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Natalie Lam

plaster, wire
24″ x 19″ x 19″

Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor

Clara Lieu
Art Prof & Partner

Artist Statement
“I am currently in my final year of high school. Throughout my life, I have grown tremendously in my art through observation, experience, and memory; all of which endlessly cultivate inspiration and creativity. This passion has always played an important role in translating the incomprehensible through expression in art.

Recently, I have discovered that my inner creative voice strives for artistic expression through the subject of human nature; such as suppressed emotions, buried memories, and profound human relationships. So, in my eleventh grade art class, I was given the task of creating a passion sculpture out of a chosen emotion. In the end, I decided upon the emotion of ‘overwhelm’.

Under the umbrella of the term, I gathered other words and feelings that my mind associated with the emotion. Consumed. voiceless. trapped. desperate. I realized that I must sincerely embody this sensation in order to find a deeper understanding of the piece. Feeling truly overwhelmed, I found that the repetition of hands are a powerful force when created in great masses, and can profoundly appear visually overwhelming.

These hands represent certain external forces: people, surroundings, sounds; that bombard the mind and pull at the mind’s delicate core.  A sensation of metaphysical drowning, and emotional distress. I created this piece to express one’s inevitable feeling of being overwhelmed; an inescapable sensation with which humankind is innately plagued.”

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Video Transcript

“This is an absolutely riveting sculpture; there’s a really haunting, dramatic quality to the piece, and the raw emotion that’s being so powerfully articulated, and the gesture of the hands is so compelling. I think it was an excellent choice to use plaster gauze as your material; there’s a very ghost-like atmosphere to the piece, and also the gritty surface texture of the sculpture is very poignant.

I think the fact that so much of the face is obscured by the hands really contributes to the idea of this figure being overwhelmed and almost suffocated by these hands. I wish there was more variation in the gesture of the hands; a lot of positioning of the hand seems to be very similar; it would be great to get a lot more contrast.

I’d also like to see the wire on the top of the sculpture better integrated with the plaster gauze. Right now I would say I would either remove the wire altogether or increase it so much to the point that it becomes a much more prominent presence in the piece, but it’s a really striking piece, I think it really sustains your attention and gets you thinking about the depth of the emotion.”

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4 responses on "Natalie Lam"

  1. I’m a sucker for all repetitive visual things. I think having that many fingers writhing around the face is great and reminds me of anxious hand wringing motions some people do when they’re overwhelmed. I also think of various river Styx/hell scenes where lost souls or demons all grasp at the visitor’s face and body.

    Since being overwhelmed is an all encompassing, suffocating emotion, I really would like to see you work more with the back side of your sculpture. The hands kind of taper off towards the back of the head, and I wonder why. I think when working with sculpture, it’s important to consider how the piece will look from all sides, and what space you want it to exist in.

    One sculptor that does a good job with considering multiple angles of portraiture is Bruce Dehnert. He uses every square inch he has to push the architecture and the emotion of his clay sculptures.

    I think this is a really dramatic piece, and I hope that you continue with sculptural processes in your work!

  2. This is a wonderful piece that works to tackle some challenging concepts! I love how the hands and the face are of the same material and handling – to me, that reads that the hands are part of the same “self” as the face, that the feeling of being overwhelmed is an internal rather than an external piece.

    There are some technical things with the handling of the medium that need considering – plaster strips have that very rough look to them, the gauze leaves an interesting texture and the “strings” left behind can sometimes be a cool element; and sometimes, they can be read as unplanned and lack of finish.

    When I made a few plaster sculptures, I found that if you get the powdered plaster and make a mixture with water (about the consistency of pancake mix) you can lather it onto your plaster strips when they’re dry and you can create a smoother surface — or a more speckled chaotic surface, your call! What would convey your message more? The reason I bring that up is that in many ways sculpture can be like drawing – you don’t want your “mark making” to become repetitive. You want to show variety.

    You want to push the application to be as terrific as your concept and composition in this piece!

  3. It’s clear how much time and effort you’ve put into this piece, which is very impressive! The hands are really wonderfully constructed, and there is a lot of thought put into their placement. This works really well with the expression on the face, conveying an overwhelming feeling and sense of being trapped. It’s interesting how the hands are almost cradling the face, and although clearly a negative force, they aren’t physically ripping into the face or anything destructive. I think this says a lot about these external forces that they represent!

    The wire doesn’t seem to be fully resolved yet. I’m wondering what this wire represents in the relationship between the figure and the hands. Is it something being cast upon the figure by the hands, are the wire pieces being extracted from the head by the hands? Perhaps establishing the relationship between the wire and the other elements in the piece would help us better understand its purpose in the overall narrative.

    I think you’ve done a really wonderful job creating a piece that is full of energy and done a great job with the materials you’ve chosen!

  4. I appreciate the incorporation of the wire. It adds an extra layer that complicates the relationship between the head and hands in a way that I think is essential – even if it does feel somewhat unassured, currently. The gesture of the hands and the expression on the face convey very strong emotions, but the handling of the wire is less clear, and I think you need to reconsider the specific role you want that element to play, here… Is the wire another overwhelming force “consuming” the figure? Is it a sort of protective layer surrounding the head, and being disrupted by the fingers? Or is it something else? Resolving this element could really push an already powerful piece!

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