In this interview, Eleanor May Watson talks to Hannah Payne about her new paintings in her solo exhibition Vibrant Life showing at Meakin + Parsons x Hannah Payne in Oxford (5 - 29 October 2022).
EMW: Still life as a subject has really opened new possibilities for me. Firstly, the close spatial relationship to the picture plain is interesting. There is also a lot of licence to play; once there is a sense of what you are looking at, everything can fizz and shift around that.
I have been searching for ways in which to make my practice more inventive and curious, both in how I make work and hopefully in the resulting paintings.
The genre of still life is so packed with references that I found that I was able to embrace a freer mode of mark-making and begin to build images in a more surprising (at least for me) way. Meanwhile embracing the many layered interpretations of the genre, itself.
Left, Keep My Memory Green, 2 2022, Oil on board, 91 x 61 cm. Right, With Little Landscapes 2, 2022, Oil on board, 91 x 61 cm
EMW: It has affected my work enormously. The studio is at the bottom of the garden, working at home has made life and work feel more intertwined and intimately linked. My paintings have become much more inward looking and less self-conscious somehow; the subject matter, colour and gesture is warmer. Moving towards a more personal expression.
I find the quiet shelter of my world here helpful in taking leaps in how and what I am making. There is less background noise crackling whilst I am working - be it the very real noise of living in a city or the imagined (largely self-) critical noise of working in such a saturated space.
Left, Fragrant with Tea and Rust, 2022, Acrylic and oil on board, 27.5 x 22.5 cm framed. Right, Keep My Memory Green, 2022, Acrylic and oil on board, 27.5 x 22.5 cm framed.
Left, On This Summer Day Among The Shadows 1, 2022, Oil on canvas, 185 x 125 cm. Right, as above.
EMW: I think scale has everything to do with our bodily and imaginative response to the work.
You can easily hold the small works in this show in one hand, and scan the entire surface quickly with your eyes. There is a wholeness to how you experience these; all the moments of colour, gesture, light and paint are almost simultaneous. They feel intimate like reading a hand-written letter.
Whereas the largest piece in this show allows you to be more enveloped, you scan the surface as a series of moments which add together to make a whole. The scale of the still life is enlarged, but the ‘detail’ is not necessarily greater.
EMW: Yes! It has not been an entirely conscious shift, but I intended for my paintings to be more personal and allow for more vulnerability. There have been a number of catalysts to this - firstly a sustained period of therapy gave me new tools to sit with uncertainty in many ways. It also taught me a great deal about non-judgmental curiosity and self-acceptance. Changing my perspective, I hope permanently. It’s something for which I am enormously grateful.
As we have already touched on, moving my studio home means the studio is a deeply private and personal space which has given me more scope… Meanwhile, my subject matter also turned to my own life.
My current pregnancy has given me a new impetus to readdress my relationship with my art practice, my sense of self, and the wider world. The title of the show - ‘Vibrant Life’ - really came from this very special time of creative intensity and an enormous feeling of gratitude.
Left, A Perfect Unbearable Glow, 2022, Watercolour on paper, 76 x 56 framed. Right, All The Colours That Go Into The Day, 2022, Watercolour on paper, 76 x 56 framed.
EMW: I think a lot of what I have been thinking about in making these works is a more expansive space beyond the subject matter. Hopefully, an emotional landscape as well as a physical or spatial one. That the world of the painting can be both a cropped section of the usual ephemera of still life as well as the painted surface, juggling forces of light, shadow, colour and gesture.
Left, In Leafless Eye, 2022, Watercolour on paper, 76 x 56 framed. Right, Anchored in Air, 2022, Watercolour on paper, 76 x 56 framed.
Installation view, Vibrant Life at Meakin + Parsons x Hannah Payne, October 2022. Photo by Damian Griffiths
Thank you to Eleanor May Watson for participating in The Art Five, Issue 24.
To enquire about works available by Eleanor May Watson get in touch
Eleanor May Watson | Vibrant Life
at Meakin + Parsons x Hannah Payne, 16 North Parade Avenue, Oxford
5 - 29 October 2022
A Light Left On
The Foundry Gallery, London
13 Oct - 10 December 2022
About Eleanor May Watson
Contemporary artist Eleanor May Watson lives and works in Kent. Watson works primarily in oil paint, watercolour and monotype printmaking. Her recent paintings, monotypes and mixed-media pieces capture moments of light passing across objects within interiors and domestic scenes. Eleanor May Watson studied for a Masters in Fine Art, City and Guilds of London Art School (Distinction) in 2018-19 after completing The Drawing Year, The Royal Drawing School in 2015 -16, and a BA Fine Art Painting (First Class Honours) at Wimbledon College of Art, 2009 -12. Recent residencies include ACS City and Guilds of London Art School Studio Prize, 2019, Slaughterhaus Print Prize, 2019 , The Royal Drawing School Dumfries House Residency, 2018. Her work is included in public collections including Dumfries House Collection, Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award, University of the Arts London.
Images courtesy of the Artist and Meakin + Parsons x Hannah Payne. Artwork and installation photography by Damian Griffiths. Portrait photo of Eleanor at top by Michael Dillon.