Creating Beauty from tragedy

By Natasha Donn

Her art is unique, and as apparently bizarre as the contents of her fridge. Once you discover the impetus behind Nathalie Abbing’s work, you realise it is a lot more than a gilded collection of animal bones. It is about second chances; creating beauty from tragedy. Ultimately, it is about accepting what many people are conditioned to reject.

But lets start with the fridge…

When Nathalie’s fellow artist partner first opened it, he was very surprised to find it filled with dead animals. “There was no food in it at all”, he still manages to look surprised. Since then, Nathalie has been encouraged to dismember dead animals “as soon as they arrive at the door”. She boils up their bones on the same day too, and packs them away in her “bone drawers”. It can be a very smelly process, but Nathalie is so intense about her work that she is rarely aware of the smell until she has finished.

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After cadavers have been suitably prepared, it is time for her art.

“I begin fitting the good bones together to make a new creature”, she explains. “I like to put cruelty and beauty together, you see, to show people that you can find beauty from cruelty. “In every creature I make, there have to be several different animal bones: cat’s skulls with rabbit’s jaws, bird’s bones, fish bones. I then cover the creature in 24-carat gold leaf, so that it has the highest value in this day and age. “Silver wouldn’t be good enough. It has to be gold – and the creature has to stand for itself; have an attitude; have its own name.

It is around here that Nathalie lets slip that she has “always been a little weird”.

The discovery of a bi-polar condition when she was 30 was pivotal. “Loads” of medication now keeps her at just the right level: “I am not suicidal but at the same time I can hold on to the weirdness that gives me the diversity in live that I need”. If there was a pill she could take to stop her being bi-polar she “wouldn’t want it” “If I was completely lucid, I don’t think I would like it. There are beautiful things in the ups and downs”. The condition “gives me my creativity and the drive to achieve something.

“Maybe this is why I make things that no one else makes… ”

Her extraordinary sculptures took their first steps out of Nathalie’s native Holland at our OPEN VIII last weekend. Now their creator is keen to show them “to the rest of the world”! “I was so nervous – coming to Portugal to show my creatures for the first time. Just as I was nervous originally showing them in Holland. But the response has been incredible. People have been amazed. So many came up to me at the opening on Saturday, to find out more about how I had made them – what my reasons are behind them all. It was phenomenal. I never expected such interest!

Plans for the immediate future? “Well, I expect quite a few plastic bags waiting for me when we return to Holland at the weekend. My neighbours know what I do now, so they are always coming along with dead animals that they’ve found on the road. “They say “beautiful, Yeah?” when they hand me their bags – often there is a real mess inside. But I need more bones. I used a lot of my stock making the last creature for this exhibition, Monsigneur Alphonse” – a striding figure that appears to be on the point of leaving his “habitat” – the glass box that houses him.

page-7e-ABOUT-2-of-2_03“My cats will keep helping me with my work”, Nathalie smiles. “They are forever bringing home tiny skeletons…”

Definitely weird, but once it has all been prettied up and re-created, Nathalie’s Golden Creatures speak for themselves. They are little works of art. The exquisite creations of a singular imagination.

Nathalie is exhibiting with partner Paul Bastiaan Mullaart whose colourful abstracts are on show alongside her Creature d’Or. The couple’s art “works well together” and they hope to continue joint exhibitions, particularly elsewhere in the Algarve.

Published in newspaper The Resident September 9th, 3013 and the Arte Algarve website for the exhibition OPEN VIII