Natasha Wheat

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It's hard not to become totally obsessed by Natasha Wheat. The L.A-based artist, sculptor and jewellery designer possesses a fierce intelligence and a delicate beauty, which is fitting when you come to better understand her work – I love the narrative behind her complex collections where opposites so often attract. In Wheat's hands, unconventional elements morph into rare, exquisite jewels or beautiful industrial-looking sculptures. And, not surprisingly, when it comes to matters of style, she has an impeccable eye. Photographed at home during the 7th month of her pregnancy, Wheat shares her thoughts on pregnancy, making art and her organic beauty routine

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  1. Photographed by ALEXA MILLER GALLO 

  2. Interview NATASHA INCHLEY

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I adore your art and the way in which you explore various mediums – there is such a sense of strength and sensuality in your aesthetic. What are you thinking about? 

I'm interested in emancipatory aesthetics, so exploding moments of freedom through a visual experience. In that, I think that there is an element of aggression and sometimes violence in the process of the work, a sense of undoing or redoing, remaking, recontextualising the world for a moment.

What is your design process and how do you approach a new idea? 

I am pulled into materials and the questioning of truths. My fine jewellery collection grew out of working with carbon in my sculpture studio. I was painting with smog, graphite, burnt bones and then began researching diamonds. I couldn't believe that the value system of diamonds – cut, clarity, colour – was so similar to Eugenics. It was a disturbing realisation that the most valuable, luxurious thing that humans trade in is based on these notions of white purity and physical sameness. So I designed a collection that aimed to disrupt that with "No White Diamonds" as an underlying principle, and incorporating unusual shapes and "inclusions" – what they call floating carbon in a stone, which generally devalues them – and asymmetrical cuts into the collection. I released the collection in avant garde luxury fashion stores as I wanted the intervention to be real and about shifting actual desire, not just something philosophical within a gallery or museum. So in other words, you like it, you are attracted to wearing it, it is beautiful, and it is luxury, but it is diverse in form and tone. It doesn't have to be academic and beaten out the way that art tends to be in order to work, and this is why I love design. Everything in the collection is very minimal, with many hidden dark stones set in 18 carat gold and it was all made in L.A.

Who ignited your interest in sculpture, art and design? 

My mom was a folk artist from Panama, who spent all day making a mess with us, making art, making dolls, buying strange things from antique stores and witchy crystal shops and listening to records. She wouldn't really clean or have dinner on the table, balance a cheque book, or do these things that my father's fantasies of 80s convention wanted, which led to a lot of turmoil. She became ill with a neurological disease when I was very young, seven years old, and became homeless with a severe drug and alcohol addiction. I will always long for the version of her that I will never know: the mother of a teenager; the mother I could have a conversation with as two adults; a grandmother to our babies. But in a sense I feel that I have been gifted this image of my mother as a young, fun, beautiful, wild carefree artist who I was never old enough to have any real contention with.

I also have a memory of being four years old and showing someone a drawing that I had done, and them asking me if I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I found this really patronizing and told them that I already was an artist. I put myself through the first years of art school, while working in luxury retail stores in Los Angeles and have always been intrigued with design, especially its relationship to socioeconomics, like the visual coding of class, distinction and social hierarchies and playing with that.

Who else inspires you?

Irreverence and poetics – Kurt Cobain, Gutai, Brancusi, Leonard Cohen, Eva Hesse, Viennese Actionists, especially Valie Export, designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rick Owens. Mothers. People who speak out and defend those who can not, many of which are being punched in the face right now for rejecting fascism and an oppressive administration.

Mission Possible: above, Wheat's ceramics entitled "Citizen Cluster In Black."

Congratulations on your pregnancy. What have you loved most about this experience? 

I am really buzzing on Oxytocin. I had imagined myself as more of an anxious perfectionist pregnant lady, but have been less anxious, more present and mellow than ever before. I haven't put the intense pressure on myself to get so much done, as my body is growing a human being and it feels like I am doing more than ever just by taking care of myself and enjoying this experience. I just took leave from my studio for the first time ever and have been building a cool world for him in our home.

“Maternity dressing” is such a dated notion – how would you describe your approach to style right now?​ 

I love strange dramatic proportions and unusual geometry, so being pregnant makes getting dressed even more fun than normal, with lots of laughing. I haven't bought any actual maternity clothes since my regular clothing is already so sculptural, weirdly proportioned and oversized. I grew up with a pet python named Montya, and I did get one pair of very high-waisted black stretch pants which I love to wear with black cropped tops which makes my bump look like Montya when she had just eaten. Rick Owens DRKSHDW basically all works for goth-leisure maternity. Christophe Lemaire tops seem to be ten sizes oversized already, so those carry through too, and I just got a pair of Margiela sneakers with the backs cut off that you can slide on – I think they seriously designed them just for this point in pregnancy when you can no longer reach your feet to put shoes on. My friend Heidi from OZMA and I have traded my ceramics for lots of her sculptural basics that have elastic waistbands or slits, which I got in larger sizes. I love oversized, drapey gauze pieces from Black Crane which I wear with a trench from Assembly New York on top. David Michael also makes great cropped tops, sweaters and coats that carry through your pregnancy.

