01 Oct Artist of the Month: Michelle Heron
What is your art practice and what themes are you exploring and why?
My practice has always been about recording my environment. When I lived in London I started to notice the small independent shops – at the time I was a window dresser and I became a bit obsessed with looking at shop windows. Following that, I worked in schools creating displays and began an interest in vintage fonts. I think those two things became imprinted on my mind which then led me to painting these interesting and aesthetically unique scenes. I’m interested in capturing the pockets of life that are overlooked. Since beginning this project I have witnessed many of these shops closing down, something I wasn’t expecting or seeking out when I first began. It’s become a mission now to document them as I think it’s important that I record these places that are disappearing. I want my paintings to be reminders of the past but to also celebrate the shops that are actively surviving gentrification and the internet.
Which artists and movements historically have influenced you?
The first artist that really ignited my love of paint was Lucian Freud. Before I became interested in painting architecture I was painting the human figure. Studying his work I think helped me to really observe colour which has informed my skills today. My work is also heavily influenced by Edward Hopper, I love a strong diagonal shadow and never paint people as I think they take away the mystery of the scene. Another big influence is George Shaw. A tutor introduced his work to me during my degree. I loved his documentary style of the place where he grew up, at the time my work was about suburbia as that was where I grew up. I admire his work ethic (painting for long hours every day) and the emotion and atmosphere he creates using Humbrol enamel paints. It also led me to look more in depth at my environment, the social aspect of the places I paint. I have always been interested in other people’s lives, attitudes and behaviour, maybe a bit like Lucian Freud and his Grandfather!
How important do you think it is that ArtCan is able to offer opportunities for exhibiting outside of the formal gallery structure?
It’s really important to me as I want my paintings to be accessible as they are of places that everyone experiences. Part of the joy I get from painting these shops are hearing the stories from people who knew and grew up with these places on their doorstep. I don’t want that sense of community to end when the shops are destroyed by town planners, I want those people to continue to experience, remember and talk about them. So exhibiting in unconventional spaces where everyone can feel welcome is very important to me.
What is your experience like working with ArtCan?
ArtCan is allowing me to connect more with my peers and that in itself is priceless. It can be quite a lonely experience being a painter so having those connections is helping me to feel supported and that motivates me to work better. It’s also opening up more doors for me to get my work ‘out there’. I really love that ArtCan is inclusive and friendly, I don’t feel like such an outsider. I have struggled in the past to feel like I fit into the traditional art world, exhibitions and competitions become costly to enter with little reward so having ArtCan provide opportunities to exhibit and sell work without commission is a breath of fresh air. I think the gallery model maybe isn’t working well for artists in the current economic environment as artists are seeking ways to have more financial control and fair payment from the way they sell their work whether through artist run art fairs or on social media.
Do you have to balance your art practice with a day job or other work? If so, do you feel this is just the way an artist has to survive these days?
I am very lucky that recently my partner and I decided to move to Italy and the lower cost of living means that I can now paint full time. Previously I was living in London and working a part time job where I was just able to keep my head above water. But it was stressful as being an artist is a full time job and I found it exhausting to stay balanced. I don’t know how artists can thrive in London now, I used to rent a studio in the East End but the rents have increased so much there’s no way I could afford it now. Having more time to paint is already opening more opportunities and the more I do the busier I get! I had to turn down opportunities in the past because I wasn’t able to get the time off from my day job. There is a downside I’ve noticed to not having a day job though, I miss having a foot in the ‘real world’ and meeting people I wouldn’t normally meet, plus there’s more pressure to sell work.
What would be your advice for artists starting out in their careers?
If I could advise any other artists working a full time day job, try to find a way to even just drop one day a week for your art, I did that a few years ago and I noticed a big shift in progress. Plus treat that day like you would a work day starting work at say 8am until 5pm. Keep your head down and believe in yourself but keep working on improving everything you do. I also think try to connect with other artists, social media has made such a difference to me. I joined a group of artists on Instagram last year who are all at similar stages career wise as me and we frequently lean on each other for support, it’s really helped me feel less isolated too and I don’t compare myself so harshly to others now as we’re all going through similar struggles.