Arts & Culture

Natisa Jones: Encouraging Honesty, Vulnerability and Empathy Through Art

Painting with her heart on her sleeve

Words by
Joice Tentry

Bali has always been known as an island of culture and arts, where many reputable Indonesian artists hail from. One of them is Natisa Jones, a young artist who creates art in Bali and Amsterdam.

Natisa has loved drawing since she was a kid. After completing her bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 2011, Natisa started her professional journey as an artist two years later. Since then, she has participated in more than 30 group exhibitions, both domestic and international, and has had three solo exhibitions: ARE WE THERE YET? at 3 Monkeys Sanur, Bali; T O U G H  R O M A N C E at RUCI Art Space, Jakarta; and G R O T E S K at Salihara Community, Jakarta.

Natisa’s paintings focus on identity and the fundamental human experience of the emotional journey that allows individual interpretations from her audiences. Through her artworks, Natisa wants to genuinely express her feelings and encourages her audiences to do the same.

Has being an artist been your dream since you were a kid? What made you decide to become one?

No, it hasn’t. I mean, I knew I was going to end up in something creative. I’ve always been super into anything creative as a kid — drama, dance, music, etc. Drawing and creating have been a part of my life ever since I was able to hold a pencil to paper, and I grew up in a highly creative family, so it was always encouraged. It’s just kind of second nature to me, and as I got older, it became a form of therapy.

It became a way for me to make sense of the world around me and understand myself.

Without it, I get really lost. I think this is why my work is quite diaristic. I paint from what I know, think and feel. But I didn’t really romanticise about a career in painting or thought about the future too deeply. It became a profession when I realised it was something I’m best at doing, and if I were to sustain from it, I’d have to give it my all.

I graduated art school and dived into illustration and graphic design, thinking I’d leave fine art behind. I briefly worked in an office as a graphic design intern and then continued doing freelance illustrations and other commercially creative work for a year or two before deciding to pursue painting. Using my skills to push products and messages of commercial companies other than my own was really where my frustration started. I realised I had a lot I wanted to express with my work, and I wanted to use my creative skills to convey the messages I believed in.

I am not saying there’s anything wrong with commercial work. It was just not for me. So I am happy I’ve been able to make work out of it, and I feel very lucky to be able to do what I do. I’d like to always be doing this.

What inspires your artworks?

I think on a good day, everything inspires work, and on a bad day, nothing inspires work. I’m interested in the human condition, all things to make sense of what it means to be human. I create very emotively and with a highly personal approach. I think what inspires me most is the dynamics between people. Conversations that I come across usually spark curiosities in me, and that often motivates work.

What kind of messages do you want to deliver through them?

I think I’d like to make people feel less alone and, maybe, myself feel less alone. My work is highly personal and I often put my heart on my sleeve. I think that’s my attempt to encourage vulnerability in others by doing it first. It’s a way to relate to others and understand the human experience better. Whatever background we are from — rich, poor, from the western part of the world to the east, south, whatever — we all feel the same things. Though it may be through different contexts, we all know pain, love, joy, loss and guilt. So, I try to string these experiences together.

I believe art creates an opportunity to empathise, and I think that’s what I try to embody in my work as best as I can.

How do you define art, personally?

I think this will sound super corny, but I do stand by it and it helps me understand different types of art.

I think asking What is art? is no different than asking What is life? I think it’s really what you make it — be it to the maker or the viewer. Everyone will have a different answer, depending on their own experience, background or context, and they have every right. It becomes a matter of whether one relates to an artwork or not. I do believe when an artwork comes from a place of honesty, true curiosity and intention, it will be felt and produce something that resonates, whether it is a painting, drawing, sculpture, large scale, small scale, media, traditional or conceptual.

So I guess basically, genuine intention is important to me when defining art. I think that intention itself has a way of revealing the level of thought and effort put into a piece of art that, in the end, holds weight.

To me, a conceptually layered installation piece is as important as an emotionally suggestive figurative painting. They both contribute in piecing together a puzzle of the different aspects of the human experience, and they can move me in different ways, just as powerfully. That’s why art is so great and so important. It provides a platform, space and function to all these misfit, morphed and, sometimes, absurd ideas that don’t necessarily fit within other industries in society.

What does Bali mean to you?

Bali is a place where I spent a lot of time growing up. It’s a place I often leave and come back to. It isn’t where I am from by blood, but it’s a place that has given a lot to me. I think Bali is a very mystical place that really infuses in me a sense of spirituality that I often feel when making my work. It definitely has, and will always have, a special place in my heart.

Do you have some sort of “ritual” when working? How does the process usually go?

I don’t have a specific ritual. But oftentimes, I do various things before attacking the canvas. I listen to music, read, write or sketch for hours before I start to paint. I always work on multiple paintings and paper works at a time and bounce from one thing to another, and along the way, the work make themselves. I often leave things and come back to them. When a painting is near conclusion, I’ll spend more time on it —detailing and finishing. Sometimes, a piece of work sits in storage for weeks, months or years before I come back to it and decide on its direction. But it’s a gut feeling when something’s done.

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