The Process: N. Dash

  1. Dash’s creative practice encompasses a vast range of sizes and mediums, yet is firmly grounded in the environment of her home state of New Mexico.

It was there that she first encountered earth as a material for her art and, when able, she creates outdoors.

During our discussion of Untitled in her Long Island City studio, the interconnectedness between her artworks became apparent: from the cotton fabric she manipulates until it is nearly unrecognizable, to the black and white photographs of these works, and the monumental pieces she produces with adobe and jute.

— Written by Sara Roffino

As a painter, how do you consider yourself in relation to this art form?

I’m certainly a painter, although at times the ways and materials I use for my artwork may not be standard for the craft.

I do, however, employ the customary components such as oil, linen, canvas, etc. that have been a part of the painting tradition.

The most distinctive material I use happens to be mud, but even that has been a part of making art for centuries.

BLVR: I understand that you often have tiny pieces of cotton with you, and you tend to work on them throughout the day. Could you please explain how these pieces fit into the rest of your activities?

ND: My hands are constantly busy creating fabric pieces, so I take them with me wherever I go. There is no one-to-one relationship between the fabric works and the paintings. I have been working on this craft all my life. The fabric pieces act as the foundation of my other work, providing me with a source of material.

BLVR: How was Untitled generated while in the studio?

In this work, graphite was employed in two distinct ways to create a unique piece. It was first rubbed on to the adobe while dry, then painted into the linen while wet. Additionally, a wooden stick was used as a counterweight, transforming the gap of the fabric into a protective covering.

BLVR: Could you tell me something about the physical components of other works of art?

I do not regard the paintings to be a single element. No one material has more importance than the others. The paintings encompass various elements, both in their individual form or in their combination.

BLVR: What was the starting point for you to start incorporating earth into your artwork?

When I started constructing my fabric pieces, I immediately began working with earth. My hands’ dirt and oil left a patina on the fabric.

On my first trip to New Mexico, I began experimenting with mud particularly. At a historic adobe structure, I saw a hole in the back and when I went inside, it became clear it was the excavation site for the material utilized to construct the building.

Standing there, I had an overpowering feeling of being engulfed by the ground below.

BLVR: It appears from your speech that you are delving into how refining raw elements like adobe is a procedure when dealing with forces of nature.

ND: I don’t think it’s a refining process, but more of a working with one. To make fabric sculptures, I start with cotton that has already gone through a transformation. I then slowly break down the woven framework. Even though the sculptures are small, they are not fragile.

They are dirty and rugged, yet the rough handling I give them, results in their delicate finish. As for the adobe, I sort out the larger pieces, so I can use it as a paint.

When I work with natural elements, it is more about finding ways to take advantage of nature, rather than refining it.

BLVR: What is the method of transferring the earth from New Mexico to the artist’s studio in Long Island City?

ND: From a location in northern New Mexico, I collect the dirt to be brought to the studio. After I have filtered out any potential debris, I reform the dirt into a mud-like substance and cover the jute fabric with it. Once the artwork leaves the studio, it begins to take on its own life.

When it comes to working with the earth, do you view it as a statement about the temporary nature of physical things? How do you deal with that as you are constructing the pieces, given that you are utilizing materials not generally used for painting?

ND believes that the pieces have a connection to where their materials were derived from and the spot where they were created. Every piece brings with it the history of its roots and how it was fashioned. Though, these histories are never completely understood.

BLVR: Is there a contrast between your work that is related to your living in both New Mexico and New York?

I don’t differentiate between the city and desert; each offers me something unique. I often find myself in the desert to think due to its tranquil silence.

While I’m a frequent visitor to New Mexico, I have also worked outdoors in other places. When I’m in New York, I’m in a more conventional studio with walls and various items around me. When I’m on the land, I’m in an ever-changing environment.

In both settings, I’m living and working. The desert is a source of inspiration and the city is productive.

BLVR inquired as to the shade of the adobe blocks.

A few weeks ago, I was astonished when someone referred to a painting as brown.

To me, there is no color associated with adobe; rather, it is simply what it is. It’s not gray like linen or white like canvas, but just its own color.

Whatever is in the geographic area where the adobe is taken from determines its hue. The color of the adobe is the color of the adobe.

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