In the first of a new series of interviews with our Artists who were due to be exhibiting at the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead - gallery director Gina Cross asks Marie Lenclos a few questions about her work and response to the recent unexpected events and its impact on her practice
Gina: Hi Marie, thanks for taking the time out from painting to answer some questions. For those who may not know your work well yet - please can you tell us a bit about your work and your approach to the subject matter.
Marie: A collector once wrote this about my work: "Your depiction of light is a vital part of your practice. Across all of your paintings, be they interior or exterior, urban or rural, light seems to shine across and out of the canvases".
To me this is a wonderful explanation of my work. These paintings are the result of years and years of being aware of my surroundings and conscious of the way I am looking at the city around me. Some years ago I was a documentary videomaker and I got used to framing things all the time, even without a camera. I'd be walking around and suddenly see something and think: 'that would make a good shot'. Now, I see something and I think: “there’s a painting in that".
My approach – I use photographs as a starting point, to capture that moment of seeing when lines, light, colours and shapes all fall into an order that makes sense to me. The painting itself develops over the drawing stage, where I make marks on the canvas with a biro. Reality is simplified, and perspectives become my own. Then I spend a lot of time on the colour, the gradients and the light, working and reworking areas in relation to each other. The result I’m looking for is to create a sort of unique stillness from the urban chaos. My paintings are like long exposure photographs, intensifying colours and removing traces of people and activity, allowing the observer to contemplate the interplay of colour, light and form in the physical environments we inhabit. Some viewers report an experience of calmness, of warmth, of serenity, whilst others feel a sense of unrest and anticipation.
Gina : How have you had to adapt your life and practice due to the lockdown?
Marie: I normally paint from a wonderful studio in a railway arch a few minutes from my home in Loughborough Junction. I love my studio, it’s filled with light. There’s around 15 of us there – artists, illustrators, animators, sculptors and makers. When I took the studio around 4 years ago it was a massive gamble, I had just restarted painting after many years break. It was a 'room of my own', a space where I hoped to explore painting a day or two a week. This quickly grew to become 6 or 7 days a week!
Apart from giving me a precious space away from the family home, the studio had become a community, a place where I got to learn from the other artists, their motivations, their drive, their struggles sometimes. The human element was as strong as the joy of painting. Since the lockdown, I've rehoused my studio at home, in my living-room, where I paint by the window. Initially I brought back a few tubes of paint, a few brushes, and small canvasses. I was hesitant, upset, angry, scared – all the emotions people were experiencing at that time were alive. It was at times disturbing and dark, but I trusted the process. I knew if I kept painting at least I would feel productive and that some contentment would come from that. It worked, I brought back more things from the studio, even my little chair and my easel. This made a massive difference – I was in a different space, but at least the physical experience of painting started to resemble my normal studio set-up. I began to relax and surrender to the work. It’s still hard, I no longer have a room of my own, but I make it work. We all have to make it work.
Gina : Since the recent events, has your approach to your work altered and if so, how and why ?
Marie: Yes, my work has altered. Initially, I couldn’t concentrate on anything, so I decided to do very small paintings with lots of tiny little details. This imposed technical challenge created a space in my mind, allowing me to forget about the events happening in the world.
Around the same time, Matthew Burrows started the Artist Support Pledge on Instagram. It was a simple idea, born from the worrying reality many artists were facing: shows cancelled, work postponed, teaching scrapped. His idea was that artists would offer work for sale for no more than £200 a piece, and when they'd sold £1000 of work, they would pledge to buy another artist's work for £200. I thought I'd give it a go.
Suddenly I had a purpose and a goal: support the artist community whilst supporting myself. The response has been amazing. I am struck by the need for people to surround themselves with original art, beautiful unique art in these times of unrest.
So my work at the moment is driven by making small paintings which I can sell through the pledge, alongside trying to make other paintings for commissions or this online show. I am consciously using this time as a chance to refine my technique and improve precision. I call it ‘slow painting’: the more intricate the work, the slower I have to be, the more relaxed I feel. As always, my focus is light and colour – the smaller format does not change that – but, it concentrates my efforts.
Gina: Are there positives that you have gained from this current experience?
Marie: Lots of positives have come from my current experience of the lockdown. Apart from feeling more than ever part of the artist community, I have established hundreds of new connections with art lovers. I have had wonderful exchanges with people who have liked my work, commenting on it, writing to me about the feelings they experience through my paintings.
I have always been hard working, but the lockdown has given the word a new meaning: with shows postponed and no other available work, it's now a true question of survival and self reliance. I feel stronger in my decision to be an artist, and realise that I need to paint more than I ever thought possible. If I can keep doing what I love doing, and make people feel truly better in the process, then we're all winning.
Gina: What are you most looking forward to doing creatively once you have more freedom to move around ?
Marie: I most look forward to resuming my normal working routine at the studio, surrounded by all the other artists there. I also look forward to all the shows I was due to take part in happening, hopefully in the Autumn. Shows are a wonderful way to meet collectors and chat face to face, gaining an insight into why people like my work. And I also look forward to being able to immerse myself in longer term large works, a thing I cannot do at the moment.
Gina: Thank you Marie - I'm really pleased to be showing your work in the online show - it's not the same as the real life shows but like many of us, I'm truly grateful for technology being able to help support the work of Artists and Creative businesses.