Tetrahedron Part l: Richard Nattoo’s unfeigned interpretation of humanness

A visceral dive into the internal turmoil and dynamic complexes that make us human.

I have been writing about the works of Richard Nattoo for as long as I can remember. Indulging myself in the world of the Silent Echo; a world that bears some similarities with our own but differs ever so slightly that we can separate the two. Tetrahedron, a three-part art exhibition by Richard Nattoo opened on November 18th, 2021 at The Blank Space with its first show Existential. The show featured 47 watercolour paintings from a combination of three dynamic series by Nattoo: The Mirror Series, The Breathe Series, and The Teeth Series.

Richard Nattoo, The Mirror Series, Watercolour and Pen & Ink on Archival Paper, 17 x 24 inches

Upon entrance, I was greeted with the Mirror Series: alluring, monochromatic, watercolour portraits of women. The work features glorious hues of blues of faces that felt so familiar — a woman I know, perhaps a woman I briefly met, or a woman I know I will never see again. They bore no expression, only peering eyes that stared right through me. The viewer is placed directly between the subject and her reflection. The subject is unaware of this interruption as she only sees herself in the mirror’s reflection. White lines traced the faces of each subject, travelling from the hairline, down the contours of the face, ending at the chin. The meandering lines which felt like they were breathing, represented the subject’s perspective of her uncomeliness within.

Richard Nattoo, LOOK III, Watercolour and Pen & Ink on Archival Paper, 17 x 24 inches

The LOOK (l, ll, lll, lV, V) Portraits from the Mirror Series all featured the same composition: faces of women staring directly at you with shoulders straight. The composition only captured the portrait frame of the woman: head to the collarbone. The portraits gave a subtle reference to a feeling of conflict and silencing as Nattoo painted short white lines representative of stitches at the corners of each side of the mouth. However, there is an indication of resistance against this internal repression as there is an attempt to open the mouth.

Within the exhibition, Nattoo referenced the ideologies of “the shadow self”. A term coined by Carl Jung which speaks to the unconscious parts of yourself that you refuse to identify as or with. Carl Jung stated that “Everyone carries a shadow; the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”. The background of each watercolour painting from the Mirror Series was painted black. The only light source in the work was a spotlight placed on the subject. It set the atmosphere of each work and further accentuated the internal darkness that surrounded each subject. Though there is one visible subject, the works spoke to two — the shadow self and the present self that introduced the conflict between man and self.

Richard Nattoo, INTROSPECT l, Watercolour and Pen & Ink on Archival Paper, 24.5 x 38 inches

It was evident in the posture and the placement of the Introspect portraits (l, ll, lll) in the exhibition that the artist slowly revealed more and more of his subject as you passed through. The posture of the woman in Introspect l is different but there is still a lingering sense of reluctance as her body and shoulders are turned away from the mirror (viewer). Despite that, the peering gaze remained which continued the dialogue in the mirror between her present self and her shadow self. It gave way to the ongoing conversation about awareness and acknowledgement. The subject has made a conscious effort to know the dark side of her personality. The inclusion of the other visible parts of the subject — the back and head — revealed that she has reached further along her journey of self-realization as her true self was slowly being revealed.

Richard Nattoo, INTROSPECT ll, Watercolour and Pen & Ink on Archival Paper, 32 x 51.5 inches

In Introspect ll, we can see that self was the main focus. What was once a face portrait has evolved into an almost full-body painting. The white lines on the face, still distinct, and the woman wore a black dress matching the background. Perhaps an inclination that more work is left as the subject is still on the journey to fully comprehend what it means to feel everything within and accept it. Intertwined in the exhibition was the Breathe Series, a remarkable and direct perception of the secondary stage of understanding the fullness of existing. The subjects are now in a body of water, a vast openness, where they are left to decide their next move as they have welcomed the ideologies of imperfection, ugliness, and the other sides of a person that makes them whole.

