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Dora Natella

About Dora Natella

Welcome to my space designed to exhibit my work in sculpture, provide a short biography, and outline key points in my career. Enjoy your visit!


Everything from my childhood and my life as a teenager growing up in Italy reappears in my art: the classical ballet training, my exposure to the art work from Italy’s ancient masters, my involvement with the body-art performances of the seventies. All of these elements are the essence of my artwork today. Thus I’ll tell the story of my life and art from the beginning.

I was born in Venezuela to an Italian family and from the age of five I was raised and educated in Italy. I studied figurative sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples under Augusto Perez, a figurative artist and a pupil of Emilio Greco; Gianni Pisani, a body artist; and Alfio Castelli, an abstractionist. At the close of my academic studies in 1979, my sculptures and drawings were technically well-executed classical figure studies. They revealed my fascination with the human body as I learned to see it in Greco Roman statuary. Contemporary masters such as Giacomo Manzu, Marino Marini, Augusto Perez, and Francesco Messina, with their very strong individual sensibilities and unique approach to the figure, inspired and influenced the direction of my work as much as the masters of the Italian Renaissance, Mannerism, and Baroque.

In 1980 I moved to the United States for advanced studies in bronze casting techniques and to expose myself to a totally new culture, one less inhibited by the authority of the past. I believe that ancient traditions may deeply inspire people; then again they may also inhibit anyone who is trying to invent or reinvent something. That’s why I became fascinated with the American Culture; I loved the new and unfamiliar traditions, people, and places. Here is where I also became enamored with metal casting, and to this day I continue to love this transformative process and translate my clay sculptures into bronze. I also enjoyed working with stone, clay, metal and use all these physical materials to express abstract ideas.

In 1986 I earned an MFA in sculpture at Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, MI. At the closing of my graduate studies my sculptures were much more experimental and revealed a greater awareness of contemporary visual trends. Having more than one place to call home had given me a broad perspective regarding people, their cultures, and their experiences. Having artistic roots in both Europe and the New World has also been a key element of my identity as an artist, as I have approached a contemporary style of figurative sculpture from a classical background. After graduating I continued to stay in Michigan and taught at WMU for six years as a part-time faculty member. In order to continue to actively produce and exhibit new artwork, I also taught sculpture and bronze casting techniques at the local Art Center.

In 1993 I was hired as the Sculpture Area Coordinator at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. This position allowed me to develop new and promising directions in my own practice. My ideas about figurative sculpture were challenged by American artists such as George Segal and also Nancy and Ed Kienholz, whose art was predominantly a socially critical art, which confronted the viewer with the darker aspects of contemporary American life. Viewing their work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago motivated me to start experimenting with installation sculpture. I became fond of Installation art because it adds many layers of meaning to sculpture: it’s usually site-specific, and it is also designed to transform the viewer’s perception of a space. Amongst the more traditional figurative artists, I was inspired by Robert Graham’s blunt and frontal interpretations of the nude and Isabel Mc Ilvain intense psychological portraits. At IU Bloomington I had access to great sculpture facilities and personal studio space, which enabled me to produce a lot of new work that gradually became centered on the female figure. The emotional content of this new focus began to address, with much greater strength, fundamental aspects of my own life experiences as a woman.

In fall 1996 I joined the Fine Arts Faculty at the University of Oregon. I was awarded a teaching/research Fulbright Award in 1997. My Fulbright proposal aimed to foster cultural ties between Venezuela, my country of origin, and the U.S. This grant allowed me to spend one entire year in the Andes of Venezuela and interact with the foremost figurative artists and art critics in Venezuela at that time such as Peran Ermini, Cornelis Zitman, Oswaldo Vigas, Manuel de la Fuente, and others. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing efforts of curriculum revision and program development at the newly established School of Visual Arts at the University of the Andes in Merida, Venezuela.

The Fulbright funding enabled me to establish firm ground in Venezuela both as a teacher and as an artist. One of the teaching outcomes was a joint exhibit of my students’ sculptures and mine at the Visual Art School Gallery.

My creative practice flourished and I produced a large body of work including a sculptural installation of eight life-size figures and six bronzes titled “Feminea Vitalitas” presented in 1997 at the Museum of Modern Art in Merida, Venezuela. “Feminea Vitalitas” addresses the spiritual vitality of women. The sculptures, along with their meaningful placement in the surrounding environment, evoke universal ideas relating to the human condition. My sculptural installations sparked interest in their meaning, cross-cultural references to Latino women's experiences, and topical dialogue on universal women's issues. Themes such as motherhood, death and mourning, and the celebration and renewal of life through the menses had become predominant directions in my art.

After returning to Eugene, Oregon in 1998, I taught sculpture at the University of Oregon for another three years. At the end of 2000 I turned away from full-time teaching to dedicate more time to work as an independent artist. This decision resulted in juggling a life as a single mother, artist/entrepreneur, and part-time teacher.

