtly referencing an eating disorder by pointing as if she is about to put her fingers down her throat. All the models also have a bar code on their wrists which references the commodification of people and is somewhat more pertinent than I realised it would be...”
Although the writing on the “shields” held by the three women is probably not visible in the picture they were three quotes:
Natalie’s “work in progress” is her oil painting depicting the mythology of The Hydra. It is an allegorical piece based on contemporary world events. It is a pendant piece to ‘Herstory Rhymes.’ She explains her thoughts about the depiction:
“…For the beginning of the piece I used a still from a Percy Jackson film with the mythical creature, The Hydra. The Hydra is a monstrous serpent with nine heads and when a head is cut off another one simply grows back to replace it, thus the evil continues. In my painting I have replaced the heads with politicians and people accused of orchestrating the constraints emerging on civil rights around the world. I am in the forefront of the painting looking at a mobile phone. I have on my Marie-Antoinette wig and I am oblivious of what is happening around me. I have used one of my performance stills, as Salome, and I am about to strike one of the serpent heads. In the background there are screens depicting the widespread propaganda prevalent in the major media outlets around the world…”
She said that as she worked on it, it has evolved in its references and meanings. It also referenced the poem Jerusalem by Blake:
Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land.
Around 1620 Artemesia Gentileschi completed her famous painting, Judith Beheading Holofernes. She portrays the moment that Holofernes is killed by the hand of the determined and formidable Judith. The overall effect is both powerful and frightening: the drunk corpulent general is lying on the bed, his head grasped by his hair and the sword plunged into his neck.
Furthermore, Artemisia did not shy away from adding the gory detail of blood spurting so profusely as to stain Judith’s breast.
Below we can see Natalie’s version of the famous painting.
Natalie has been continuing to teach herself using the methods she learnt in Florence. She has exhibited widely including exhibitions both within her studio as well as at Gallery Different and at the Society of Women Artists in London. Her practice has evolved in recent times to become more overtly political and she has started turning her paintings into merchandise to try to reach a wider audience.
It has been my pleasure to collaborate with Natalie with these two blogs featuring her life and works of art. I wish her well in the future.