Marielle Hehir (b.1986) is an artist currently based in Manchester, UK. Since graduating in 2009 with a first class honours in Fine art painting, Marielle has won awards, appeared in various publications and exhibited extensively in the UK and internationally. She works from her studio at Bankley and in September 2014 will start her MA studies in painting at the Slade.
Q1. In your statement you talk about how you draw inspiration from the experience of nostalgia, the precarious nature of the present and our apprehension for the future. How did this side-wards glance at our needs for sentimentality and security come about in your work?
I’m a particularly melancholic person, I remember the past in great detail. The future is a space, which scares and excites me equally. The present is a state of flux in-between these two conditions. The awareness of and lack of control over time passing rapidly whilst I struggle to keep on track is consistently at the forefront of my thinking. There’s a daily battle of my ambition versus current condition.
Over the past few years I have traveled as much as possible in order to experience cultures that differ from the one I have sprung from. Travel is obviously eye opening and a catalyst for change in thought habits, but is also often a humbling experience. Either way it has become crucial to the development of my work.
I think my own sentimentality combined with an appreciation of life in all its forms is the seed here. We are finite and life is precious, fragile.
Essentially, I get a tad paranoid over the old ‘so much to do so little time’ saying. Whenever I start to think along this track, things I need to do start to pile up, multiply even. Be it countries I need to visit, books I need to read, people I need to speak to, anything. It becomes this scary, loud, crushing bombardment of stuff, which if I let it, would cease to make sense. It is this sense of overwhelming that I am definitely trying to convey in my work.
Of course, finding other artists whom deal with similar concerns has only encouraged me along this particular path. Fiona Rae has been a big influence on me, firstly for the way she uses her painterly language to build intense battlegrounds loaded with tensions on her canvases. But her interests lie in what it is to exist now and musings on future conditions.
Q2. Your paintings draw architecture, graffiti, and graphic design (amongst other things) together with anatomical forms. These human references are rather fleshy and sensual but also somewhat concealed in other pieces and I wondered if your motivations were partly psychoanalytical?
Of all the visual codes that find their way into my work, I felt that the introduction of anthropomorphic forms tied it all together somewhat. I want to give a nod to the human footprint and the part it plays in the mess of existence, where consequences can be good or bad.
I wouldn’t say the motivation is psychoanalytical. But I am interested in experimenting with the layers of time, memory and conscious. Whilst painting I’m far too aware in what I’m laying down on the canvas and how the order of ingredients is going to affect the reading of the painting. There’s a whole sense of mischief that comes from this power of control. My decision to manipulate what the viewer is eventually going to see, in what order, in what proportion is essentially me playing. The layering and sometimes deliberated, sometimes accidental act of painting over sections to block out information, brings a sense of freedom to the act of painting. For example I might spend days painting an excruciatingly detailed pattern, only to paint over half of it a week later. I see these transient conditions as a metaphor for the temporary nature of existence.
Sometimes it feels as though the unseen within my compositions becomes more powerful than what is seen. I’m interested in provoking curiosity in the viewer of course, but also a sense of confusion and unease through absurd combinations of visuals, or as Freud would put it, the uncanny. All aspects within my work are abstracted, clues toward a reading, so I was never going to add wholly figurative forms to the picture. I really love Jacob’s Ladder, the film, for its portrayal of Jacob’s grotesque hallucinations. It got me looking into body horror techniques, and ways I could introduce part human forms to my work. Visually these techniques used in Jacobs Ladder are reminiscent of a Francis Bacon painting, and the director has cited Bacon as an influence, as do I. Bacon is, after all the master of a macabre abstraction of human form through painting. Then we’ve got Scott Walker’s The Drift, the feeling of discomfort whilst or after listening to that album is what I want to touch on with my work, (though perhaps not to quite such a horrific level). It’s a bizarre listening experience, with an unsettling rhythm. Walker makes obscure noises in obscure ways, like punching meat for example. This addition of an unfamiliar entity within the composition completely destroys any sense of security we could hope to feel. Because of the unseen, you can’t quite know exactly what’s going on or why, which is what makes it so compelling.
Q3. You’re off to the Slade in September to do your MA which is our loss and their gain. What are you hoping to get out of your time there and what parts of your current practice are you looking forward to taking further?
Well I’m looking forward to relocating in London. That in itself is going to be interesting, as environment certainly affects the process and resulting work. I’m prepared to see my work develop and change. It’s an exciting but nerve-wracking feeling. There is going to be a whole new level of input, which will alter my path. I talk about my work a lot with my peers, but this can be sporadic. I’m looking forward to mixing with a bunch of painters on a daily basis, where conversation regarding painting is constant. Communication and critique is so important to my work. I see the paintings themselves as a form of communication, so without engagement they cease to realize their full potential.
I’m looking forward to experimenting, and to a shake up basically. I think scale wise its all going to get bigger. Past few years my canvases haven’t been to the scale I’d really like them to be, mostly because of my moving around and the limits of whatever space I was working in at the time. It was a challenge to try to work small, which worked to a satisfactory degree but nothing more. But there were times when this has felt like a compromise, so that’s going to stop!
I’ve been working with irregular shaped canvas, it has become a main driving force behind my work. I design and make the stretchers myself, its all part of it to me. Not long ago I was making stretchers using slats from an old bed using a mitre saw on my kitchen floor. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to getting into the wood workshops at the Slade and using the power tools to my full advantage. I think my work will become far more ambitious. I’m interested with how a shaped canvas affects the reading of what is painted on the canvas, and also how the negative space around the canvas seems to interact with it, the borders of the work seem to become ambiguous. These spatial concerns will definitely be explored in my work over the coming months. I see the work moving into other dimensions, becoming more sculptural. Perhaps even installation. Its exciting. Who knows what will happen. Come see me in London to find out!