Frame 61

Zanny Mellor

Frame 61
Zanny Mellor

Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did it all begin?

Growing up in the English countryside has informed my interest in transience and transformative process. I studied art in Brighton and Bristol which are both cities close to the sea and informed by tidal action and this meeting of natural and urban has been very affective on my interest in place. The cyclical and seasonal rhythms and changes that are often imperceptible in nature also translate into my experience of a city too and I’m interested in how to make this visible and tangible

Moving to London in 2010, I was making work that visualised the collective movement of people, transport systems and architectural change; a multiplicity of concurrent sensory experiences.  My strong interest in natural geography however meant that time away from the city was needed. Travels to geologically rich areas of Patagonia and Iceland, have been particularly influential on my practice and I began to make comparisons between the processes of painting and the forces that shape the landscape. I completed a Masters in Fine Art at City & Guilds of London Art School in 2015, which helped to develop the shift in my practice towards the current body of work.

Blind Light 25, unique photogram 2015

Blind Light 8, unique photogram 2015

Your minimalist paintings loan themselves to the physical act of painting, could you talk about this?

The physicality of the painting process allows me to explore a sense of presence rather than remembrance. I found that using imagery of places I had travelled meant I was always led back to the past, so moving away from it was a challenge but meant that the physical, material and temporal aspects of painting became a focus. I am interested in imperceptible yet transformative actions such as erosion, calcification and deposition of fine rock

particles, seeing pigment as sediment that is suspended in a medium and transported away from it’s source. I began using erasure as a way to challenge the potential reading of an image by covering up what was there, to deny visual memory but also to preserve it, as if mentally archiving places of interest in order to move forward from them. The process of erasure is now very relevant for my studio practice, exploring this tension between presence and remembrance. Once I have applied a set of gestures, you have to be very attuned to the state of the paint and act on it just as it is about to set and dry, so creating a very active and alert way of working.

The actual and perceived speeds of materials and places is also of interest. I have come to see the body as a barometer, a way to measure a stream of conflicting experiences and of course using a fluid material such as paint, it is about finding a balance between control and chance. I am interested in the unpredictability of things, a sense of unsteadiness, flux and perpetual change and although my work is rooted in discussions of place and a certain physicality, it is also an observation of something boundless, un-measurable and sensory. 

Real Time, emulsion and aluminium paint on wall 2016

Real Time, emulsion and aluminium paint on wall 2016

Expose 2015, acrylic and aluminium paint on board, 165 x 122 cm

Swipe 2015, acrylic and aluminium paint on board, 165 x 122 cm

You create your own tools to paint with, could you talk about this and how this has effected your practice?

This has really come about through reductive methods of painting, needing to remove what I had just applied with brush. I often use squeegees and things lying around the studio with hard edges to erase and scrape away paint. In works like the Afterimage series, nearly all the paint is removed and this means that the process is often mistaken for screenprint. In April I made a wall based work with a large hand made ‘squeegee’ that was related to my own height. This way of working is always reliant on the pressure that you can apply, so there is a lot of chance involved and trying to be comfortable with the fact that you’re not in control.

I use a lot of rags also with the acrylic works. In works like Swipe, the erasure is never a total removal, as with a squeegee. They leave directional removal ‘trails’, smearing and redistributing the paint elsewhere which creates quite an atmospheric and hazy aesthetic. This is exactly what I want because in these sorts of works, I want your eye to continue to move all around the canvas, to never rest and be carried from mark to mark.

What is your process, how do you start a new piece of work?

As I am working across three slightly different approaches, they aren’t all happening at the same time and the processes are different. Sometimes a particular set of ideas and material research for a body of work will sit fallow for a while other things take precedence.

For the more minimal, binary works I have recently returned to compositional sketches. The variables are endless so I have to work across a series of drawings or small paper studies, which seems like visually problem solving. Although some of my mark making is quick and instantaneous, the layering has been carefully considered. I might 'warm up' by working across a series of small studies before I am ready to work on a bigger piece.

