Marion Michell is an artist who likes to explore the moods and atmosphere of life’s journey, childhood memories and all the anxieties of the developing mind!  Marion creates concept driven art that is always engaging and often challenging, probing the unconsciousness and exploring the depths of reality.  Marion’s reality has had difficulties, health issues that have effected her mobility, this has had an impact on her practice.  Depicting work that at first glance looks innocent but with closer inspection you find layers of meaning and are called to think beyond conventional boundaries  Photographic, post memory and childhood explorations feature heavily in her work, delving into reasons and reactions at every step. 

Emotion, memories and physicality, art that always displays personality, standing on the edge connecting the known and the unknown.  We loved Marion’s Art and her writing; the superb blog  ‘Sleep-drunk I dance ‘ you get the strong sense of communication, a sense that is heightened through circumstance, Marion is an exceptionally emotive artist able to produce work that is thoughtful and strives towards breaking down the barriers of the physical and mental sensibilities.  Art that commands attention, art that is able to move you on so many levels, art that pushes you into thinking about yourself, others, family and life.

Marion has had an impressive career, graduating from Central St Martins School of Art and Design in critical fine art and has worked in mixed media  exhibiting internationally in both solo and group shows. She is without a doubt ambitious and continues to find a language that mixes the visual and her incredible way of displaying beauty in the everyday, imperfect but exceptionally wonderful world that we all live in!   Thank you so much Marion for sharing your thoughts and art with us!

If you could own one work of art what would it be?

At every exhibition I go to I choose a piece I’d like to take home with me. I saw the Gerhard Richter retrospective at Tate Modern 2011 and longed to sneak out with Betty, 1988. But the piece that still haunts me and is relevant to my present work is Aunt Marianne, 1965 (based on a family photograph from 1932) where something is revealed, to him, to us, something he knew, without knowing. To me the painting exudes an icy air and a sense of fathomless mourning. It shows two children, the older one, Marianne Schönfelder, aged 14, and baby Richter…

I read later that Richter had not been aware that Marianne, who was institutionalized following a diagnosis of schizophrenia, was forcibly sterilized and later killed as part of the Nazis’ euthanasia programme. He only found out when a journalist researched her background. Recalling the impact the painting had on me I can’t help but think that Richter, who was a boy when Marianne died, knew something although she was not talked about in his family. Children do pick up on atmospheres and silences, don’t they, and obscurely carry what they glean. Some of that is in his painting – it speaks to me about the power of art, communicating more than we can ever say. In a strange way this is a history-painting: its blurry, unfocused mode lets something swim to the surface of German history as if from a murky pool.  The strangeness of the tiny fist seemingly boring through the surface reminds me of Barthes’ punctum – it pierces me, even when looking at the small card I’ve got next to me as I write.

How would you describe your style?

I don’t think I have a style, let myself be led by whatever I’m exploring. The consistency lies in the kind of sensitivity I bring to my projects, and an often obsessive engagement in both thinking and making… My work is concept-driven. I started out making video-installations, but due to health-problems had to change media. For a long while my art touched on childhood, on growing up and its anxieties – exploring memory as much as physical experience. I crocheted dresses from artificial hair, intense and a bit scary in a fairy-tale sort of way; built up shoes from the lightest of materials (tissue and Japan paper); and made outfits, where unexpected shapes sit comfortably with ‘normal’ ones. All at first glance imbued with a degree of innocence, not least in the work’s small-scale and its focus on childhood, but anchored in and evocative of bodily things, instinct, desire, pleasure, pain. In due course the shapes became freer, stranger, and at the same time more concentrated. All this set in tension with the softness and quaintness of crochet – something wild and excessive works through and against the contained, controlled material.  Lately I’ve branched out into photography, collage and assemblage. I’m in an experimental mood, searching for new processes, widening the scope of my practice in terms of media and vocabulary.

Where are your favourite places to view art?

