6 – 23 November 2013


Natalie Papak

These small ceramic fetishes explore the feline and the feminine whilst investigating the role of figurative sculpture in the art of antiquity. With one foot in the past, they leap into the present to consider notions of desire, birthing, narcissism and possibility. The fluid nature of this medium is pointed to with the use of mirrors and blue light in the installation of these works.

IMAGES | Natalie Papak, Installation detail 2013, glazed stoneware and blue floodlights, Dimensions variable, Photography Jeremy Dillon| Images courtesy of the artist. 


Whilst experimenting with clay sculpture I began to investigate figurative art of the ancient past, and unearthed some timeless yet personally significant ideas. This soft and fluid medium goes through many rebirths before becoming robust and ‘complete’, making it a fertile ground for reflecting on transformative flux and possibility.

Water makes and breaks the ceramic form. Without water it quickly turns brittle in the air, which reduces it back to a dusty form that has no potential for change or flux. Essentially water is the stuff of life that enables transformations to occur as one manipulates this earthy substance. As figures emerge out of the clay and become an entity, I found that they needed to adapt to changing circumstances and their environment. As a result they adopted new appendages and lost others that might have previously been considered highly necessary. Whilst some lose their heads, others lose their arms. Each successive transmutation aids the individual figure on their journey, assisting them to survive and evolve in a way which best suits them.


With their highly sculpted human hair and partial nudity such forms can work to attract and repel the human gaze. Physical desire is pointed to in the feminine aspects of these forms. They are crowned with coiffed tresses that link them to the mystique and allure associated with distant and untouchable figures regal and goddess-like. The notion of worshipping and paying homage to a feminine form is both universal and ancient. The influence and power of such an idol transcends time and place, Barbie probably owes much of her notoriety to her ancestors. One might add that we all do in one way or another. Everything comes from somewhere. The young and young at heart everywhere can confirm that the adoration of Barbie, THE little idol is very much alive and well even in this digital age where most experiences are virtual, not actual.

When it comes to investigating the origins of idols of the feminine, ceramic artefacts are the place to start. A rich and complex tradition unfolds which captivates and repels as so many questions remain unanswered. Little idols of the feminine have been sculpted since the dawn of time and the female breast has experienced many incarnations in its journey through civilisations and trends. Fragments of iconic sculpture are re-discovered when dug up from the past, and every fragment tells a story. These fragments reveal the fixation humans have always had with the physical body and its structure. Further to this, the extent to which these discoveries made been sought also reflects our increased desire to excavate our collective lost histories.


As these figures have a universal ancestry, they draw upon a common thread that lies at the core of human desire and (pro)creative power. Such female icons deny a singular approach to knowing and finding.

Looking above sea level in my work, land animals begin to show themselves. Their feet that traverse the land above water level appear and signal the possibility of a journey. This guise acts as a second skin that can be worn when out of the water. This skin can be removed with ease and discarded, and all the while the goddess within remains protected.

The foot of a wildcat is of course the preferred covering for feet that need to sustain journeys in and out of the past. These journeys require resilience, fearlessness and the ability to die and be born again. The feline energy also protects hidden meanings from the uninitiated. Further to this the feline can slink its way between ancient and contemporary references to goddesses and female sexuality effortlessly.

So in effect the presence of a leaping feline provides the ceramic hero(ine) a new skin and multiple lifelines with which to leap from the past into the present at any time.


So do they speak? No they don’t.

If you listen, you can hear something. Gently something reveals to us what we want to know. That which is hidden gradually becomes more powerful while it waits for the right time to reveal itself. Surges of energy and new knowing are accessible to us all, and once enlightened we find that energy rushing by. We extract what we can as the opportunity presents itself. Some fragments fracture and disintegrate from the force, others remain whole. There are those that remain with us eternally whether they survive the power of the surge or not and we re-build what remains with the resources we have available.


The world that exists at the bottom of the ocean provides a safe abode for the unknown.

I have used the depths of the ocean as a significant feature of my landscape when installing my work within the gallery. The coif of my sculpted idols naturally lifts as the figures submerge and descend deeper into a blue world. Any distinctive facial features they had are washed away; leaving some iconic traces of a neutral mask-like face that shields and protects the hidden inner world that lies behind these vitrified impenetrable exteriors. The mystery of these icons is fuelled by their silence. They purse their lips and close their eyes, refusing to give their secrets away. Whist they hold their breath underwater they appear to be waiting for a kiss that may or may not awaken them. Do they wish to be liberated from the world beneath the water? Do they wish to assimilate with the world above? Perhaps they are content to remain under the sea surrounded by and protected with a red coral reef that has now become their home and sanctuary.

- Natalie Papak, 2013.