Colourful and complex
Laura Cartledge finds a Bexhill-on-Sea artist who doesn’t just reflect the world in her work – she creates it.
A sense of place has inspired artists for generations with William Blake, John Constable and JMW Turner among those who have captured Sussex on canvas.
Following in this tradition, but giving it her own distinctive twist, is Bexhill-on-Sea artist Michelle Roberts.
Her bright pieces range in subject from the Hastings marathon and Bexhill Memorial Day celebrations to the Diamond Jubilee, while ‘Musicians’ – inspired by a trip to see a London show – saw Michelle selected as an Outside In: National Award Winner in 2012.
It is clear the destination is as important as the journey for Michelle with each intricate creation taking around three months to create.
However she does only work on them for one day a week at Hastings’ Project Art Works; a charity which pioneers visual arts ventures for individuals with profound neurological impairments.
As Matthew Pitts, the projects’ creative programme manager, explains: “Artistic practice is beneficial to all people as a way of expressing and reflecting upon on our experience of the world.”
And it seems this is exactly how Michelle uses her work.
“It makes her feel very happy when she is painting, and she has lots of ideas in her head trying to come out,” agrees Michelle’s mother Jennie.
“We cannot really put into words how it has benefited Michelle. It is the main way she has to express herself.
“She’s always drawing, even at home,” Jennie adds. “She sits down with my two and a half year old granddaughter, who will say ‘Michelle, draw me a tree’ or ‘draw me a house’.
“When each of the grandchildren were born, Michelle did them a picture.
“They’re both totally different,” she explains. “And each morning the children will say they’ve seen something new in their picture. The two and a half year old sees something new every single day.”
This wealth of detail could be attributed to Michelle’s methodical and organised approach – something Tony Colley, Michelle’s mentor, believes makes the end result particularly unique.
“Michelle will do the drawing first, very carefully but without any hesitation or correction, and then the colour will start to come,” Tony says, adding he’s seen the work change over the eight years Michelle has been with the project.
“They are getting denser and denser. I’ve got a feeling that soon there’s going to be very little white space remaining on the canvas.”
Outside In, an agency which provides a platform for artists who might otherwise find it difficult to access the art world, described Michelle’s work as creating ‘colourful and complex worlds’.
Michelle’s ‘Musicians’ was one of 80 works selected to be shown in the touring Outside In: National 2012 exhibition, and she was one of six artists chosen by a panel of judges as an award winner.
As a winner, Michelle was given the chance to hold her own solo show at Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery, an experience Matthew deems as a ‘key moment’ in her artistic career.
“The recognition from Outside In is hugely important for Michelle,” he enthuses.
“It has given her the opportunity to share the product of her work in the Mentoring Studio at a prestigious gallery.
“Michelle has made work throughout her life,” adds Matthew, “and the style that she has developed communicates to us all.”
Having first been introduced to art by her grandfather when she was about eight years old, Michelle has always shown a distinctive perspective.
“He used to show her about colours and things, but he was a watercolour painter,” recalls mum Jennie.
“They would take pens and a picnic and go for the whole day.
“He used to say to Michelle, ‘I’m going to paint this tree and you paint what you think’ and the difference was really interesting,” she smiles. “That’s basically how it all started.”
Project Art Works prides itself on encouraging this individuality and each artist has their own workspace so they can get on with their pieces.
In Michelle’s words: “everyone’s doing the same but different things.”
Mentor Tony admits what he finds interesting is that ‘although every piece of Michelle’s work firmly has her imprint on it, there is still something of the subject there underneath’.
“The references,” he explains. “For example, the musicians look like musicians; the guitars look like guitars; and Spanish Holiday is definitely a depiction of a Spanish holiday.”
Both the project and Outside In are united in a simple goal – to create a ‘platform for people that make art outside of the conventional gallery and museum system’ – and it seems Michelle is proof it is working beautifully.
Michelle’s artwork, entitled ‘Still Life with Flowers’, will be auctioned in December as part of Pallant House Gallery and Outside In’s fund-raising at Toovey’s Christmas Party at its auction house in Washington, West Sussex.
Other auction lots open for bids will include a week’s break on a luxury yacht and pieces by acclaimed Sussex-based artists.
All proceeds from the auctions will go towards Outside In; a project supporting those who face barriers to the art world due to mental health issues, disability, health and social circumstance.
All photographs ©Project Art Works
November 11, 2014 Culture and Events