In the studio: Natalie Ryan

Natalie Ryan’s practice explores themes that surround the aesthetic representation of the cadaver and natural sciences throughout history and their inclusion in contemporary art. Drawing from existing methodologies used for displaying these elements, she is interested in the process of imaging the natural world and the exchange between science and art that has allowed this. She also collaborates with her sister, artist Pip Ryan, exhibiting under The Ryan Sisters.

Ryan shares with Art Almanac her current thoughts and creative processes as well as life in the studio and her determination to continue to create during a pandemic-regulated year:

Studio Portrait. Photograph: Julien Scheffer

The pandemic has seen a lot of new challenges for us all, not least in our practices as artists. Pip and I have had to adapt both our solo practices and, unfortunately, largely put a pause on our collaborative work, but it’s been inspiring to see the art community rally together and, collectively, find ways to overcome. I feel very grateful for the ways that fellow creatives have found to share, support and relate in such challenging times.

Natalie Ryan, Litoria booroolongensis, 2021, pencil on paper, 22kt gold leaf, 37.5 × 28.5cm. Photograph: Darren Tanny Tan. Supported by the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grant

Pip and I have shared a studio for many years, but the physical and financial restrictions at the onset of the pandemic meant that it was no longer viable, so we both had to shift to working from home. I work primarily with sculpture, and those materials were almost impossible to work with outside of a dedicated studio environment and unfortunately didn’t translate to my tiny apartment. From the confines of lockdown, I turned to drawing and was very lucky to receive a grant from the City of Melbourne for this. I also worked on editing some photographs that I had taken from working with veterinary collections prepandemic, as well as using some wax/oil-based clays that were not as messy. I was lucky to be invited to make a work for Sculpture Company, which meant I could sculpt the work in this type of clay, and they could fabricate the work in bronze, a medium I had wanted to work with for some time. A method I used again recently for a series of whiprays for ‘Floating Land: at the edge of ideas’ in Noosa, Queensland. I am incredibly thankful that I have moved and now have a studio at home. There were moments in between lockdowns where Pip and I were able to collaborate too, which was amazing as I’ve really missed working together. We made a papier-mâché work for a show at Missing Persons space – a new material for us and much easier to manage in the domestic space.

Natalie Ryan, Whipray, 2021, bronze 165 × 60 × 10cm


As more of the arts community used online platforms to share and exhibit, I was inspired by how distance and access became one border that was removed. ‘Monster Theatres’ at the Art Gallery of South Australia, in particular, was a highlight, especially the works by Erin Coates and Anna Nazzari.

I have really been enjoying wildlife and nature documentaries that have helped me to cope and stay calm. They have also been a huge point of inspiration, in particular the methods of communication and group dynamics within species. It’s hard to plan into the future at the moment, and I’m not sure what next year will bring, but now I have a studio again I want to play more than anything. I feel like the pandemic has really shifted the way I think about my practice and what I want from it, whereas in the past I have placed restrictions on myself. I just want to experiment with everything now and explore possibilities.

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