The figures in Natalie King’s paintings and installations gaze at you dozily from behind thick wings of lashes. Clad in anything from a clover green jumpsuit speckled with Magic 8-Balls to a pink cowhide bikini, these stylized characters strike power poses, assertions of their self-possession. Pairs of figures embrace one another, arms around shoulders and hands on hearts. Spunky baby angels soar in arcs overhead. There are muscular bodies, full bodies, slight bodies, skin of every colour, adorned with jewels, tattoos, lipstick, and leg hair. They are all engaged in a revelry, a celebration of both internal fortitude and their communion with one another.
Recently, King has been working on a large scale, producing installations from life-size foam core cut-outs on which she paints her characters in acrylic. Material access and the financial cost of art-making are important issues for her, issues she believes need to hold a greater place in the conversation about art and accessibility. Addressing this, she opts for a democratic DIY approach to materiality rather than one rooted in traditional material hierarchy of fine art. This also allows the artist to make her works bigger. They literally take up space, mirroring the necessity for these kinds of joyfully inclusive representations to take up space in society
Her colours are audacious and bright. Teal and candy red, every neon colour that I know to exist, lots of purple and the pink of fibreglass insulation. The paint is applied in flat, uniform fields, legible and graphic like a sign, establishing both a sense of immediacy and a stance of advocacy for the subject matter. Details like facial features and tendrils of hair are defined in black ink, sweeping brushstrokes applied with the same confident flourish as the wings of King’s ever-present cat eyeliner.
The styling of King’s figures, an exuberant pastiche of gogo boots, collared baby-doll dresses, and leopard print, references the eclectic, excessive trends of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Specifically, it alludes to a brand of fun-yet-badass femininity that was marketed to young girls (such as King and myself) in the “girl-power” era of Lizzie McGuire, The Spice Girls, and Bratz dolls, dispatching messages of empowerment in the form of hairstreaks and funky fashion. In her work, King revisits this aesthetic attitude of everything-goes, hyper-feminine toughness but adds to it a dimension of queerness and intersectionality that was often missing in the depictions from that period. For her, the project is a chance to represent and promote the hybridity and multiplicity of the queer femme aesthetic as she sees it represented in her community today.
King tells me about her experience with gender presentation and what it means to embrace a femme identity as a queer person. For her, it involves playing with the forms and rituals traditionally thought of as "feminine" by mainstream society without assenting to the idea that there is an essential way one "has" to be feminine, or that there is an essential connection between femininity and womanhood. She speaks about how rejecting the dubious foundations of the gender binary allows for greater freedom and introspection when it comes to self-styling. “As a queer person”, she says, “the ways we see relationships or power dynamics are completely different from cis-het-normative ways of thinking. So it’s a little bit more about ‘who am I? How do I see gender? What does it mean to me?’… [It’s about] self-actualizing in the way that I want to, for myself”.
Part of the originality of King’s aesthetic is an emphasis on love and pleasure, vivacity and fun. “I like to work in frameworks of joy and desire, survival and representation, in a way I find accessible”, she tells me, “For somebody like me, [as] a mixed Indigenous person, it’s important in my work that I resist commodifying trauma and violence, or the commodification of something that we’ve lost.”. And so she paints the stories and the experiences of her friends, family, elders, and community members, a web of intimacy and belonging, promoting the strength she sees in such relationships. It’s her way of memorializing them and their power. “The basis of my work is care and community. Without these people, I wouldn’t make work. [It’s] sort of like an homage. Making it important to other people because it is to me”.
King is currently working on a video which will premiere at the Toronto Queer Film Festival: https://torontoqueerfilmfest.com/
Want to see more? Here's a link to King's Website: https://www.natalielauraking.com/about