one to watch
Performance Ready: Michelle Wickland’s Intuitive Compositions
Abstract artist Michelle Wickland always knew she would lead a creative life, from picking up and moving to London to pursue formal art training to decades in the film industry. Michelle graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design with a BA in Textile Design with a minor in Printmaking. She now uses her experience with photography and blueprints to create improvisational compositions that allow the viewer to connect with her emotions and memories. Since 2018, Michelle has participated in multiple exhibitions in the greater London area.
Tell us who you are and what you do. What is your past? what is your thought?
I am originally from Derby but moved to London to study at an art school over 30 years ago and have never left. Growing up in a non-artistic northern family environment made me even more eager to branch out into the big world and find my dream. Some people would describe it as escaping. When I was asked when I was young what I wanted to be, I would always say, “I don’t know, but it won’t be boring and it won’t be normal.”
Shortly after leaving university, I began my journey into the wonderful world of wardrobe, working on television, film and theater projects. I felt a real belonging within the industry and stayed there for over 20 years. Finally, I gave in to the overwhelming urge to return to my first passion: art. Explore my own creativity and style in my own unique way.
What is your work trying to say? What are the main themes you pursue in your work? Can you share an example of a job that demonstrates this?
I am a contemporary abstract artist inspired by the colors and shapes of nature and the world around me. My fascination with finding contrasts within my surroundings and how they can evoke emotions when they least expect it leads me to bold and vibrant abstract pieces. There really isn’t a pressing point in my work that is completely on point. Many artists tell a great story or have strong opinions represented in their work. I am not that artist. I am an artist who is carried away by the feeling of the process. I am an artist who sees and realizes the everyday things that inspire me to start a project. I see my work as an arrangement of shapes and color.
I feel strongly that art doesn’t need to be meaningful to be good. Yes, meaningful art has its place and is extremely important in the world, but so is art that can make you feel calm, content, and happy just by being so. My art is a journey from one point to another, from A to Z with many intermediate stages. It’s a personal mindset, a window into what I’m thinking as I paint and where each mark will take me next. Bob Dylan wrote: “The best art is meaningless.” I love this.
Can you explain your process to create a work from start to finish?
My collections are often inspired by and begin with a series of my own photographs that capture the beauty and simplicity of the world. Very often these show harsh, angular industrial landscapes juxtaposed with the uncertainty of the ever-changing nature that surrounds them. It could be the empty space around a ceiling or a shadow on a wall. I then distill my compositions down to their raw, abstract, and engaging interpretation through mixed media, collage, sketching, and painting. I move from my initial sketches and collages to a more abstract concept. My thought process becomes a stream of conscious decisions that flow from one to the next, pushing each idea and concept onto the next. Without mark one I wouldn’t make it to mark ten.
I have recently been photographing buildings in London. I then create blueprints of these and paint or draw on top of them. I have combined and layered them to create new beginnings for a new set of paintings. Collecting all my new ideas, I will start painting, creating a more abstract set of oil and mixed media pieces. However, my vision will always change with the process, so I can never predict what I will end up with.
Who are your biggest influences and why?
My art teacher at school said to me, “Michelle, can you imagine making art every day?” I said, “No, how is that possible?” She said: “Go to university and study art and you will find a job that allows you to create and do something artistic every day.” I think she knew that this wasn’t the world I came from or that this wasn’t even a concept she would have thought possible. From that moment I knew what she was going to do. This teacher has been the biggest influence on my artistic career.
My first artistic influence was Andy Goldsworthy for his innovative sculptures within nature. I think he inspired me to open my eyes to my surroundings and the environment. My other inspirations are Anish Kapoor for his changing colors, Maria Bartuszova for her years of pushing his ideas and Andreas Gursky for his ability to see something beautiful in everyday life and be able to capture it.
How do you expect viewers to respond to your works? What do you want them to feel?
I much prefer listening to them telling me what they think than me telling them what I painted. I suggest it may be whatever they see. I am most moved when the viewer sees something in the painting, how it can bring back memories and feelings, and what it has evoked in his own creative imagination. I’m happy not to tell the viewer how it started if they don’t ask.
Do you prefer to work with music or in silence?
I must listen to music. Ever since I had a kid, I’ve always been on a timer, I always have somewhere else to be, and I always have so much to do, so it’s nice to unplug and block out everything else. I’ve found that once I start a project by listening to a particular album or playlist, I have to listen to the same songs over and over again. If I change my music, it puts me in a totally different headspace and my artwork changes course when I don’t want to. It’s been many months of listening to the same thing. A new set of songs comes with a new set of paintings.
If you couldn’t be an artist, what would you do?
If I couldn’t be an artist, I would go back to the film industry. I could say that I have been lucky enough to achieve two things that I love. But if art or film weren’t an option, I would work with children in some way. I look back on my choices and think if I hadn’t had the option to go to art school, I should have enlisted in the military.
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