The Subtleties of Pastels by Strength of Spirit

02/11/2017 07:38 am ET

Blessed Natiq Jalil - An Artist Endowed with Vision, Courage and Spirit

"His work is mixed media with a strong focus on watercolor, ink, and acrylic paint. Generally, each piece features a strong female figure as the focus while incorporating various organic shapes, vivid color washes, and beautiful gestural line work. What really attracted me to the work though, beyond his expertise of the media, was the cerebral nature of the content."

Natiq’s work typically starts out with a little scribble doodle action - something that came from a dream. That’s when he says he likes to do his work - right at the moment when the world is waking up and the dream world loses it’s footing in reality, just before all the noise is about to start - that’s when Natiq Jalil’s powers are at their height. Those might be Natiq’s powers- translating dreams into reality. That’s how the work known as a Natiq Jalil piece comes into being, a process of synthesizing magic and beauty into material for human voyeurism. I’ll say this too - he’s at home within himself. The soft pastels that come across in his work, an homage to beauty and the world that is in the midst of all the violence and ugly realities that can, at times, seem so overwhelming. They come from a space that Natiq Jalil shares openly and willingly with the world. That is strength, courage and honor so, there is a code there too.

“The period between being awake and asleep is almost magical. You have the last little threads of a dream in your head. You open your eyes and you can touch, taste, smell, and hear your dreams. Everything is tangible in the most ethereal and surreal way.”

His work is mixed media with a strong focus on watercolor and ink. His work typically features women and their essence. He is highly attuned to shapes, colors, and moods. But, let’s talk with Natiq and find out about his work directly from the creative:

1.) Natiq Jalil, What does your name mean?

The name, Natiq, means ‘one endowed with speech’ and the rest of my name means ‘servant of the most exalted’.

2.) Why do you paint in watercolor? Does it relate to the subject matter of your work – women. Upon visual evaluation, you seem as a strong brother, very masculine, powerful. Why are women the subject of so much of your work? What about the feminine spirit inspires Natiq? Is there a marriage of opposites with you and your work?

I’ve used most media in my journey as an artist, however, I’ve found the most freedom in watercolor. In my early work, I struggled with feeling confined by the “rules” of the medium I was using. With oil, it was the fat over lean rule, plus the long drying times and difficult cleanup. With acrylics, it was the super short drying times, which made it hard to blend, and the damage they did to my brushes. I disliked the way charcoals and pastels stuck to my fingers and smudged easily. With watercolor, I’ve been able to quickly capture my subject matter, pack up, and move on. Plus, I love the spontaneous aspect of them. I’m able to let them run, let the colors blend into each other, splatter, etc. There’s no limit to what can be done with them. They are definitely the love of my life, right now.

“All of the emotions are mine. I’ve just found that women are the mirror to my own experiences. I’ve found that I’ve been able to speak more freely with women, connect to their hidden thoughts, be vulnerable with them, and more tangibly relate to their everyday lives.”

In the beginning, I only painted men… black men, in particular. My earliest experiments were self-portraits. Black men were always spoken about in negative and aggressive ways, but never with adjectives such as beautiful, inspiring, captivating, or human. I sought to capture those things.

Eventually, I found myself putting more and more of my emotions in my work. I started using organic and florals shapes in my work (due to my mom’s influence. She does flower arrangements and would often tell me the meanings and attributes of the plants she used). When people would see the work, they invariably started to feminize my work. They’d focus on the flowers in the man’s beard and totally miss the message of growth, happiness, sadness, or pain. I attribute this to homophobia, to be honest. Needless to say, I didn’t sell much work.

“In the moments shortly after waking up, and I’m mixing colors, scribbling out loose shapes, and dripping colored puddles on paper, it’s like Zen. Everything is quiet. Everything is serene. Hours go by and I don’t even notice. It’s just color and lines and poetry.”

This made me think of the ‘boys don’t cry’ philosophy. When a man expresses anything more than a small set of ‘acceptable, masculine’ emotions, such as excitement, anger, and aloofness, he is told to ‘man up’, grow a pair, get out of your feelings, stop acting like a bitch. This is what I saw in the eyes of people who viewed my work.

