About mari french

Mari French is emerging as one of East Anglia's most respected abstract painters. She grew up in Manchester close to the Pennine Hills, originally working as a graphic designer. She then lived for several years on the Isle of Skye developing her abstract landscapes. Mari now lives in Norfolk, working as a full-time artist, from her studio on a former 1930s RAF airbase. The roots of her paintings lie in her deep-seated affinity with landscape and weather, capturing the elemental forces of wild and less-visited landscapes. She says about her creative process “I try to evoke the shift of weather and light on a place and this is reflected in the sense of movement and change in the work itself. I sketch on location but in the studio I work instinctively, using a variety of media to evoke my experience of a place rather than a representation”. Mari has exhibited widely; her work is regularly selected for the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours (RI) exhibitions at the Mall Galleries, London; she has also exhibited with The Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) at Bankside Gallery, London; was a finalist in Artist & Illustrator Magazine's 'Artist of the Year' 2016; and a finalist in The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2014. Her work has been featured in both the ‘Artist’ and ‘Artist & Illustrator’ magazines as well as in several art books and is held in private collections around the world. She is a member of the Institute of East Anglian Artists (IEA).

Last of the gold …

Inspired by glorious remnants of glowing colour in the woods on the way to my studio…

Bronze beeches, silver birch and sycamore. A carpet of copper leaves, drifts of small gold birch ‘coins’, blazing metals against charcoal branches.

Since early November I’ve been responding to the ever-dwindling autumn colour in the surrounding woods and hedgerows, by experimenting in my studio workbook; simplifying, abstracting, finding ways of suggesting what I’ve experienced. Then with ink, acrylic, collage, calligraphy etc on individual works on paper.

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It’s been enjoyable using a variety of my own calligraphy, collage and various ways of mark making, plus limited metallic touches. I like the way the lettering is also reminiscent of the bare branches of the increasingly denuded trees. As the autumn has given way to winter, the sparks and flickers of gold, deeper in the woods where there’s more shelter from the wind, have become all the more precious.

While I’ve enjoyed creating these works and spreads, I’d like to take the ideas further into abstraction. The simple collage in the photo of my studio workbook above top, although somewhat subdued, is the one I actually find most satisfying in it’s minimalism and use of space. It would be interesting to work on similar versions on a large scale at some point.

Top: photo by Irina Iriser from Pexels Above: photo by Abraham Braun from Pexels

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Fragments and reflections…

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Struggling to put thoughts into words over the past few months… fortunately not struggling quite as much to put brush to paper (or canvas) though. It’s been too long (again) since my last post so I’m going to give you a quick recap on what I’ve been up to, just to get myself started writing posts again.

After the tulips artworks I created back in May (here) I went on to develop a very satisfying small series of garden abstracts which proved very popular. One featured in Artists & Illustrators Magazine (October 2020), others were snapped up by galleries. All my love and appreciation of the sanctuary of my garden is embedded in these works. I relished this luscious limited palette; note that green! I rarely used green much before in my paintings, but this series just called out for it’s freshness.

‘Abundance’, mixed media abstract painting on paper. © Mari French 2020.

’Abundance’ (above), acrylic/ink/gouache on paper.

When I was eventually able to get back to the North Norfolk coast my love of the salt marsh and reed beds emerged again. I was back in my element and the lush berry colours of the abstract garden series developed into a more subdued bruised version, influenced by the turning colours of the Autumn – all green-greys, grey-purples and bronze.

Earlier in the year, feeling unable to paint, I’d spent time creating calligraphic papers for collages,with roughly written words relating to bird flight, reed beds, reflections, light etc in inks on tissue. Some of these were perfect for adding to these mixed media abstracts, adding a kind of fragment of message to the image.

‘Equivocal’, mixed media abstract painting on paper. © Mari French 2020.

And below are a few of the on-the-spot sketches at Thornham, Brancaster Staithe and Burnham Overy Staithe, that inspired the above…

“The early stages of a painting are not the time to engage your critical thinking. Let the work show itself”

and finally, I can’t remember where I read the above quote, or who wrote it (sorry), but it has been invaluable to me lately in allowing myself to rely on my intuition when starting a painting (although I sometimes forget!). It’s now stuck to my easel as a reminder. I ignore it at my peril, the painting never works when I try too hard.

Confinement & cul-de-sacs…

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”A time of gifts’ © Mari French 2020

I’ve never left my blog unwritten for such a long time before. It’s good to be back. In the past few months of the Covid crisis, I just haven’t been able to summon up the will or the words to write about my art. As for the art itself, like many artists in these strange times, I’ve been floundering around a little lost for a while. With 3 exhibitions cancelled/moved online, Open Studios also cancelled, galleries closed etc, it’s hardly surprising I suppose. It’s not that I haven’t been painting, and I’ve made myself go to the studio to do something a few times a week at least, it’s just that each spurt of creative activity – sketching, collage, painting – has seemed to fizzle out after a short time. Cul-de-sacs I’ve started to call them.

However, each little cul-de-sac has produced some interesting results, so perhaps they hold some promise for a future way forward; like one of those narrow hidden footpaths you can often use for access to the area beyond the cul-de-sac, the one cars can’t take.

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Ploughed fields & tree belt, near Anmer. Sketchbook. © Mari French 2020

With anything more than a long walk forbidden here in the UK, in the last few months, coastal visits weren’t an option (I live 20 minutes drive from the beautiful North Norfolk coastline, where the reedbeds and saltmarshes are a great source of inspiration), I’ve been out sketching the local fields and farmland – something I haven’t really done since moving to Norfolk 10 years ago.

I loved the way the early spring sunshine caught the ploughed fields, exaggerating the russet and ochres of the sand and chalk soil. And the hares were out in force chasing each other in large groups. I haven’t taken these any further though, hopefully at some future point…

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Ploughed field, Anmer Road, with flint. © Mari French 2020

Meanwhile, at the airbase, outside my studio, is a large cherry tree which was covered in deep pink blossom back in March. It was only when a glorious deep pink started to appear in a series of small experimental works on paper, that I realised how the blossom had entered my subconscious. These works look great on some lovely small white cradled wooden panels I’ve bought. I really enjoyed these but as I said, it wasn’t long before I started to flounder. I keep going back to them, so they’re going to get picked up again at some point.

Later in spring, mostly confined to my garden (I know, I’m lucky compared to many) and with almost a month of warm sunshine, my glorious tulips, ‘La belle époque’, just had to be sketched. Then in the studio, I set about abstracting them, in both mixed media and collage, which I enjoyed, before (yes you guessed it) I once again hit a cul-de-sac. Still, I’m excited by the potential of these small works so who knows.

Below is the mixed media collage I produced as part of this abstract tulip work  (all the papers using in it were created by myself, including the calligraphy). Which reminds me I haven’t posted the experimental collage I was developing back in February before the virus hit, so I’ll add them to the next post (it won’t take as long as this one post did I promise!).

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‘Palimpsest’, mixed media collage © Mari French 2020