Richard Nattoo, Tread ll, Watercolour and Pen & Ink on Archival Paper, 51.5 x 32 inches

Thread ll featured a man submerged in a body of water. His posture is the same as the women in the Look Portraits: face and shoulders straight ahead with only the top of his head and just below his collarbones showing. The background of the painting remains black but in the distance. The subject is no longer engulfed by darkness as the light has started to make its way to the surroundings. There appears to be a stillness in the water directly around him, and the seemingly rough waves are behind him and closer to the darkness. The subject has shifted from a state of confrontation to a direction of reflection.

Richard Nattoo, The Elusive Grip of an Escaping Life and the Realization of a False Concept of Regret, Watercolour and Pen & Ink on Archival Paper, 51.5 x 32 inches

“ Sink” or “Swim” is a concept mentioned by Nattoo and is very prominent in the Breathe Series. In The Elusive Grip of An Escaping Life and the Realization of a False Concept of Regret, the subject is floating on top of the water: a symbol of stagnation. The subject is neither sinking nor swimming but in a state of realization, looking outwards, with tears streaming down the face. The mood of the work has shifted. What was once blank, peering stares has changed to a very poignant atmosphere. The subject appears overwhelmed with the findings but rather than sink beneath and into the darkness, she floats on top, deciding how to move forward from what was confronted.

Richard Nattoo, Morning of the Black Ablution, Watercolour and Pen & Ink on Archival Paper, 51.5 x 32 inches

The placement of Morning of the Black Ablution and Tread within the exhibition was otherworldly. Adjacent to each other, it allowed for a confrontation with only two possibilities- to sink or to swim. Morning of the Black Ablution was an exemplary soul-binding viewpoint of choosing the path to submerge. The form of the subject stands out from the background in the deep waters. The darkness above the water as seen in Tread ll is also below the subject in the composition, Morning of the Black Ablution.

The two paintings, Tread and Morning of the Black Ablution, bear a similar tone and composition. The subjects are in the centre of the composition, with the light appearing above and the darkness below. The two works create a dualism that is seen in the Yin Yang philosophy. The two opposite decisions became interconnected: reflecting the ideology that duality brings harmony and chaos where both can coexist wholesomely. In Tread, the light has finally taken up the majority of the composition. The subject has decided to swim and move away from the darkness and into the light. Tread left me with a feeling of hope, yearning, and positive expectation.

Richard Nattoo, Tread, Watercolour and Pen & Ink on Archival Paper, 51.5 x 32 inches

“As the tide rises, I wade towards the openness, I no longer feel the sand under my feet. I am divorced from the comfort of the shore. The waters of my inhibitions have become the sea of my existential cry. In that moment, I look towards the clouds as dawn breaks over the horizon and it was there I found hope.” — Richard Nattoo

Richards Nattoo, Teeth Series, Watercolour and Pen & Ink on Archival Paper, 9 x 12 inches

The Teeth Series by Nattoo featured 36 abstract watercolour paintings. Small 9 x 12" paintings which lined the walls in four grids of 9. At the root of this series were the internal contemplations of the artist himself. Each art piece was emblematic of a thought that consumed him: thoughts about his existence, shortcomings, and humanness. The motions of the linework and the boldness of the brushstrokes from the painting mimicked the rapidness of the artist’s rumination. Each extract from the Teeth Grids, a little world within its own, with its own stories and thought processes. The series also introduced new colours to the show. Yellows and reds emerged from the entanglement of the hues of blues and were perhaps indicative of new guidance from his inner self.

I ended my journey of the Existential exhibition in a small room that had two watercolour self-portraits of Richard Nattoo and two sculptural illustrations of a skull. I thought that Existential gave way to such a compelling conversation between the viewer and the subject of these paintings. Throughout the show, I found myself switching between perspectives of the subject, reflection, and viewer. The use of blues within the exhibition gave way for such melancholy within the work. The story of introspective journeys with wisdom and faith.

I am grateful to have experienced Nattoo’s interpretation of humanness.
Reflecting on the notion, we comprise not only of the good but the bad and the ultimate acknowledgement of these dynamisms to live in conjunction with our shadowed self.

Stay tuned for Tetrahedron Part ll, a review of Salvation ll: The Beautiful Depression as I delve further into the mind of Richard Nattoo.

A collection of reviews and critical writings by Kesi Mortley +