Artist of the Week - Natalie Reid

Monday 1 April 2019

Related artist: Natalie Reid

Away with the faeries...

When I was a child, I was filled with a faith that I struggle to summon in my grown-up self. I accepted wholeheartedly that tiny folk, the size of insects, lived in the woodlands and natural places I knew then. I imagined those delicately winged creatures, darting unnoticed beneath flora and fauna, among bees and butterflies, living secretly and harmoniously with nature. However, it seems that from time to time, the boundaries between the mysterious realm of the faeries and the world of humankind overlap and intertwine. It is at these edges or thresholds, where the stories emerge and faeries present themselves in many different guises.

In January, Fay Hield invited me to join a gathering of artists for the Modern Fairies residential at Sage Gateshead. I was instantly struck by the variety of responses to the theme and the collaboration in process. In a roomful of creative minds; songwriters, musicians, poets, film makers and researchers, curious stories were unearthed, broadening and challenging my childhood interpretation of faeries. Mention of loathly ladies, changelings and shapeshifters began to spark curiosity. I felt excited and, if truth be told, a little apprehensive. There were many layers to the project already in full swing and I began to contemplate where I would fit into this rich fabric of unfolding creativity.

One story that instantly carried me away, was that of the selkie. Growing up in Scotland, selkie folklore has a strange familiarity and powerful influence over my imagination. A supernatural being, often female, possessing the ability to shape-shift from human form on land, to seal form in water. Some selkies attract fishermen with their startling beauty, luring them into the sea. Or instead, she might shed her sealskin and come ashore. If a man finds her skin and takes ownership of it, the selkie becomes his property and she is bound to him. To me, the selkie becomes a metaphor for the ocean herself; wild, unpredictable and enigmatic. Perhaps man represents a desire to control and harness the seas, or to fully comprehend the mystery of the depths.

On the coastline, where human and marine life meet, there is a liminal space that conjures, for me, an overwhelming emotional charge – often a feeling of peace, sometimes a yearning for freedom, but always a sensation of awe and wonder. There is a sense of magic at the water’s edge. I try to imagine how a selkie on land must feel, torn between two existences, neither here nor there, with a constant sense of longing. I’ve been working on some drawings that illustrate the transformative process as the selkie shifts from human to seal form. Torn from the land, yet free.

With the expertise of Newcastle’s NOVAK collective I hope these drawings will become a piece of moving image to accompany Fay Hield, Lucy Farrell and Inge Thomson’s gorgeous lyrical arrangements.

Another story that captured my attention was The Green Children, which Marry Waterson tells so beautifully in song, with the velvety accompaniment of Ben Nicholls on double bass and Barney Morse-Brown on cello. I am currently working on creating a collection of articulated paper dolls and illustrated scenery for Marry to use in the creation of an animated film. The tale is full of dark intrigue. A boy and girl are said to have been discovered in the village of Woolpit in Suffolk. Their skin was the green “of the early breaking leaf” and they “spoke a green language which the trees and flowers knew. As the children grew, the boy died, but the girl adapted to her new life, growing whiter each day and forgetting her unknown language.

For me, there is a sense of loss and disconnection in this tale. The boy returns to the earth and the girl lives, yet loses her innate connection with the natural world, forgetting how to communicate with it. As climate change becomes an ever so imminent crisis in the 21st Century, perhaps fairy stories can help us to reflect upon and question our own relationship with nature.

Today, I sit in Heaton Park; a woodland and gardens, nestled in the urban space of Newcastle upon Tyne. I read some poetry by Modern Fairies artists Terri Windling, Sarah Hesketh, Patience Agbabi, Lucy Farrell and Fay Hield, whose gorgeous words are inspiring some new illustrations. A cacophony of birdsong erupts around me, as I watch chaffinch and blackbird busily prepare for new life. A mistle thrush rustles in the leaf litter. The cycle of life is ever present at this time of year and there is an unmistakable magic in that.


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