Natalia González Martín on the craft behind her minutely detailed paintings

The London-based artist threads all sorts of hidden messages throughout her works, and uses a brush “as thin as a single hair” to do so.

Date
21 April 2021

Within Natalia González Martín’s portfolio, you’ll notice how each and every piece has been crafted with utmost perfection. The blending of the dusky sky; the blades of grass; the shine of a juicy green grape; the creases in a shirt; or the fact that one of her pieces is named Eat As Many As You Want But Don’t Collect Any, suggestive of the story of Adam and Eve. There’s something quite referential about her work, and these nods to the past are paired with painterly flourishes, like precise and detailed depictions of flowers, or the luminous drips running down a Botigo – a traditional clay container designed to contain water.

Of how she landed on her medium, Natalia explains she has been painting for as a long as she can remember. “I’ve always considered myself a painter,” she tells It’s Nice That, even if she ended up specialising in different mediums during her BA in Fine Art at City & Guilds of London Art School. In her final year, to be exact, she decided to centre her degree show on a large sculptural installation that explores the historic memory of artefacts. But her interest in painting always ran alongside her practice with utmost synchronicity. “My current practice adopts the format of icon paintings through the use of traditional painting techniques,” she adds. “Through these, I explore the traces we have been left with from traditions that have prevailed over mainland Europe for centuries, and their capacity to continue to exist through time.”

Based in London and having recently set up studio in her flat (due to the pandemic), it’s here that she works on her illustrative and conceptually driven pieces. She’s recently had work shown in an abundance of exhibitions in London, Margate and Naples. Not to mention founding Subsidiary Projects with artist Nina Silverberg, launched out of her house in Bennington Square. A digital and physical platform, it provides a space for early and mid-career artists and curators to test out their new ideas. With numerous past exhibitions to boast, the project is currently delivering its shows in “unconventional spaces” – the current exhibition being Penny Pain, Twopence Coloured which showcases pieces from artist Tom Platt in a disused retail unit in Slough.

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Natalia González Martín: Serrana, 30 x 42 cm, Oil on board, 2021 (Copyright © Natalia González Martín, 2021)

“Lately,” she continues, “I have been mainly focusing on religious medieval art, specifically illuminated manuscripts. These are one of a kind books on varied themes but the detail and meticulous work that went into their creation is extraordinary.” These books in particular can be observed in the collections of museums, and the archives are made available to anyone – like Natalia, who utilises these sources as a key part of her research. Alongside this material, Natalia has a medley of references at home that she turns to for inspiration, before transferring these ideas into a rough plan on Photoshop. “These often include an amalgamation of different images, from old paintings to photographs of myself, to PNGs of very specific elements such as jewellery, flowers or water drops.”

To build these crafty pieces, she’ll transfer the diluted oil paint directly onto a wooden panel, to which she’ll then start to build the layers. After the base has been achieved – like the gradient of a sun setting in the background – she’ll then start adding the finer details. Her favourite slice of the process, she amazingly uses brushes that are “as thin as a single hair!” Which is precisely how she achieves such intricacies.

Religion undeniably plays a key role in her work, especially in terms of its symbology, features and ways in which it relates to the world. “The mystical (and even magical) element of it contrasts with the seriousness we use to treat the subject,” she adds. “The main theme of my work, I would say, is how these attitudes translate to many other aspects of our life, from our approach to food, love and nature.” An example of this approach can be seen in her recent piece Shroud (2021), that references the Shroud of Turin: “For those not familiar with it, it’s a burial shroud that has been claimed to have the print of the face of Jesus,” says Natalia. “This object has been the cause of incessant polemic and disagreement over its actual origin.”

The symbology of the Shroud of Turin is marked with a length of linen cloth, that which bears the face of a man (or Jesus) and suggests that this is the fabric that he was wrapped in after crucifixion. In Natalia’s piece, she’s modernised this notion as if the Shroud were a makeup wipe used after a night out, inspired by other works that depicted the subject: “such as St. Veronica with the Holy Shroud by El Greco.”

There’s so much going on in her pieces that the regular eye might miss some of her deeper and more biblical connotations. But once you unearth some of the paintings' somewhat hidden messages, things start to get even more interesting. “The paintings are open enough to allow various interpretations,” concludes Natalia. “Everyone can relate to an image of someone picking berries, or the feeling of the grass under your feet. I do not expect everyone to point out the exact references that were used to create these works and would much rather prefer people to project their own interpretations onto them.”

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Natalia González Martín: Botijo, 30 x 42 cm, Oil on board, 2021 (Copyright © Natalia González Martín, 2021)

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Natalia González Martín: Eat As Many As You Want But Don't Collect Any, 30 x 42 cm, Oil on board, 2021 (Copyright © Natalia González Martín, 2021)

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Natalia González Martín: The fig tree you cursed has withered, 30 x 42 cm, Oil on board, 2021 (Copyright © Natalia González Martín, 2021)

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Natalia González Martín: The Higher, The Sweeter, 30 x 42 cm, Oil on board, 2021 (Copyright © Natalia González Martín, 2021)

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Natalia González Martín: Rest, Oil on Wood, 2021, 21x30 cm (Copyright © Natalia González Martín, 2021)

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Natalia González Martín: Penitence, Oil on Wood, 2021, 21x30 cm (Copyright © Natalia González Martín, 2021)

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Natalia González Martín: After Saint Sebastian, 21x26cm, oil on panel 2020 (Copyright © Natalia González Martín, 2020)

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Natalia González Martín: Agatha's Cakes, Oil on wood, 21x30cm, 2020 (Copyright © Natalia González Martín, 2020)

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Natalia González Martín: Original Sin, Oil on Wood, 2020, 21x30 cm (Copyright © Natalia González Martín, 2020)

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Natalia González Martín: Shroud, 30 x 42 cm, Oil on board, 2021 (Copyright © Natalia González Martín, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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