Updated: Nov 3, 2020
Informed by the process of painting and alternative photography, Zanny Mellor's work takes on minimalist and gestural abstract forms, inspired by geology, space, light, and the body.
ZM: I started a series of works on paper during lockdown for the artist support pledge and these have been reintroducing colour to my painting practice. I’d wanted to do this for a while and wasn’t quite sure how but dived in the deep end. They are full of energy and seem like a different project all together from my work with light and monochromes but I am excited to see where these will go.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about horizons. I love being out in the landscape, exploring new places and also culturally broadening your own horizons, learning, taking in new information, meeting new people. Obviously the pandemic has shrunk everyone’s horizons, so there is that craving for new experiences, to see new things, to learn and grow. This autumn I would like to return to my photography practice in the dark room. I have been ‘collecting places’ for a few years using an old film camera and I want to compare past and present, image memory and gesture, solid and fluid in the same image, bringing disparate elements together similar to collage.
The more gestural my work has got, the more I have thought about the physical energy needed to produce it and the body as a territory. As the pandemic began I became interested in the process of breathing, as the collective breath of the entire population became our central concern. I would like to start working on a project related to these themes but it is early days on this.
There is also a remote collaborative project being developed with a group artists from the themes of my Render Permanent exhibition last year. We wanted to create a physical show this year, but we have instead starting planning ways to align our work in a different way perhaps through a book until next year.
ZM: In lockdown all of our worlds became smaller and so I dived into making to keep myself busy. It was actually an intensive period of experimentation and production working on paper from the kitchen table. I had been looking to return to colour and use a collage aesthetic of dislocated elements and textures so I began making small A3 sized paintings for the artist support pledge. Always working in series meant I had a sense of continuity and a body of work to keep tending to when I wasn’t working in my other job.
My practice for the last few years had been quite monochrome but I think the sense of containment within my flat and the unvaried nature of lockdown life, was perhaps expressed through colour, on paper in the series ‘Contain This’. Working with colour seemed to create energy, setting up complimentary relationships or colours that jar and create tension or visual excitement and I think this probably kept my creative energy flowing.
During lockdown Edd’s commercial work as a fashion and portrait photographer was on pause. We bounced a lot of ideas around about how he could adapt to shooting at home, perhaps working with still life to creatively photograph products or accessories. At the same time we were both trying to engage remotely with our nephews and nieces and so narratives and stories began to emerge and he started working with the shadows of cut out figures and shapes in very playful ways. I had cut out some of my painted gestures to use for collage further down the line and Edd began using them to build a number of different still life sets that explored texture, shape and shadow and they are really successful images. He is also exhibiting them as an edition of black and white photographic prints in Enter The Abstract with The Auction Collective.
ZM: I think starting out in illustration, the idea of having a brief and working closely with a client or team to realise a project has always been an exciting prospect. I find communication and collaboration with others is important and I don’t get that kind of feeling from working on my own in the studio, so I seek out collaboration in different ways by working on photography and graphic design projects and by developing exhibitions or projects with fine artists.
In 2018 I worked with Jessica Rayner to create a site specific immersive installation called The Shape of Light. This was a collaborative residency at Lumen Studios, where tracing paper and stage lighting were layered throughout the depth of the 4 metre space to create a glowing tunnel of light, reminiscent of an aperture or void. The installation was a sensually challenging, optical and physical experience where the viewer slowly became accustomed to the darkness and learned to trust their eyesight.
I pitched the idea to Jess as we were working with similar ideas and materials. I was inspired by her work with light and landscape and wanted to find a way to do something together. She shares an interest in creating viewing experiences that ignite curiosity, crossing scientific and creative disciplines and we have since made some editions of photograms based on this project.
ZM: The exhibition and auction presents work that invites a slower, calmer response for a viewer, offering them a pause from the fast, ‘always on’ culture. The works I am showing and the body of work I’ve been producing for the last few years has been informed by travels in Iceland and other landscapes, engaging with daily and seasonal changes, geological timeframes and the cycles of decay and growth.
I measure these through different speeds of painting, with both swift and sudden gestures, as well as slow methodical layering. For example the linear elements created by diligent masking in Increments 1 and the diptych Into, reference a graph of the annual amount of daylight that Iceland receives each year, yet I often disrupt these with a quick painterly gesture to achieve some sort of visual balance. Blind Light 16 also has these two speeds within the process; quick gestures, layered again and again in a temporal layering, rather than physical as all the paint is removed to leave only a shadow trace as a unique photogram.
The diptych Into is built using subtle gradations in tone which gives the paintings a soft appearance, yet with highly energetic brush strokes contained underneath. Low contrast seems to create a calmer reading, whereas high contrast creates more energy. I find it important to create works that give both kinds of viewing experience; of slow discovery and contemplation or to revive and energise.
Thank you to Zanny Mellor for participating in The Art Five, Issue 10.
Forthcoming projects and exhibitions:
Enter the Abstract, Auction Collective, 6 November 2020
50 x £50, Auction Collective, December 2020
About Zanny Mellor
British artist Zanny Mellor (b. 1986) addresses themes of speed, light and time in a sensory exploration of place. The impermanence of material, experience and perception drive her painting and photography work where states of presence and remembrance are examined and a tension between control and chance is actively sort after. Fluidity is a defining material concern in her process-led practice, where reductive actions create a measured, gestural language. Mellor completed a Masters in Fine Art at City & Guilds of London Art School in 2015 with Distinction. Recent projects include group show Render Permanent at Lewisham Arthouse, Abstract Reality at Saatchi Gallery and The Shape of Light, a collaborative residency and installation at Lumen Studios. Her work is held in private collections in the UK, Europe, South Africa, UAE and Australia.
Artwork image captions:
1.Untitled, Acrylic and acetate on paper, 42 x 29.5cm, 2020
2. Blind Light 12, Unique photogram, 40 x 30cm, 2015
3. Contain This 5, Acrylic and pencil on paper, 42 x 29.5cm, 2020
4. Contain This 11, Acrylic and pencil on paper, 42 x 29.5cm, 2020
5. + 6. Edd Horder, Paper, Bottle, Chopping Board, Archival giclee print on Hahnemuhle German, etching paper, 25.4 x 17.7 cm each, Edition of 50, 2020
7. The Shape of Light, Collaborative installation with Jess Rayner, Approx 4 metres deep, St John Bethnal Green church, London, 2018
8. The Light is a Memory, Edition of unique photograms, 40 x 30 cm, 2019, Collaboration with Jess Rayner
9. Increments 1, Oil and acrylic on cotton, 30 x 25cm, 2020
10. Blind Light 16, Unique photogram, 40 x 30cm, 2015
Images courtesy of Zanny Mellor.