Tony Natsoulas

Nikai Goddess of Victory
© 2018 Tony Natsoulas

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Growing up in the 1960's and 1970's, our family would travel to New York City to visit relatives. One of the great accidental benefits of this for me was being exposed to the incredible art galleries and museums of the big apple. I can remember the impact it had on me while viewing the Pop art that was being shown at the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Guggenheim Museum. The art work of Claes Oldenburg's, and George Segal’s stand out in my mind as the most inspirational.

I grew up in Davis, California. In grade school I went on field trips to the local Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, where I would see David Gilhooly’s ceramic work for the first time. I never forgot the piece that struck a chord with me and whet my appetite for art and all of its endless possibilities. The sculpture was a ceramic casserole dish with a frog goddess of fertility on its lid. The frog was adorned with lots of breasts. After that, I wanted to learn more about art. I started dabbling in clay at the age of 11 in summer school and have not put it down since.

In 1977, I started making large ceramic sculptures at Davis Senior high school. My teacher, Donna Hands, was impressed with the work I was doing and recommended I take concurrent classes at the local college, which was the University of California at Davis. At that time, a man was teaching at UCD who would change my life and gave me the incentive to pursue art as a career. His name was Robert Arneson. After taking two classes with Arneson in high school and having my eyes opened to art, I graduated from Davis Senior High School and went to Sacramento State University where I took ceramic classes from Robert Brady. In 1979, I transferred back to University of California at Davis and got my Bachelor of Arts from there in 1982. I was very fortunate to have been able to study and take classes from the cream of the crop of fine artists, such as Roy de Forrest, Wayne Thiebaud, and Manuel Neri and other prestigious artists. They were not only very successful in their teaching professions, but were working and showing artists as well, which was a great role model for me.

In 1983 I was accepted to Maryland Institute, College of Art, for graduate school. I had wanted to go there for a different perspective on art. I met Eddie Bisese who was a graduate student in painting there who had a profound influence on me. After being there for a year I was homesick for sunny California and the art department at Davis, I came back to University of California at Davis and got my Masters in Fine Arts in 1984. During art school and for many years after, I have been working on large life size figurative ceramic sculptures. I concentrated on form and gesture. I wanted the pieces to stand on the floor on their own two feet, drawing the viewers into them, demanding a presence that would be equal with a real person. I worked out feelings and thoughts in the clay based on social issues, phobias, struggles from within and political satire. When I got out of grad school in 1985, I was asked to be in the Rena Bransten gallery in San Francisco, where I had two successful shows. Since then I have had museum and gallery exhibitions all around the world and have received public and private commissions in clay, bronze, and fiberglass.

Like most artists, I start off my work with an inspiration. Inspiration is a very elusive thing. Absurd television shows, people, toys, cartoons, plays and movies that are nostalgic inspire me the most. I also look at other artists for inspiration such as Robert Arneson, Clayton Bailey, Red Grooms, David Gilhooly, Big Daddy Roth to name a few. Recently, I have been concentrating on larger than life exaggerated ceramic busts of people that have inspired me on many different levels. For example, as a child we watched a television show entitled the Honeymooners. It starred Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden an over weight; loud and very opinionated man who was married to Audrey Meadows who played his wife Alice. During the days that this program aired women were portrayed as mothers, wives and happy homemakers. They had no opinions, made no fuss and everything was a neat and tidy package of dribble. The character played by Meadows, Alice, was very different from the rest of the housewives on television. She stood up for what she believed, she was not afraid of her loud overbearing husband. She was wise, firm, loving and still was able to be feminine. I admired the character of Alice and was drawn to sculpting her and immortalizing her in clay. In this series of busts I also sculpted Inspector Clouseau, Hercule Poirot, Uncle Fester, Auntie Mame, Pee Wee Hermann, The Duchess from Alice and wonderland and more.

The next in the series is made up of people who have gone against the grain in their time. I chose Picasso to sculpt for he was the epitome of a fine artist that not only worked with paint but with clay also. Clayton Bailey was one of the first artists I saw who used humor, science, performance, and intellect. I saw his " 8 Wonders of the World" exhibit in Port Costa, CA when I was in high school and have never forgotten the experience. He has been of great inspiration to me over the years and I wanted to sculpt him to pay tribute to him. Audrey Hepburn was known for her beauty and grace on the silver screen, but I also admired her humanitarian work with UNICEF. I also sculpted the Beatles. They were the background music of life when I was growing up. I admire John ’s plight for world peace, and love through his lovely lyrics, music and peaceful protests. George’s journey for spirituality and a feeling of inner peace and his support of Monty Python. Ringo’s winning battle with substance abuse and for never losing his humorous side. Paul’s willingness fight for animals rights. I have sculpted them all from different periods in their history. I am just sorry that I will never know them, so my sculptures will have to make due."

I had a very successful exhibition at the Crocker Art Museum where I made 12 large busts of my friends and my wife, Donna, as 18th century characters. He loves the outrageous colors and attitudes of that era. The show was installed in the Crocker's ballroom, which made a fantastic environment for the work. You can see installation pictures of this in side this website. The show traveled to the Triton Museum of Art.

Studios of Tony Natsoulas

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