Interview with Natasha Romano

Originally printed in Issue 20
Interview by Claire Milbrath

Silicone, snakeskin, and beehives are just some unusual materials used in Natasha Romano’s sculptures. Tantalizing for the investigative mind, Romano’s work is filled with hidden clues and coded images. Like both a serial killer and a detective, her practice is meticulous and obsessive. At the time of discovering her work, I was deep into reading about the Black Dahlia murder case, the notorious, sadistic art-performance murder that rocked a seedy and corrupt Los Angeles in the 40s. In my heightened sense of paranoia, I saw Romano’s sculptures as akin to an LA crime scene: dark, sinful, and secretive. But Romano’s work is less an homage to the abject, than it is a tribute to what’s living. When I asked about her use of silicone, she replied, “Unlike skin, it will last forever.” Yet, she considers her work to be growing, as if it were alive. Through her obsession with invisible connections and logic systems, Natasha seeks a kind of organic harmony. 

I immediately conjured visions of Los Angeles when I saw your work for the first time, without knowing you were a life-long resident. How has the city informed your work? 

My work is sensory, everything I know I learned from my senses. The most obvious sensory element in my work is my use of texture and form. I am inspired by the architectural textures of Los Angeles, and how we perceive them. Objects here are covered in soot from the smog, and appear almost blurry from far away. The overall texture of the city seems to be caught in a wild visual clash, directly related to all the new housing and business developments. All the “ugly” condos that are being built have textures that were generated on the computer. It feels impossible to discern any evidence of the human hand within them. I have a lot of pieces that come out of this city, and use the city as a primary source. Sometimes I hide inside-jokes or underground landmarks in my collages, that only people from Los Angeles would understand. 

Can you talk about your use of sewing, a typically feminine practice, to construct these more masculine, over-sized, “gross” sculptures? 

Hand sewing is an art I grew up with, my mother was a costumer. I actually find sewing very hard; it’s repetitive and time-consuming.However, I must admit that when I have to sit down and sew for hours, I am usually able to come to some beautiful realizations. It has taught me that practice and discomfort can lead to growth. 

I consider myself someone who is easily grossed out. However, I have actually never been grossed out by any of the materials I work with. I feel like they are more “abject,” if anything, than gross, and getting over something abject is more of a mental practice, understanding the aversion to the specific object/material. I’ve used a lot of red resin and fake blood in my work to try to challenge the abject. 

The reason I incorporate wasp nests and rattlesnake elements is purely numerical, and related to a logic system of formation and organization. The wasp nests, in my world, represent a perfect system of organization. Bees and wasps have created a beautiful civilization in which they harvest beautiful golden honey. It’s a type of organizational model that evokes the word “harmony” in my mind. I usually display a cross section of a hive. This looks like a bunch of hexagonal-shaped entry holes for individual bees. Astoundingly, the rattling balls in a rattlesnake’s tail are the same size as hexagonal entrances into the hive. Whether or not the viewer is aware of why the snake and the hive work together, there is a subconscious connection that our brains are able to make based on size, shape, color, weight, the formal and physical elements. 

Your collage works are like ransom letters, filled with conspiratorial messages, and your materials are bodily and grotesque. Is your work supposed to be scary? 

Like a serial killer, I guess I have my own patterns and codes. I do think my work is maybe more alien than scary, although I know very little about sci-fi subculture. Immediately, unidentifiable codes and systems are alien to Western society. I’m thinking alien in that context: unidentifiable, foreign, etc. I do admit that my work can feel dark, I’ve had a lot of trauma in my life. Initially, I think the darkness in my work was related to trauma, but I am now trying to talk about darkness literally as an absence of light—the things we cannot see. Although at first it is “scary,” darkness represents the invisible elements, forces, connections, and outcomes that can create potential harmony. To me, this is beautiful. I am not interested in evil, I’ve been through too much!