Natalie Baxter

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I am from Lexington, Kentucky and I currently live and work in Brooklyn, NY.
When did you begin your current practice?
My grandmother taught me to quilt when I was young and it was something I would occasionally do on the side as a craft, not as a part of my art practice. In December of 2014 I had just completed a quilt and was home in Kentucky for the holidays. I was at a friends house who had a wall of mounted handguns. This was in the wake of Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice; Black Lives Matter marches had just taken place in New York and police brutality and gun violence were hot media topics and fresh on everyone’s minds. So looking at this wall of guns felt uncomfortable and strange and I started to wonder what a wall of stuffed, quilted pillow guns would look like instead. I continued to sew more guns as sadly, many more terrible acts of gun violence unfolded.

I started to explore the relationship between masculinity and gun culture which directed the “Warm Gun” series into what it is today, a collection of colorful, droopy, impotent looking weapons made using the historically feminine craft of sewing to construct.

Looking at this wall of guns felt uncomfortable and strange and I started to wonder what a wall of stuffed, quilted pillow guns would look like instead. — Natalie Baxter
Do you ever question the limits of subversion?
Due to the approachable nature of soft sculpture and the subject matter I’m addressing, this work is tricky. I hope that I am stirring up thoughts of gun control, gun violence, and gender issues, but I realize that to some people, I am making a cute stuffed replica of their favorite weapon.

The gun debate has proven to be emotional for a lot of Americans, everyone has their own opinion as to what should or should not be done. Everyone comes to view art with different thoughts and opinions and is able to interpret what they want as they will. Something I think about a lot in terms of my work is how to meet people who have different views, opinions, and perspectives on their level. Especially during election season, the tone of the media and even conversations with friends and strangers feel divisive. What I hope will happen with my work is that people who are first drawn to the playful, colorful aspects will then be open to having a discussion.

Something I think about a lot in terms of my work is how to meet people who have different views, opinions, and perspectives on their level. — Natalie Baxter
The titles of your works often allude to real weapons or moments from pop culture - to what extent are these works real or imagined?
I look at pictures of real guns that are being used in our country when I draw my exaggerated, cartoon, fabric versions of them. The piece, “AMERICA.”, is in reference to a tweet from Governor Jeb Bush (while he was still in the Republican primary race) of a picture his monogrammed glock with the text “America.”

After Zimmerman auctioned off the gun he used to murder Trayvon Martin, saying he would donate part of the proceeds to groups fighting the Black Lives Matter movement, I made a “Warm Gun” version and auctioned off the piece and donated all proceeds to the Trayvon Martin Foundation.


Are you formally trained?
I was always in art classes from a young age, I majored in Studio Art in college and went on to get my MFA. After my first year of graduate school, I was pretty all over the place and was working on these video art pieces that evolved into these video portrait vignettes and a lot of the professors didn’t quite know what to make of my apparent path into filmmaking. After a round of critiques, a professor who I had not yet had a class with approached me and said, “I want to be your mentor,” and I remember feeling very relieved as it was just what I needed. He is still a very close friend and wonderful life teacher to me today.
Have you always worked with soft sculpture?
This body of work is my first time working with soft sculpture. I have played around with a lot of different mediums, from printmaking to painting to digital video and photography work. My thought process starts with an idea and then I work through which medium would be best to express that idea or concept. That being said, I don’t see myself leaving the fun world of fabric anytime soon.
Are you influenced by any artist that does something completely different than you?
Yes. I am influenced by the news cycles, self-published books I find on eBay such as “Gun Women” and “Babes With Bullets”, by old ladies who see me sewing on the subway and tell me about their creations, by the Gees Bend quilters, my grandmother, Brian Lehrer, Donald Trump, and recently from Adam Green’s Aladdin - that was really amazing.
How do you source your fabrics and other materials?
I first started pulling fabrics from my former roommate’s goodwill piles. In Ya Genes, for example, is made from three different pairs of old jeans. I then discovered the Garment District in midtown where I buy fabric that I don’t always know how I will use, but am drawn to the texture and color. I also incorporate old quilt tops and scraps into my work.

There are a lot of different quilt patterns that represent different occasions or events. For example, I use a lot of the double wedding band quilt pattern in my work. It is this very intricate, difficult pattern to construct and often times the quilter doesn’t actually finish the quilt and it ends up in their daughter’s attic for years until they put it up for auction on eBay and I buy it to turn it into guns. Also, when you work in fabric, people love to give you their old fabric scraps. Last week, a woman in Kentucky mailed me a box of her quilt scraps and my family and friends are always sending old clothes and fabrics my way.

Describe a typical day in the studio for you.
I am an early riser who likes to dive right into whatever I am working on. I usually come in with an idea for something I want to start on ahead of time, so I spend the first hour or so working out that idea, usually through laying out fabrics and seeing what works together, then I settle into production mode where I turn on the radio and don’t stop until I have to eat something.
Is there any artwork on display in your home or studio?
When I can, I try to buy or trade work from artist friends. I just recently acquired a print from Haley Lauw, a friend I made at an artist residency this summer, and I just traded for a gun for a photo from Jamie Steele.
What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
Two things - the first is finding large chunks of time to work. I think this might be a common one among artists in New York City, it’s always a tough balance between time and money (which is why artist residencies are so heavenly). The second is knowing when an idea you have been trying out just isn’t working and when to shelf it for a while. Talking through ideas with other artists helps in this situation, but it’s also tough to know when you should share your work and when you should just let the project marinate in your brain for a bit.
Are there any aspects of your process that are left to chance?
A lot of my fabric work is left to chance. With the “Warm Gun” series, for example, I hand draw them on fabric and sew them inside out so turning them right side out feels like this unveiling process of “what is this going to look like?” or “did I do this right?” - it’s one of the reasons I could never be a very good quilter, I rely more on my eyes than a ruler. I also like to try out an idea in multiple, different ways, allowing it to evolve into something completely different if it wants to.
I could never be a very good quilter, I rely more on my eyes than a ruler. — Natalie Baxter
What’s next for you?
I have been working on this series of what I have been calling bloated flags. They are versions of the American flag made with very ostentatious fabrics, stuffed with polyfill and with dramatic fringe. The one I am currently working on is over six feet tall, made from gold spandex and sequin fabric with a seven inch long gold fringe trim. I’ve been making a lot of gold flags lately that I have been calling “People Will Think You’re Making A Trump Flag,” a title I got from a studio visit critique warning me that I should be careful making gold flags because of their association with Trump. I think that is such a perfect example of our current political landscape.

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