The photograms are always made in series during short dark room sessions and they often feed back into the studio painting. They are explorative in a different way because you cannot tell how the layers of shadows will interact until they go into the chemicals, so you work blind in that process. In the ‘out-of-focus’ studio works however they grow through a slower layering, oscillating between adding and removing paint, exploring how a colour or tone might affect the next. In these works each layer of paint asks a different set of questions from you and readjusts your course, so these are brought into resolution at different stages.

Blind Light 11, unique photogram 2015

Blind Light 22, unique photogram 2015

Blind Light 12, unique photogram 2015

What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?

When in Iceland, I began manually un-focussing my camera and realised that I found the process of seeing (or unseeing) was more interesting than the actual capturing of the image. In works like Swipe and Dejavu I want to create this out-of-focus aesthetic to invite an active, unstable viewing experience. The thin and interspersed application of layers of matt and semi reflective paint keeps you perceptually engaged and questioning the process.  

The photograms are also particularly interesting because they are both painting and photography yet they challenge the normal assumption of both mediums. You can read them as paintings but you are denied the material experience of paint, yet they are not quite photography as you cannot access an image. The cacophony of layered marks means the visual response is unfixed and active, even if the photogram itself is chemically fixed.  I want them to be sensorily ambiguous, for a viewer to float within a questioning and somewhat sublime state. 

The more minimal paintings such as Expose have a different agenda however. They seem to create a very embodied viewing experience, to anchor you to a physical, bodily expression or movement. They are contained within the boundaries of the paintings edges and you measure your own sense of verticality against them. In a way they contradict my other bodies of work but I like to bounce between these binaries.

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine?

For painting, I’m an afternoon person. Spending a few hours in the studio in the morning around other works or experiments, writing notes, phrases and research allows for the dust to settle and connections to be made, so I tend to mentally warm up during the day and exciting things usually happen in the afternoon/evening.

I will often have a number of things on the go at once, where small works are dotted all over the studio at varying stages of drying or resolution and layering experiments might be pinned to the wall for a while before they inform a painting. I move works around a lot, hanging them in different combinations to see how they react to each other.

It’s only the last few years I’ve realised how important music is to my studio practice. I used to use it as a way to block out the exterior world and focus on what I’m doing. Now I use it to set a mood and to carry me into a headspace. I’d really like to explore the connection between music and painting, a synaesthesia of sorts, as I see so many parallels between the movement, rhythms and speeds that are integral to both. The music I listen to sits somewhere between minimal electronic, jazz and cinematic classical.

Unearthed 1 and 2, unique photogram 2015

Unearthed 1 and 2, unique photogram 2015

How do you go about naming your work?

I am really interested in the relationship between language and painting and I write down a lot of phrases and combinations of words, sticking them up on the studio wall and in sketchbooks.  Some titles come very easily as they might be an inherent part of the process. Some are more elusive or the work will need to sit in the studio a while longer and be positioned next to other works in order to join the conversation. Some of my works are getting trickier to name as diptychs are appearing in my practice as gestures seemingly leap from one canvas to another.

What art work have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

I’m always drawn to process driven and quite minimal work. Recently I loved Gabriel de la Mora at Timothy Taylor Gallery and Michael Joo at Blain Southern. I think what intrigued me about these solo shows was the works lie on the fringes of mediums. De la Mora’s work owes so much to painting yet they are essentially collages of the materials used in printmaking. Michael Joo also seems to work in an exciting intersection between the processes and chemistry of painting and photography. I love this cross pollination between mediums and an ambiguity that keeps you questioning.

What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

After a number of shows at the beginning of the year I’m now excited to get back into an intensive making phrase and explore my materials in a more literal sense, using both natural and synthetic surfaces and pigments.  The growing comparison between photography and painting in my practice has been inviting deeper research into the possibilities of using light through projection and installation and I’m also excited to push into using other alternative photographic processes and chemistry.

I am really excited to return to Iceland this summer having been granted an arts travel bursary from a-n.  I am returning to engage with the rich geology, to explore the material connections between painting and earth science and to explore the length of the near arctic summer light. I’ll be working with cameras again to explore long and multi exposures, and hopefully some other experimental processes. This is going to be interesting to go back into using imagery again but I think this will challenge me and invite a new set of limits and questions.  

Click here to visit the artist's website

Publishing date of this interview 24/06/16