My proposal for an eleven-foot bronze sculpture titled “Gaia” was juried into “Pier Walk 2000,” the world’s largest international outdoor sculpture exhibition, set on Chicago’s historic Navy Pier.* I had three months to translate my small maquette into a giant goddess. In spite of the great financial challenges and hardship, I managed to produce my first truly large-scale sculpture. With this project I discovered the thrill of working on large-scale outdoor sculpture. The scale relationship of the figure to the surrounding environment, urban or natural, and its placement seemed to dramatically affect the meaning of the work at many levels.

”Gaia” in Greek mythology is the personification of the earth. This bronze is a massive rendering of a split woman figure, a deep gash down one of the two faces, a tangle of willow roots and branches amass at the figure’s feet, rise through her torso and extend beyond her head. The sculpture is a tribute to the earth mother goddess and a symbol of the current state of the planet. With this sculpture I wish to inspire people to have more awareness of the earth’s fragility.

In 2001 I was accepted into “Pier Walk” again, but with a smaller sculpture (eight feet tall), titled “Res” (Latin for entity). It is a bronze sculpture of the fragmented torso of a woman. Part of the surface of the figure is emerging out of the water, and part of it is melting. With this sculpture I enjoyed reinventing the landscape of the body by combining representation and abstraction.

Between 2000 and 2004 while developing my own creative research in the direction of outdoor sculpture, I was also teaching private classes and seminars, and teaching part-time at various colleges in Oregon. During that time I exhibited frequently in various outdoor venues from the West Coast to the Midwest. I installed artwork in the “Bellevue Sculpture Exhibition” in the downtown park of Bellevue, WA; “Big Rock” sculpture garden, in Blaine, WA; “Peace Arch” in Blaine, WA; and Sculpture Tour at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI.

During those years I won numerous awards including the Alex J. Ettl Grant given by the National Sculpture Society for excellence in figurative sculpture, and the Edith H. Proskauer prize award for non-traditional figurative sculpture, also given by the NSS.

In 2004, I returned to full-time teaching as Associate Professor of Sculpture at Indiana University South Bend, IN. That same year I received a Faculty Research Grant from IU South Bend that allowed me to produce a new sculpture installation titled “The Mutable Body” that I have shown twice in solo exhibitions, once at Western Michigan University and the other at IU South Bend.

This group of sculptures stems from my early interest in body art performances. In fact, the process of building a gauze case around the body is very similar to body art performance, because it involves the body and it requires team- work and participation in a performance-like event. The outcome of this process is an empty shell that reveals the presence of the body in its absence. These figures still exude the emotions produced by the experience of severe restraint and re-birth through the removal of the mold. Hence the emotional intensity created by these figures defines the surrounding space. I alternate between the use of life-casting techniques and a traditional approach of modeling clay and casting in resin or bronze and have produced a number of half life-size figures. The small-scale bodies convey a similar emotional intensity, but on a more intimate level. Modeling the figure from observation allows me to interpret and express a separate, meaningful, reality. Similarly, the direct casting technique affords me an equally expressive tool that uses the body as the vehicle for expression.

During the past thirty years my scholarship of teaching and my studio practice have dovetailed very creatively. Since arriving at IU South Bend in 2004 I have been dedicated to my art, my students, and my University. I have also been committed to raising the visibility of the Raclin School of the Arts to help programs grow, increase enrollment, and raise funds. In that way, IU South Bend and the community will benefit.

In addition to my work in program and curriculum development at IU South Bend, I have also been successful at exhibiting locally, nationally, and internationally. My artwork is included in various public and private collections in the U.S. and abroad. Recently, the sculpture titled: “Cruz,” a life-size casting, has become part of the permanent collection of the Museo de Arte Moderno in Merida, Venezuela. In addition, this fall the sculpture titled: “Annunciation,” selected by Richard Hunt for last year’s Sculpture Award at the 30th Elkhart Juried Regional Exhibit, will become part of the permanent collection of The Midwest Museum of Art in Elkhart, IN.

I actively continue to exhibit my sculptures in outdoor venues across the U.S.; for instance, “Gaia” the maquette, has been selected for Art Prize an international outdoor/indoor competition in Grand Rapids, MI. My work was chosen by the Fifth Third Bank/Warner Norcross & Judd in Grand Rapids, MI.

My most recent success is the selection of a new relief sculpture, also titled “Gaia,” for a year-long display at the Tampa Bay Performing Art Center. My piece was one of ten chosen (from a pool of 177 entries) by the National Sculpture Society’s jurors; Robin Salmon, Curator of Brookgreen Gardens, and Neil Estern, former President of The National Sculpture Society.

I am an elected professional sculptor member at the National Sculpture Society in New York City, where I have been actively participating in shows through the last six years. Currently, my sculpture is displayed on the NSS web site through “Sculptor’s Showcase”; a prominent area dedicated to promoting the work of professional elected sculptor members. (www.nationalsculpture.org) I am also affiliated with the International Sculpture Center, my work is also displayed on their website www.sculpture.org.

*This sculpture is currently located on the campus of IU South Bend, at the north end of Northside Hall near the pedestrian bridge.

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