Eventually, the thought occurred to me to put a feminine face on my work. My thinking was, since you are going to feminize my work and dismiss it, how about I help you out. See? I feminized my work for you, now listen. I didn’t know whether I’d get the work I desired, but it ended up working. People looked at my work and immediately connected the pieces to pain, struggle, triumph, and every other thing I felt. The unexpected side effect of this is that, until someone meets me, they often assume I’m a woman. Go fig. It’s wild.

My message now is that men are human beings, too, with a full set of emotions and the ability to fully experience them and convey them. In telling people the story of my individual works, they are often moved and wonder how I’m able to, as a man, capture such a wide range of deep sentiments. I tell them that it’s in all of us. We just aren’t taught that we are allowed to show them.

So, in a way, my work is a true marriage of opposites. To the point where people are perplexed by the artist, himself.

“I’m also working on pieces surrounding social justice issues and the vast, dark emotions of people of color living in a Trump presidency. I’m hoping to put together an exhibit of these works, also.”

All of the emotions are mine. I’ve just found that women are the mirror to my own experiences. I’ve found that I’ve been able to speak more freely with women, connect to their hidden thoughts, be vulnerable with them, and more tangibly relate to their everyday lives. The models I’ve worked with have often felt comfortable to share with me feelings, thoughts, and experiences that they’d never even considered mentioning to another person. Their stories always end up being incorporated into the work. Their emotions and mine. It’s an amazing connection.

“Even though she was laughing, she looked like she would break out into tears at any moment. I tried to capture her as quickly as possible. I started with her eyes. Then here nose. Then her mouth. It was around then that she and her friends got of the train. I finished the piece based entirely on the emotions she left me with. There was definitely loneliness. Heartbreak. Weariness. Maybe even hopelessness.”

3.) What is it about the period between being asleep and awake that informs your work? Do you believe ancestors speak to you then? Do you believe the world is quieter then and easier to focus upon? Do you channel spirits in your work?

The period between being awake and asleep is almost magical. You have the last little threads of a dream in your head. You open your eyes and you can touch, taste, smell, and hear your dreams. Everything is tangible in the most ethereal and surreal way. In those moments, I am left with questions without answers, wondering about what some obscure image in my mind could mean.

It becomes a race to quickly transfer these fleeting images to the canvas or paper before they disappear. I often never truly figure out how the strange symbolism of my dreams is related to my life, but I do feel them. Maybe these elements are just a part of me that is so familiar that I’ve never noticed. I don’t know. What I do know is that capturing these retreating dream fragments is quite the adventure. The ultimate high.

I believe that the ancestors absolutely could speak to us in our dreams. They could be telling us stories of their lives. They might even want us to share their stories to the world. There are so many possible ways to look at it.

In the moments shortly after waking up, and I’m mixing colors, scribbling out loose shapes, and dripping colored puddles on paper, it’s like Zen. Everything is quiet. Everything is serene. Hours go by and I don’t even notice. It’s just color and lines and poetry. It’s surreal. Getting into the zone is like a spiritual experience. I don’t know whether I channel spirits into my work, but I do know that I imprint a piece of myself into every piece.

4.) On July 9th, you will have your work at Cell Therapy: The Past and Future Dairy at the Carnegie Public Library in Braddack. Also, I noticed upcoming events with “Train of Thought”. There is a very ethereal approach to your work. Why is that? I noticed, also the spiritual quality to your work as well as the word “spirit” throughout your bio and website. What do you see that most of us miss that allows you do operate at higher frequencies?

Reading your questions made me realize that I seriously need to update my website. My Cell Therapy show was last July. It was amazing. It was some of my most honest work. I excluded any pieces that I felt weren’t done completely in the moment. If it wasn’t a piece that I completely lost myself in, it didn’t make it into the show. That show also featured a live performance by Crystal Noel, an amazing poet here in Pittsburgh, PA. She and I went out to dinner after that show and now she is my fiancée. So, needless to say, that show has a lot of meaning to me.

Train of Thought is my ongoing labor of love. I initially started this collection of work when I was living in NYC. I’d literally paint and draw pieces on the trains as I travel back and forth between Manhattan and the Bronx, where I lived. The trains were almost like a spit=ritual place to me. New Yorkers never look at each other on the trains. They stare at some fixed point between themselves and nowhere, completely oblivious to their surroundings. I was often the only person looking around. I’d look at the all until I found my subject matter. Then I’d capture them as quickly as I could before they exited. In my mind, I make up a story about where they’d been that day, who they’d spoken to, what they’d eaten.

