For the French-born, Truro-based multimedia artist Nathalie Ferrier, artmaking is inextricable from place. She greeted me outside her home, barefoot, for a tour down the sandy path on which she takes a ritualistic stroll most mornings. It winds back past the hive where she’s spent years honing her beekeeping skills, through sandy shrubs, before opening up to an ocean overlook.
“This has been the most creative place I’ve lived,” says Ferrier. Before moving her family to Truro full-time in 1999, she spent years in Paris and New York.
But her upcoming show at Wellfleet’s Farm Projects, “Mapping the Magic,” has its roots in Miami, where Ferrier has spent time during the past five winters. The show runs from Sept. 1 to 11 with an opening from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 2.
“I’m a Pisces, and I’ve always been extremely water-oriented and attracted,” Ferrier says. Miami, where the tides are extreme and beaches proliferate, nurtured that affinity. With the barrier islands spanning its coast and the Gulf Stream producing year-round warmth, it’s a city where water prevails. “Once I got there, it was just, ‘Oh my goodness, I need to create those maps,’ ” says Ferrier.
Wading through the water, Ferrier found her steps hindered by “big blocks of coral,” which she kept stepping on, each one different from the next. Ferrier began a daily practice of coral drawing that took on each specimen’s idiosyncrasies in texture and shape.
“What makes me really interested in them is the fact that they are so fragile, but at the same time, they are the testimony of what has happened on Earth for so many, many, many years,” Ferrier says. It’s not the first time she has been inspired by organic matter: on her wall hang her interpretations of human organs that verge on the supernatural.
Ferrier’s renderings of the fossilized corals, which will take center stage at her Farm Projects show, are labyrinthine and brain-like in their concentric loops: an aesthetic take on natural history’s material remains. Each is its own testament to aesthetic links in nature. Where one might see a brain, Ferrier sees something dental in the rendering: “a molar,” she says of one. “What’s interesting, what’s beautiful, is that whenever you take your microscope and you start looking deeper, you see a resemblance in everything.”
Although the works are done primarily in acrylic ink on loose dropcloths, Ferrier considers her coral interpretations to be drawings more than paintings. Indeed, some of her maps are laced with tightly looping nests of pen ink. The details of Ferrier’s tiny circles have an almost bacterial effect on the work: as if its component parts are being viewed through a magnifying lens.
“Everything I do gets very intricate, and people say, ‘That’s really weird, you must like to suffer,’ ” Ferrier says. “But in fact, for me, it’s a little bit like yoga.” There is a rhythm between line and breath.
Currently an adjunct instructor at Cape Cod Community College and the director of Higgins Art Gallery there, Ferrier graduated from the Paris School of Fashion and Design and had an early career in haute couture. There, stitching was critical to her work.
Her career shifted when she moved to Truro and completed her M.F.A. at Mass. College of Art and Design. There was a time, Ferrier recalls, when she tried to pry herself away from thread and sewing, elements of her days in couture that she felt she should shed as she broadened her artistic horizons. But that effort waned as Ferrier’s new works took on a woven element of their own.
In her studio, a “blanket” intricately woven like a spider web holds objects that range from tea bags to mustard lids to molding bread. Each object is meticulously threaded in. Nearby, a box of corn starch that was “too pretty to trash” became Ferrier’s breeding ground for an amigurumi: a bulbous three-dimensional crocheted figure that hangs over its side.
Before relocating to Truro, Ferrier had a stint as proprietor of a toy company in New York. Her many forays into art and craft — and to her, the line separating the two isn’t so clear — may have something to do with why so few materials are outside her scope.
Another Miami map, inky and cellular in bleeding tempera blues and oranges and yellows, seems at once microscopic and zoomed out, like a satellite image of rivers winding through rough terrain. On that piece, Ferrier has sewn haphazard camouflaging buttons that jut like isles from its surface. She tells of a pull to three dimensions when making it, which isn’t rare for her. There’s a constraint to two dimensions that heightens the appeal of loose flowing cloth as canvas. That piece is circumscribed by an ornate, doily-esque crochet job, which, on top of resisting the limits of 2-D, is another emblem of Ferrier’s attachment to thread.
Incorporating objects like buttons also helps as Ferrier decides how to mount her works for display. That way, she says, “I don’t feel completely violated by the frame.” And the impetus for buttons also had to do with coral’s innate organic fragility: “What do we do to protect the body?” she muses.
Although this most recent collection pulls from Miami’s corals, Ferrier is engaged in perpetual artistic mapmaking. She’s constantly sketching as she moves about the natural world here: trees, water, paths.
But where most maps make sense of a place in two dimensions, Ferrier’s cartography usually starts within those bounds and then stirs them. In a series of tree sketches where leaf textures range from spiky to softly bristled like pine to smoothly glossy — a shocking range of effects given that the series is done all in black pen — Ferrier wanted to mark routes and paths within the drawing. She wound up taking on an improvised origami in which she worked the paper into three dimensions using careful folds, slices, and bends.
Ever a lover and maker of maps, Ferrier says, “I cannot deal with 2-D.”
Between Line and Breath
The event: ‘Mapping the Magic,’ works by Nathalie Ferrier
The time: Sept. 1 through 11; opening reception Saturday, Sept. 2, 5 to 7 p.m.
The place: Farm Projects, 355 Main St., Wellfleet
The cost: Free