Natalia Fabia has quickly established herself as a Los Angeles art scene fixture, with her photorealistic paintings of women in tough, sexy, and girly subcultures regularly lining West Coast gallery walls. But she finally gets her East Coast due with her first solo show in New York, Punk Rock Rainbow Sparkle, which opens this Saturday at Jonathan Levine Gallery.
“A little over a year ago I spent around three months all over New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. I wanted to just explore everything, meet new people, find interesting places…I didn’t really have a set plan,” Fabia explains. But very quickly, a theme emerged: “It’s traditional figurative painting, but with my twist on these female figures. They all have this punk rock sparkly attitude or style. And it’s real, even as ridiculous as some of it might look.”
After Fabia recruited friends and made models out of people she met randomly (one of the women featured in this show was a bartender Fabia found in Asbury Park, who was initially shocked at the thought of anyone wanting her to pose), she arranged photo shoots in settings that particularly caught her eye, sometimes styling the women but often letting them wear whatever they felt most comfortable in. She then sorted through hundreds of photos, picking her favorites to use as inspiration for the next step, painting them. “After I go through photos, I then start messing with the light, messing with the image, moving things around, making things bigger, smaller,” says Fabia. There’s also the process of adding in the skulls, rainbows, glitter, and butterflies that are woven into the otherwise natural-looking paintings. “This show means so much to me because of the graphic element,” she notes, adding, “Which I love, because I got tagged as just being this photorealistic painter. It’s great—I love being a traditional painter—but I also love fantasy and abstract elements.”
While it might be a strange juxtaposition, Fabia sees it as a way of truly showing that her models are complex people. “They love spikes and skulls and sparkles, but they’re still hardcore people. Even if the paintings don’t look punk rock, it’s that freedom.” It’s something that she certainly relates to; when she was younger, Fabia was a “little punk rocker,” and she wanted to capture what she sees as the strength of the subculture. It was a lesson she was reminded of during her visit to New York: “There’s a piece I wanted to shoot underwater, and where we went [to shoot it] was all scuba divers wearing full gear and oxygen tanks and flippers, and I had these girls naked with just fabric around them. They were such troupers, they just jumped in,” she remembers. “And that’s the point—this hardcore attitude that I wanted to show through the paintings. The whole show is just about the attitude.”