By Irma van Bommel

quote marks red

 The projects of Nathalie Abbing at the academy of fine arts made many heads turn: swings and gallows hung from the beams at the old gunpowder storage house in the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. ‘My work is a reflection of how I feel.’ Still, she does not want to shock people, but make them think. Lately her work became somewhat milder, according to herself.


Nathalie Abbing is the president of the foundation of artists in Uden. In face of the radical budget cuts by the government on the arts and cultural projects in Holland, she organised a ludic action.


During the Art and Studio event she had a note on her door saying: ‘The artist is not responsible for any after care.’ That triggered curiosity. In her house/studio she showed photo’s of dead birds, in a deep state of decomposition. Prey her cat’s brought home, she decided to accept as presents. Though the images are very aesthetic (the stench is now vanished.) Abbing made, with her photo’s, a conscious link to the hunting scenes in the paintings from the 17th century, also in size. The photo’s measure one meter by seventy centimetres. They are photographed outside. Even though one would suspect the use of a professional camera, they are actually taken with a small camera. For the artwork ‘Pas de Deux’ two birds are placed in a fish tank filled with water and photographed through the glass what creates the illusion they are floating in mid air, or dancing.


the dancer

From leftover bones she builds a new skeleton, a little monster. She wants to cover this in pure gold and place it like a little statue on a stand. With the gold she wants to give back some of the birds own self esteem. Here too, the duality between something creepy and something beautiful.


Dissolution and beauty, Abbing is searching for these contrasts. ‘There where life pinches, that’s what I want to communicate.’ Also in relation with herself: ‘It’s like the world is round and I am square edged, there on those corners it doesn’t fit.’ Her installation in the old gunpowder storage house, Swings and Gallows, triggered many reactions. Making the swings from the same rope as the gallows created confusion. You can go two sides in life: having fun, feeling happy. Or get depressed and wanting to end it all. What she wants to achieve with an installation like this is making people more aware. She wants people to stand more consciously in life.


Second career

Nathalie Abbing, now 55, got her degree in fine art in 2008 at the Academy of Fine Art and Design St. Joost in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Holland. With this she started her second career, she says.


Before that she had a long career as make-up artist and special effects make-up artist for photographers, television and movie productions. She started with this quite early in life at the age of fifteen. When she was seventeen she was so busy that she had to leave school and registered herself as freelancer at the chamber of commerce. But after years working out the ideas of others she now prefers to give way on her own ideas. So now she is completely her own boss.


She studied at the academy of fine arts in part time, with a group of adults. ‘All very motivated people, with life experience.’ Together with some fellow students and befriended artists she started the art collective W.A.F. In her hometown Uden she joined the platform for artists, later transformed to the foundation of artists, in which she was declared president.



In the light of the national action ‘Scream for Culture’ on Saturday November 20th, she thought of a ludic action. With the motto ‘Stop Cultural Demolition’ she wrapped up, together with the other members of the art foundation, in the night of Friday to Saturday, all the art, sculptures and statues that can be found in the public space of the town. Of course with the approval of the council and a note in the mailbox of the police. With this action they got the newspapers; Saturday morning everyone could read about it.




Next to making installations, photo’s and objects, Nathalie also paints. And since recently she works with textiles. A visit to Portugal inspired her to paint underwear. Large, ugly, skin coloured women’s undies. In Portugal they hang like flags on the washing lines. And that while the women are dressed quite prudish. This contradiction intrigues her. Incidentally the hanging of underwear outside has a special meaning in some African countries, Nathalie knows. According to her it’s a hidden way for women to let men know they are welcome to visit because the husband is not home. But her paintings were still too cute, the undies too nice. That’s why she is now working this theme in textile, in big sizes. With different pieces of fabric she works layer by layer to create depth. All the pieces of fabric are secured with staples. Because it can’t become to sweet. When light shines on it the staples shine dangerously.

The contradiction beautiful-terrible needs to stay in. 


First published in the magazine Brabant Cultureel October 2012