Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I am a British artist originally from North Yorkshire, currently living and working in London. I started my art education at Leeds College of Art, completing an art foundation year and I have now recently graduated from Central Saint Martins in BA Fine Art.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
Having a very artistic family has allowed me to be surrounded in a creative environment my whole life. I remember when I was very young we would go down to London to see exhibitions at the Tate or The Royal Academy of Arts, and I knew even then I wanted lots of people to see my work. I think I realised from a very early age I wanted to be a painter and to ultimately make my family proud.
What do you like most about working where you do?
Growing up in a very small town to then be introduced to the vibrant city of London, I knew one day I would live there. Now 4 years have gone by living in London and I love the city even more. It is hard not to be inspired in such a multicultural place, with endless opportunities and more exhibitions you can even imagine. It is an incredibly exciting time and place to make work and I am grateful to be surrounded by great people, works and ideas.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
Starting my artistic journey I used to create very realistic paintings, mainly portraits. Although this was something I used to really enjoy, I eventually realised copying a photograph wasn’t testing my artistic skills at all. Still trying to keep the detail and precision in my practice, I am now exploring ways to paint meticulous hard-edge geometry. Focusing on colour, form, space, architecture and environments.
What is your process like?
I am a very meticulous person and do like to plan a lot of my paintings. However, I test and experiment a lot before starting to plan. I really do believe accidents and unexpected elements of the work cause something much more interesting than the initial thought. It takes time. I initially use photography to represent my surroundings, then produce abstracted digital drawings or sketches using compositions from the images. Typically my work can take as long to plan and prepare, than the actual painting itself. It can take me several months to complete work or as little as a couple of days, and I like to work on a few different pieces to vary what I am doing.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
I am really interested in Minimalism at the moment, from researching and being inspired by minimal art it has allowed my practice to develop a lot recently. Focusing on simple forms of colour whilst also pushing the boundaries of paint and exploring the crossover of two-dimensional and three-dimensional. The most influential book I have recently read was Michael Fried, Art and Objecthood. An essay written in response to artworks of Minimalists exploring the creative boundaries of painting and sculpture. This allowed me to focus more on the minimalistic qualities of my work, appreciating simple forms and shapes. While gaining new perspectives on how to create work thinking more about materials, size, space and the effect the art has on the viewer.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
Probably saying yes to a residency halfway across the world without any details…
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
Living in London means I will always have to juggle part-time jobs on the side of creating art (hopefully not forever though). I have worked in retail, galleries, art fairs and I am now a freelance mural artist for restaurants. Working freelance is ideal for me at the moment, as it gives me the freedom to work as much or as little as I need while focusing purely on my art. And the mural work is even helping me develop my practice in a new and exciting way, allowing me to present my work in new spaces and surfaces, allowing me to work on briefs and deadlines giving me the structure to carry on with my art in a different way.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
Someone once told me If you feel comfortable with what you are doing, it is time to change what you are doing. The best things happen when you are pushed out of your comfort zone. As much as I disagreed with this at the time, it is something that has definitely influenced my practice over the years.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
Trust your own judgement, you have to believe in yourself and your work or no one else will.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
I believe it is extremely important to have a community. Being an artist can make you feel very isolated so it is important to keep a sense of community to allow you to feel apart of something together. Opportunities can also open up and is great to be surrounded by like-minded creatives that can inspire and help each other. It is also very important to gain diverse feedback from other artists and is crucial to develop your own practice, instead of just doing what you know, other people can teach you so much.
What is your studio like?
I have recently finished University, so I am currently creating work in my bedroom which isn’t ideal but I will be hopefully getting a studio very soon…however, it can be very difficult to find a nice inexpensive studio in London.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
Although I didn’t find art school the easiest, my work really wouldn’t be where it is now if I hadn’t attended. It is opened my understanding and supplied me with contacts and friends. Art school has also given me the determination to sustain and expand my practice much further. I really do believe this is just the beginning. I haven’t done an MFA, I have been in education for a long time and I am excited to see what I can achieve in the next few years without doing one. I believe there are other ways to network, build communities and get your work out there without an MFA. But never say never…I might want to in a few years.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Probably the most daunting and challenging aspect of pursuing art is the financial uncertainty. It is pushing your passion into a career and that isn’t easy, or everyone would do it!!
How would you define “success” in art?
Success is extremely different for everyone. For me, I want to feel confident about the work I am making and to gain positive feedback. Also If I could exhibit work in New York…then in my eyes, I have made it.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
Since finishing my degree, I have been lucky enough to have work in galleries in London as well as recently having work for sale in an auction. This was very exciting but nerve-racking and would love to be involved in many more in the future. I have also recently been shortlisted for the Hix Award and ACS Studio Prize, all have been extremely rewarding and exciting and I am so honoured to be selected.
What are you working on right now?
I am ultimately working on getting a new studio so I can develop my work further. But I am also working on some exciting murals coming very soon.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for giving artists this great opportunity to share their work.
Find more at melissahartleyart.com and on Instagram @melissahartleyart!
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