Aah, remember those days of making collages in art classes in primary school? Cutting up magazines and pasting pictures together to create Picasso faces, cityscapes, animals? Chances are it’s not a skill you carried into adulthood, let alone kept any of those seminal artworks, but Natasha Archdale not only creates pictures in this way, she sells them for thousands of pounds apiece. Her subjects are a little more pointed these days – her medium is the Financial Times, among others – and the execution is considerably more advanced – the collage is only really evident in the detail – but, ultimately, the principle is the same.
Garnering much critical acclaim and a sell-out in two hours for her first showing of nudes in 2007, Natasha’s latest exhibition, currently on at the Royal Exchange is, topically, ‘Financial Animals’ and focuses on the creatures that dominate our financial landscape.
Each piece is a fantastically rendered animal, often in some apposite repose – The Bear, for example, is rolling playfully on its back – and taken from editions of a suitably fitting publication; The Donkey, the symbol of the Democrat party, is created from editions of The New York Times while The Elephant is cut from the Wall St Journal. The obvious sense of irony running through the series doesn’t end there. The venue for the exhibition, The Royal Exchange, is the beating heart of London’s financial district. Each easel-mounted piece is exhibited around the imposing atrium-capped courtyard of restaurants and boutique shops; they sit among the gathered diners of City brokers and bankers, almost peering over their shoulders, conscience-like…perhaps I’m reading too much into it.
A graduate of Cambridge Arts, Archdale came to this characteristic technique whist recovering from a serious car accident back in 2000 where, bed-ridden for weeks with a broken back, she began to draw but had no access to paint with which to elaborate on her sketches. The only other materials were her daily read, the Financial Times, and a Pritt-Stick borrowed from the nurses’ station. The different shades of print, each piece quite roughly hewn from the page, create chiaroscuro – a Renaissance technique of creating visual effect with strong contrasts between light and dark – which add a three dimensional degree; thus, from afar the image is exquisitely rendered, up close lies the detail, the context of which becomes apparent. Cuttings and images all bear relevance to the whole.
“I work with cuttings that provide the right flesh and fur tones for my subjects,” explains Archdale, “and, whenever possible, I include relevant words and sentences in every cutting.” In The Bear, the flower that’s incorporated into the image is made up of the BP oil platform explosion. In The Pig, the picture is made up of extracts from Chinese newspapers in reference to the Chinese horoscope symbol of fortune. It’s always been a conscious decision to mirror the subject with the material and the global financial crisis has been a constant source of inspiration. “I recreated Gordon Brown’s resignation face using clippings from articles about his political downfall on the day he stepped down.” How fitting.
The final work in the collection, The Fox, was created on site, during the exhibition, and made up from contributions people brought along. Lucy Allen, head of art procurement at The Royal Exchange, says, “Working in the heart of the city, the financial media is a huge influence in business…it’s thrilling to see it turned into art and even more exciting that we can invites companies and City workers to contribute to one of Natasha’s final pieces.”
The day I visit, the day Natasha was completing The Fox, it was absolutely hurling it down with rain. And the character the fox represents in the banking world? The rainmaker. How fitting, indeed.
The Financial Animal exhibition runs at London’s Royal Exchange, Bank, until Friday 15th July. For more information on Natasha Archdale, visit her website.