Photo: Artist Natasha Neira says it wasn’t until she started screen printing at Artists Image Resource (AIR) in the Northside that she felt a sense of satisfaction with her art process. Photo by Ashlee Green
Artists Image Resource in Historic Deutschtown is Artist Natasha Neira’s “happy place.”
By Ashlee Green
Artist Natasha Neira of Manchester has “strong feelings” about self-care.
Once purely defined as the fundamental actions people take to stay physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy, self-care has now been bastardized to sell bath bombs, manicures, and face masks. It’s an $11 billion dollar industry, cites Anne Helen Petersen in her viral BuzzFeed News article, “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation.”
It’s become a business, Neira says, based on “tapping into your insecurity and feelings of needs: emotional, physical, whatever.” But she’s taking the term back to its roots.
Neira is a multidisciplinary artist whose premiere installation work, “This Isn’t About You,” a bedroom scene that mirrored her own real-life sleeping quarters, showed at 709 Penn Gallery, located Downtown, in the summer of 2017. She says the installation had to do with the “danger of dwelling on nostalgia” and the “heaviness of… objects that remind and linger.”
“I’m a writer, right? That’s my background, so I’m constantly reflecting and thinking,” says Neira. “My life got a lot easier when I stopped doing that.” Her go-to medium these days is screen printing. It’s her favorite form of, well, true self-care.
It wasn’t until she started screen printing at Artists Image Resource (AIR) that she felt a sense of satisfaction with her art process. “When you write something, you don’t ever really finish something,” Neira says. “At least with art, you kind of do, or at least you can put something away for a while.” There’s a sense of completion to each project, which can be different from building installation art or creative writing, in which the artist is often tempted to add or edit ad nauseam. The technique is pretty straightforward for her: She has a vision, tries it, and it works.
Screen printing is a method of printmaking that involves ink and screens, or mesh stencils. Ink is transferred to a base layer or object through a screen, one color at a time, and the final, layered product is put in a dryer to cure the ink. Andy Warhol is often credited with popularizing this technique with his 1960s portraits of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Che Guevara. Neira finds screen printing to be therapeutic because of the repetition of making multiple copies of the same print.
“There is a zen to screen printing, for sure,” Neira says. She’s printed on nylon stockings—a play on the fact that she was in beauty pageants as a child—and says that while she’s always considered herself a conceptual artist, she didn’t actually start thinking about how branding can turn a simple object into a consumer product until she began to screen print.
“Right now, I’m thinking so much about packaging and commodity,” Neira says. “My whole thing is toying with reality. The [‘This Isn’t About You’] installation was like, ‘Here’s my room. It’s not exact. Here’s my life. It’s not exact.’” She’s an “unreliable narrator,” she says, and likes to “manipulate” and “reappropriate” objects and their packaging. “I just kind of look at an object and its purpose and the concept of it,” she says. “It’s a message, right?”
Neira wants her printmaking to play into the signals that objects send. She even catches herself studying the plastic wrapping around rice cakes in the grocery store. “It’s probably not a screen print, but it’s still the same kind of process, color-wise,” she says.
While Neira enjoys the actual practice of printmaking at AIR, she’s also drawn to the sense of community the space provides. Neira has a day job, but AIR offers volunteer opportunities for artists like her to work around 16 hours a month in exchange for a discount on art supplies and use of equipment. Neira’s volunteer work includes open studio nights at AIR, where she helps community members make their own screen prints, and going to outreach events at museums, flea markets, libraries and schools, to represent AIR and demonstrate how to print on t-shirts and tote bags.
“Printmaking has historically been ‘learn by example,’” she says. “I connect a lot with my interns because there’s a satisfaction and a happiness in passing along education that doesn’t have to be this institutionalized thing. Mentorship and knowledge and leadership [are] really powerful.”
Neira thinks of self-care in terms of “personal self-care” and “community self-care,” and for her, AIR checks both boxes.
“I really struggled to find my place as an artist in the city,” she says. “I think a lot of artists struggle with that, whether they admit it or not. There’s self-care in connecting with each other about that. That’s what I find here.”
When Neira isn’t screen printing, she enjoys shopping for specialty snacks fit for a charcuterie board and walking through Riverview Park, the Mexican War Streets or Allegheny West. She’s lived in the same spot for close to a decade, and plans to work at AIR as long as she’s living in the city.
“The Northside has always been important to me,” she says. “As a resource, [AIR] is unmatched for artists in Pittsburgh and for me personally, [it] is my happy place.”
Neira currently has 35mm film photographs on display at SPACE Gallery Downtown through August 4. Her zines can be found at Small Mall on Butler Street in Lawrenceville and her window installation will be on display there from August 5 to 15. Find out more about her at www.natashaneira.com, on Instagram at @natashaneiraonline, or by email at [email protected]. Learn about upcoming classes at AIR at www.artistsimageresource.org.