Over at the Carnegie Library in Braddock, there hangs a piece from this collection. I’ll send you a picture of it. It is of a young woman who got on the train with some of her friends. They were loud and very animated. But what drew me to here were her eyes. Even though she was laughing, she looked like she would break out into tears at any moment. I tried to capture her as quickly as possible. I started with her eyes. Then here nose. Then her mouth. It was around then that she and her friends got of the train. I finished the piece based entirely on the emotions she left me with. There was definitely loneliness. Heartbreak. Weariness. Maybe even hopelessness. It was all there. That was what the Train of Thought project was about.

Even though she was laughing, she looked like she would break out into tears at any moment. I tried to capture her as quickly as possible. I started with her eyes. Then here nose. Then her mouth. It was around then that she and her friends got of the train. I finished the piece based entirely on the emotions she left me with. There was definitely loneliness. Heartbreak. Weariness. Maybe even hopelessness.

There were other times on the train where I’d just freestyle it on paper. I’d take and element from this person or that one, some pattern on the floor, a billboard I’d glimpse as the doors of the train closed. Those pieces are very satisfying. They were literally the story of my train ride home.

Now that I’m in Pittsburgh, the project has change a little. I’ve turned it inwards. It is now about the beauty of people of color, police brutality, protest, love, accomplishment, black lives matter, fearlessness, miracles, and rebirth. It’s about whatever is occupying my mind at the moment. Sometimes I am in transit, like I was in NYC. Sometimes, I am sitting there with my fiancée and my daughter. Other times, I’m at a poetry event. It is spontaneous and in the moment. One day, I hope to display the full collection in its entirety.

“Here's the piece I mention in the answers the I painted on the train.”
“Here's the piece I mention in the answers the I painted on the train.”

“As far as what I see that most people miss? When I look out into the world, I immediately see lines, circle, colors, and textures. I see how to draw the world before I even see the world itself. I see people in the same way. It is as a speak to someone that their image resolves itself into a flesh and blood human.”

As far as upcoming events, I am putting together work for a 3 man show called Natural Flow, with Marcel Lamont Walker and Gregory Garay. It is an exhibit of sequential fine art. The other 2 artists are comic book artists, and our work will literally tell a story. I’m also working on pieces surrounding social justice issues and the vast, dark emotions of people of color living in a Trump presidency. I’m hoping to put together an exhibit of these works, also.

As far as what I see that most people miss? When I look out into the world, I immediately see lines, circle, colors, and textures. I see how to draw the world before I even see the world itself. I see people in the same way. It is as a speak to someone that their image resolves itself into a flesh and blood human. I know that probably sounds weird. I used to believe that everyone saw the world in this way. It wasn’t until someone informed me of my weirdness that I saw myself as anything ‘other”. That was probably the moment that I realized that there was a true difference between ‘regular people’ and artists.

Even though she was laughing, she looked like she would break out into tears at any moment. I tried to capture her as quickly as possible. I started with her eyes. Then here nose. Then her mouth. It was around then that she and her friends got of the train. I finished the piece based entirely on the emotions she left me with. There was definitely loneliness. Heartbreak. Weariness. Maybe even hopelessness. I think that I see the abstract when others see the concrete. When I’m painting, I tend to closely study my subject matter, and then close my eyes. Whatever colors I see on the inside of my eyelids are the colors I use. That’s how I show you exactly how I see the world.

Naqil is currently participating in the Double Mirror exhibit at Delanie's Coffee in Pittsburgh, PA. He is currently creating new collections addressing relevant issues such as cultural appropriation, modern social phenomena, and gender roles.

Natiq Jalil is a self-taught artist who believes that true art begins during those moments between being asleep and being awake. Natiq’s work is prized by many private collectors and can be seen in many homes and businesses in the mid-west and throughout the East Coast. 

He has experienced success in both gallery settings and underground venues, such as RAW and Touchfaster. He has exhibited work at Luz Gallery in Denver, CO, GPAC, Garfield Artworks, and the Shadow Lounge in Pittsburgh, PA, The Cutting Room in New York City, and many more.

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