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Art school and the discovery of life's work
As a young girl Natasha Collis spent one holiday break at an art camp where she was permitted to try everything, from painting and ceramics to glassblowing. It was within this freedom she discovered her love of fine art and on her return to school started to work towards building a portfolio. Like her father before her, she single-mindedly pursued her passion and at the tender age of 16 decided she was determined to go to art school.
After a foundation course at Chelsea Art School, Natasha was accepted into the world renowned and extremely rigorous Slade School of Fine Art. She remembers the day the acceptance letter was delivered. "I'd never screamed so loud. I picked up Charlie [her sister] and twirled her around and jumped up and down. It was amazing." She was one of the first in her immediate family to attend university and the pride and excitement was palpable.
That first year was enchanting. The daily walk up the grand drive towards the even grander entrance made Natasha feel like she was part of something historical. The long list of distinguished teachers and students past and present was at once overwhelming and exhilarating. Bookbinding was taught alongside the practical side of painting - stretching and preparing canvases. Students were pushed to find their individual voice, style and signature.
"It was a painful process", says Natasha. "It was very emotional." Not only were students learning technique but they were expected to develop a philosophical and theoretical mission. The attention to academic exploration and explanation was daunting. "The hardest part was not the painting, it was the articulation of it. Slade is steeped in academics but I hadn't ever approached art from that perspective. I had to work very hard to talk about art from a theoretical outlook."
Like many before her Natasha's natural confidence and daring had been somewhat smothered by the expectations of the art establishment. On graduation she worked part time creative jobs in order to fund her painting. She continued this way for several years, struggling still with the concepts of voice and signature, working endlessly on paintings and never reaching a sense of satisfaction. "I loved it. I loved painting, but something was tight, too rigid. I'd lost my confidence in the work. But I was still determined to do well."
Natasha was awarded a scholarship to travel to New York. It was in that great city that things started to shift, as if through the soaring skyscrapers, dirty pavements and vibrant creativity the voice she had been seeking started to call. She was lent a space in a jeweller’s studio to set up her painting and drawing equipment. "There were all these gems and jewellery pieces and assistants working. I loved the work they were doing. Painting was still my first love, I was very into it, but it was time for me to make the next move, find a gallery, a dealer, to start selling, that whole business side of it. I was afraid of it. It wasn't fun anymore. One day one of the assistants showed me how to make something and it was a nice distraction,” she says with a smile, realising now that the distraction ended up becoming her life's work.
Back in London she set up a little table in her studio for her jewellery and one day realised she was spending more time making than she was painting. It was a hard transition but the freedom gained was worth it. "I don't over analyse the jewellery. I am totally free with it. That first time I picked up the tools I felt it. I make something, some else loves it and it's gone. I could never let the paintings go. I had this story in my mind about myself as a painter, this is what I am, and it's what I had worked towards. It took a long time to change that narrative."
The other appeal was the ability to manage her own output and sales. With her jewellery studio there is no need for a gallery, a dealer, a manager and all the baggage that comes with being a painter. Natasha enjoys being able to rely on herself, to make a living, creatively, on her own terms. Again it's an echo of her father's trajectory. When he moved away from hairdressing and became passionate about yoga, eventually opening several yoga studios he said to Natasha, "Shed the thing that no longer fits you."
She did, and it was right.