It has to be Tate Modern, as it belongs to a rarefied group of museums/galleries whose politics of access include the loan of an electro-scooter on which I can whizz about (relatively speaking for someone whose steps are at best teetering and exceedingly slow – speeding across Turbine hall’s empty expanse at 10am is part of the pleasure). Otherwise I need someone to push me in a wheelchair, and I do rather like to engage with art at my own pace. I have a hankering for exploring galleries on a self-propelled, crimson-coloured divan on wheels, when no-one else is around, zooming in on work which I too often just see in passing.

Who are your favourite artists and why?

Louise Bourgeois rocks my boat; the boldness and scope of her art astounds me. She consistently and relentlessly circled her themes (female desire, aggression, guilt, fear, love and its pitfalls, pain, conflict, compulsion – the stuff of (psychic) life and death), round and round again, like those tapering spirals she made part of her vocabulary, without ever getting to a point of resolution. Nor meaning to.

Her work can be rude, tender, brutal, explicit, soft, tough, secretive… Often disturbing, and funny too.  Memory was her draw-well until last. She probed old wounds, greedy for their prick, the quickening of her, laid fault-lines bare, and without fail produced compelling, beautifully constructed work, in a multitude of media and scale. I’d love to move into one of her cells, hung with garments which came down to her from previous generations, or which she’d kept from younger years, to work in. It might augment my own processes of recall.

Other artists whose work is firmly lodged in my mind: Eva Hesse, Doris Salcedo, Christian Boltanski, and, more recently, Ishiuchi Miyako, who photographed her mother in the years before her death and later the clothes, dentures and make-up utensils she left behind. I find her work haunting, beautiful, devastating even.

There are close-ups of her mom’s aged, scarred skin; images of kimonos, shoes, lipsticks and, most affectingly: undergarments so delicate and of a transparency akin to skin stretched over a frame, and – although entirely old-womanly – inhabited by the spectre of desire and other matters of the flesh. History throws black shadows too. The sense of vulnerability and mortality, decay, is overwhelming. And of exposure, nakedness, although we never see the mother’s face or figure.

What or who inspires your art?

Grimm’s fairy tales played a big part in my earlier work and still seep into my practice. Greek myths too have been with me since childhood, and I keep returning to them, or they to me. I’ve forgotten so much of what I’ve read over the years, but at times just when I’m in need something comes to me. Cassandra, with her tarnished gift of prophecy, is my favourite mythical figure – in the chaos of war she foretells the future of Troy, but is not believed (the artist’s lot?).  A while ago, when I was grappling with the fact that there is so much I never asked my dad who died in 2002, esp. about his childhood in 30s’ Germany, I recalled that Aeneas, whom Cassandra loved, enlisted a Sybil’s help (another prophetess!) as a guide into the world of the dead, in order to consult with his late father. It helped me formulate something about the impossibility of doing more than conjure up, evoke, imagine that kind of communion, and the importance of just that. I feel lucky: Through art we engage with other realms, cross borders or at least peer over thresholds. In my bolder moments I consider myself a Cassandra-in-reverse.  I also draw from poems and novels, remembered film-snippets, my art-books, and have an ear almost constantly glued to the radio, ready to note down a fragment of an idea or link or question. Through my blog I have made close contact with other artists – these conversations nurture and inspire me.  Books by W.G. Sebald, Walter Benjamin and David Grossman accompany me at this stage…

Where’s your studio and what’s it like?

Due to ill-health I work from home – my art grows around me, slowly, steadily. There is always something going on, something new developing. Of course I would much prefer to occupy a studio, wish I could see other artists at work, share in discussions, mutual support, exchange of information, be part of a community of sorts. And I long for a space that is just for my art, where I can spread out and play; splash about and leave things lying; place work and access without furniture and home-life getting in the way.

