Interview with Ruskin Graduate, Natasha Peel

Earlier in June, the 23 final year students at The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art exhibited the produce of their years at university. Graduating from The Ruskin in 2012, Natasha Peel has since gone on to present works at the Saatchi Gallery, London. Peel speaks to Aesthetica about the benefits of studying art and her interest in malleable materials.

A: How has your time at Ruskin shaped your artistic practice?
NP: It was a vital part of my development artistically and intellectually, having been exposed to some of the best art theorists and artists who tutored me throughout my time there. I was extremely lucky to be tutored by many leading practicing artists such as Matthew Darbyshire, who helped me through difficult points in my artistic development as well as influenced my work. The availability of technical apparatus such as camera equipment, workshops, studios and project spaces open for use enabled me to carry out works and experiments when I needed. All of the staff at The Ruskin, from tutors to the technicians, are most helpful and artistically minded. The Professional Practice Programme, unique to The Ruskin School, that provides placements abroad with leading galleries and establishments also really helped widen my experience in the Art World, which influenced my art practice.

A: What advice would you give to a graduating artist?
NP: I would advise them to set up a personal website in time for the opening of their degree show to allow for maximum exposure. It is also important to apply to as many prizes that are on offer for graduating artists as possible, as being a shortlisted for any of these also provides further opportunities. In short, it is important to make the most of the degree show so that they can continue working after leaving and without the backing of an institution. I think it is also good to maintain links with your peers. The Ruskin is especially good at facilitating this. Recently I completed a commission for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (Poland) designing their educational insert for MOCAK Forum. This happened through the request of Kinga Lubowiecka who is now working there and was the year above me at The Ruskin.

A: You work with sculpture and malleable materials, what is it that drew you to this form of art?
NP: I have had exposure to a factory environment from a young age because my dad is a director of a silicone rubber factory where they shape and extrude material from a raw form. This process fascinates me both physically and conceptually. I chose to explore it through sculptural means as this medium has a very concrete relationship to the human body. When melting a sheet of plastic it is inserted into a large industrial oven and heated to a high temperature until it becomes malleable, but is then formed using human force into shape rather than any machinery. In my work I reverse the relationship that the process of shaping a raw material has to machinery, for example I melt the finished product to allow it to sink into a biomorphic shape and freeze in this state. Theoretically, I am interested in the idea of “liquid modernity” as outlined by Zygmunt Bauman and the appropriation of the historical avant-garde in neo-liberal architecture and branding. The colours and utopian slogans of corporate branding bring to mind the reductive aesthetics of constructivism and suprematism, which have been liquefied by the force of global capitalism.

A: Are there any other types of production you work with – photography/drawing/installation ect.
NP: Some works I do work well as photographs, such as an earlier work For the Creative Class, but I mostly use photography for documentation purposes rather than to make the work. I often use drawing to plan before making and I was trained in a traditional way of making art before coming to the Ruskin. Rather than having abandoned this mode of expression I think this background has allowed for a deeper understanding of the artist’s relationship to modes of perception and material. I have produced installations in the past with torn down large sheets of cellophane, but sculpture is more central to my practice.

A: Your work is currently part of New Order at the Saatchi Gallery, when producing work do you consider how it will appear in a gallery?
NP: Yes, of course, but the work tends to gain a new meaning in each new context as it’s exhibited in relation to other works and the spaces that it occupies. The inherent qualities of these sculptures allows them to be nomadic and is an intentional trait of the work. I think that out of all the spaces it has been The World’s Local Nomad that works the best in the New Order show, although hijacking a place such as Canary Warf with the Invest in Me sculptures would also be interesting.

A: What are you future plans?
NP: I am currently finishing my masters in Art History at The Courtauld Institute focusing on the more theoretical side of things. My work is highly informed by theory and therefore I hope this further development will filter through into my artwork. In the future I intend to get involved in more shows and produce further pieces, perhaps looking to also branch out abroad in places such as Moscow!

New Order runs until 29 September, Saatchi Gallery, Duke Of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London, SW3 4RY.

More info on Natasha Peel at

1. Image courtesy of Natasha Peel.