 Pregnancy beauty calls for a change in routines – which products are you using right now? Are you using any at-home treatments? 

I stopped wearing perfume and even cut back on essential oils until later in my pregnancy and then only use them diluted. I read that essential oils move easily into your placenta. 

  1. 1). Captain Blankenship makes a great product called Sunshine Body Cream that is bump magic, I don't have any stretch marks and use this every day. Her ingredients are incredible. She was a curator of art and moved to Upstate NY to become a mama, and launched this beautiful line a few years ago. She is carried at Sephora now, and her products are all natural and totally pregnancy safe. 
  2. 2). I really love the Lactic Acid treatment by Goldfaden called Fresh Peel. I use it at night a couple of times a week and wake up with a soft baby face.
  3. 3). Sunblock from Josh Rosebrook, SPF 30 Nutrient Day Cream. It contains zinc. Most mineral sunblocks contain titanium, which bothers me, and the chemical sunblocks are especially bad for growing babies, which is cruel as your skin become so sensitive to the sun while you are pregnant.
  4. 4). Lily Lolo Natural black mascara and the RMS Buruti Bronzer are pretty much the only make up I wear, both are chemical free, and RMS uses organic ingredients. Pregnant skin looks so bright and glowy with all of the extra blood running through it, you really don't need any make upI put Camellia oil from Japan in the ends of my hair every morning, I get it from the Japanese market, and sometimes I mix it with Veriditas Rose Otto oil. They make my favorite essential oils, their Vetiver is the incredible.
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  6. And your ultimate indulgence – how do you pamper your mind, body and spirit right now? 
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  8. I spent a lot of time in the ocean during this pregnancy. The California ocean in just a swimsuit is usually a little too cold for me, but with a tiny heater in your stomach it feels incredible. Also acupuncture in my bed by Carolyn Barron of Botanarchy; red rasberry leaf, oatstraw, nettle tea from my midwife Amy Tinney; My husband flies home from tour every time he has a day off, and then back out on tour to meet his band the next day. It has been intense, and after thirteen years together I have never been more in love with him or appreciated him so deeply. His presence is the warmest thing.

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  2. Your home is so chic. What do you love most about it and how does your style cross over into its interiors?
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  4. It is a 1927 French Normandie-witchy-castle-L.A-storybook fusion home with a turret. It is pre-depression era, and so everything is custom built. The fireplace has Batchelder tile with images of animals abstracted into shapes, and a fox in the centre that looks like our Shibu Inu mutt, Hilda. There is original pale white oak throughout the house and warm white paint, with tall arched ceilings and windows. It feels like a monastery: very Old L.A dramatic. The front windows face west and we see the sun set from our living room every evening, it has a James Turell effect. I designed most of our furniture and made light fixtures from ceramic vessels. I designed minimal iron and white oak hardware and white linen window coverings so they would disappear and look like they had always been there. For our dining room, I designed a 10-foot soaped white oak table for when we host our friends – soaped oak is very naked and vulnerable, it is marred by everything that touches it and is ultra matte, I find it so beautiful and you almost never see this finish in the US. It is surrounded by Carl Hansen soaped oak elbow dining chairs with nude leather. In the next room, there is space for our record player – records are the only things we collect. I get rid of everything else if we aren't using it. I'm reclusive and have always been into having people over to our living space rather than going out, and I am really specific about how I set up our home. I never want to look around my home and feel disappointed or like I am just living circumstantially, it is one of the only spaces in our worlds that we have some aesthetic control over, and so it is sacred to me in that sense.

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  2. What are your other great passions?

I practice Ikebana, and study with the Ikenobo Society of Los Angeles. Since getting pregnant I took a temporary break from oil painting, and instead I illustrated and wrote my first children's book in Sumi Ink. It is based on a large oppressive circle, overthrown by many tiny circles who discover that they are actually seeds. They grow tall, and block out the big circle, filling the page with abstract shapes.

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  2. Lastly, it's always such a thrill to find in one person a great sense of style in everything:
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  4. What is your favourite fragrance: Burnt wood, incense, vetivers; Bois de Ascense by Naomi Goodsir and Vetiver Attar by a tiny LA perfumer called Persephanie.
  5. The snack you crave right now: Dandelion chocolate bars from San Francisco, the darker the better.
  6. The ultimate gift you’d love to give baby: A fun home life and the ability to improvise.
  7. And for yourself: The same.
  8. Your secret pick-me-up: I should never be allowed to have caffeine, but in moments of weakness and when special friends come to visit, I make matcha in tea bowls that I made.
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  11. Material Girl: above left, Wheat's work "Field Without Colour in Disassembly"; and right, Wheat's beauty routine consists of all-natural  products and home remedies.