Through adapting my practice I have managed a kind of continuity though, beyond the before/after falling ill-threshold. Over the years I’ve found ways of connecting with other artists, mostly on-line. Writing a blog (Sleep-drunk I dance) has been instrumental and I’ve come to see it as a virtual studio-space. Although I’ve had top spot in a-n’s art-blogs top ten for a while now it’s taken rather longer to get beyond the feeling that I’m holding monologues. It is thrilling that my art-life has begun to be enhanced through a web of intense and meaningful conversations. I am enriched by the thoughtful feedback I receive, for art and writing. It helps me reflect on my practice, contextualize, and draws my explorations into wider contexts. I’ve longed for this kind of communication.


Do you have any studio rituals?

Not really.  Art and life are inseparable. If at all possible I will have a tiny thing on the go, even when on my last metaphorical leg: one squiggly line describing a knee on the back of a bill; a thin strand of hair threaded through the eye of a needle, ready to pierce through a photograph; a small dress cut from an autumn leaf, its curly stalk making it dance… Or I defer and write a note, put to paper the flash of an idea, which I might or might not take up when I feel a bit more energy. And when I do good things happen. I build slowly, stitch by stitch, letter by letter. Focus is of the essence.

What are you working on currently?

While still at art-college I fell into memory when I found a small pair of uneven shoes on a Berlin flea-market, stuffed with yellowing newsprint from 1941. On winded roads they have led me to my present post-memory project. For me, born and raised in Germany, memory beyond my own experiences is inextricably tied up with the stunning weight of fascism and the holocaust. I started by exploring photographs of my dad as a teenage-soldier/PoW in WWII. He was one in a long line of soldier-fathers/husbands/sons who came home changed and never talked about their experiences. In the last years of his life he often seemed on the brink of speech – words withered on his tongue. That he couldn’t, wouldn’t get them out was painful to behold. In a way I’ve inherited this project from him.

The photographs sway deliriously between public and private spheres. I consider their shifting meaning, and their passage to me. I’ve become, or rather, declared myself, their care-taker, and find I’m constantly trying to weigh up if and how to use them, to give history its due, and my father his. I work with copies I’ve made, make collages, stitch into and over the images, trying to bring material and haptic qualities to them – my eyes are not enough, finger-tips need to shape and trace, to emphasise and erase and uncover again.  Because of a lack of heirlooms I’ve begun to produce my own memory-objects, fascinated by the shifting sands between authenticity and fabrication. Can these objects (acquired and/or hand-made), their sensory details, yield to my purpose and stimulate memory? I let them stand in for what hasn’t come down to me – objects from my father’s childhood which I could touch, explore, tell stories through. My favourite is a small sailor’s suit from the 1930s, bought on ebay because of a photo of my dad as a young boy wearing just such a suit. I make connections, look at uniforms, masculinity, the militarization of childhood.

Mostly I cast careful sideways glances at history, focus on small details so I can bear looking at the greater picture. And yet it takes me to my limit. I often wonder how I can begin to think that my small pieces could hold the weight of history. Writing has become vital in this context. In fact art-making and writing have become completely intertwined (see my blog Sleep-drunk I dance), feed of and enhance each other. Through this project I’ve moved away from making finished discreet pieces, placing the constant unfolding of purpose and process at the centre of my art-practice.

Where can we buy your art?

Directly from me.

What are your ambitions?

About this I am not ambivalent: I am a professional artist and want my work to stand up in any context. That my physical limitations are real and affect my art-practice is secondary as far as the quality of the work is concerned. The art should be the centre from which everything else radiates – How does it engage, challenge, move? How can it be contextualized, how does it communicate meaning, where does its beauty reside? However I do miss out on regular direct contact with other artists, on seeing shows, going to talks, seminars, workshops, on networking and finding ways to place my work. My art has at best limited visibility.  Illness and disability can place people outside the art-loop and I need to find ways of addressing that.  It’s a fact: at present my work travels better than I do! I see my pieces and my writing as emissaries into the world. On the other hand I keep wrestling with the same questions – How do I connect into the art-world? How do I get my work seen? How do I build and sustain relationships with art-professionals and audiences? I’m not sure I feel part of a community, but at least I hover at its frayed edges. Need to start somewhere.

Art/work, art/hope, art/pleasure: way to go.

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