Natasha Bieniek

Natasha Bieniek’s finely detailed miniatures are inspired by the historical tradition of French and English 16th century miniature portraits. Her contemporary work on diminutive panels, (often only 9 x 14cm), are her way of reviving the ancient tradition in a modern context.

Although she began with small portraits, in recent years she has turned her eye to gardens, capturing some of Melbourne and Victoria’s well known public gardens.  The small scale of her work draws the viewer closer to see the fine detail and inevitably creates an intimacy with the painting. “I think for me the landscapes that I paint represent more than beauty and adornment, they hold a greater significance from a personal and social perspective,” she said.

Natasha believes that as a culture we are getting busier and the fast pace and chaos of urban cities can be an assault on the senses and disconnect us from the rhythm of nature.  She said many suffer a nature deficit, and as COVID19 has shown us, slowing down and making a stronger connection with it, could help us to thrive as a species. “For me the natural world is sensory, stimulating; it is the most information rich environment that we encounter and I would like this to filter through in my work. I think the small pockets of nature that are depicted in my paintings offer that respite from the noise of a major developed city.”

In 2015 WAG commissioned Natasha to paint a scene from the Warrnambool Botanic Gardens, to celebrate the Garden’s 150th anniversary. She captured a vista to the bridge across an iridescent green jewel-like waterway, framed in richly detailed green foliage. Natasha brings a modern reflection to her work by painting on small pieces of Dibond, a thin plastic sheet coated with aluminium, which is often used for architecture and in ATM’s and is becoming more popular as a base for photographs but is rarely used in painting. She said the physicality of Dibond embodies her interest in the present day, and the image trends in this culture obsessed with documenting and recording our lives on phones and devices. The colours and reflective surface remind us of the impact of modernity and the impact of technology on our daily lives and how it disconnects us from nature. “My little paintings can often look like Iphones, and for me it is about incorporating a human made product, to talk about the relationship between people and nature, and for me the duality between the Dibond and oil paint works really well.”

To prepare the paintings, she sands the small sheets and creates a surface to hold the gesso and oil paint and meticulously sands the surface again between each coat of paint. A work can take up to six weeks, although she often paints several at once, to allow for each layer of oil paint to dry. Her work is slow and quite painstaking and requires a steady hand, a lot of patience and concentration. “Unlike a quick snapshot this work enforces me to slow down, I get to know myself over a prolonged period of time and there is something really nice about that.”

“One of my most common questions is whether I use a magnifying glass, I don’t," she said.

Image: Natasha Bieniek, 'Warrnambool Botanic Gardens', 2016, oil on Dibond panel, 9x9cm. Collection Warrnambool Art Gallery