Towards the sun …

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Turning year. Mixed media on paper 46x60cm © Mari French 2021

Happy New Year to all my readers and welcome to my first post of this year. I hope you had a beautiful festive season and wish you a healthy, peaceful and art-filled 2022. Thanks so much for following my blog.

As the year turns, like many artists I’m reviewing my work and thinking about where to take it next. I’m now looking forward to Spring, towards the sun. In my previous post (here) I mentioned my new series of autumn sunflower paintings and wanted to share with you some of my creative process.

What caught my attention about this beautiful field of faded sunflowers as I drove past last October, was how they looked like a subdued congregation deep in thought, or a gathering of dark suns, faces now turned to the earth. I took photos and gathered a bunch of the flowers to sketch and paint back in the studio.

Work in progress on the easel © Mari French 2021

Above is one of the autumn sunflowers series still in progress on the easel, in acrylic and ink on paper. I love to paint intuitively like this – obscuring and revealing layers of acrylic paint, scoring through or spraying with water, to create lively marks – so that the result is a complex accumulation of shades, hard and soft edges, ephemeral suggestions of shapes. Sometimes these are created by wiping through the paint layers with a damp cloth. Inevitably, much of the earlier stages will be covered up (or wiped away), but this is necessary for me to create the web of colour and texture I like.

Detail of work in progress above © Mari French 2021

In the closeup crop above you can see the soft luminous light this process gives to parts of the painting. Texture is also added with the use of drier brush marks, which contrast with softer blended paint (often done with the side of my hand – it’s great to get hands-on sometimes!).
This work in progress isn’t finished yet: I want to see less of an obvious separation between the creamy yellow areas and the lower blue/green ones; the sunflower heads are spread too evenly for me and some of the smaller ones higher up need ‘knocking back’ a bit to make it less busy; and I want to bring some of that lovely subdued pink in elsewhere to balance it.

Below is ‘Constellation’, another in the series in progress, in the studio, and the finished work below that.

‘Constellation’ in progress on the easel. © Mari French 2021
Constellation. Mixed media on paper 46x60cm © Mari French 2021

Many of my studio visitors and collectors tell me that they love that they can keep coming back to an artwork and still see more in it, sometimes even after years of owning the work. This is part of what makes it worthwhile for me.

Autumn encounter. Mixed media on paper 46x60cm © Mari French 2021

Playing catch up…

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New Autumn sunflowers series. © Mari French 2021

I can’t quite believe it’s so long since I last posted in this blog; where has the time gone? The past few months have been a particularly busy time for me in the studio, not least creating three new series of work:

new Cornish paintings inspired by a sketching trip to St Ives, Cornwall in April (see previous post), some of which were exhibited at Gallery East, Woodbridge, Suffolk this summer;

a fresh take on my salt marsh obsession, in acrylic inks and soft pastel. This time I’ve been inspired by the mirror-like pools and creeks scattered over the salt marshes and grazings. I exhibited several at Norfolk Open Studios in September/October and four are currently on show at ’Littoral’, a group exhibition (until 21 November 2021) at Little Buckland Gallery, Broadway, Cotswolds, a new gallery (for me) and one I’m very excited to be showing with;

and last, but not least, my current series inspired by a local field of fading autumn sunflowers, one shown above, which I’ll tell you about in my next blog post soon!.

Below is ‘Cradled sky’ one of the new salt marsh works in acrylic ink and soft pastel, at Little Buckland Gallery, and below that ‘Unfolding coast’ which sold from my open studio. Check out more of this series on my website here.

‘Cradled sky’, ink/pastel on paper, 29x29cm. © Mari French 2021
‘Unfolding coast’, ink/pastel on paper, 21x29cm, SOLD. © Mari French 2021

Another event that took up lots of time was preparing for Norfolk Open Studios. I opened to the public for three long weekends in late September, early October. This was the first time I’ve opened my ‘new’ studio at West Raynham airbase to the public and I’m happy to say it was pretty successful, with the sale of several paintings, collagraph prints and lots of art cards.

I really enjoyed meeting art lovers, artists, friends and neighbours, plus new collectors of my paintings! So much so that I’ve now decided to offer to open by appointment – just email me at art@marifrench.com if you’d like to visit. The studio is at West Raynham Business Park, near Fakenham, North Norfolk, UK, NR21 7PL.

At my open studio in September/October, Norfolk Open Studios 2021.

Going back to the Cornwall work, I later produced a set of five collaged panels that also developed from my sketching break in and around St Ives, in April this year. I loved working on these cradled wood panels (25x25x3cm), they take multiple layers of media very well and don’t need framing. In these I’ve made extensive use of collage elements; cornish newspapers, tide tables and my own calligraphic notes to add texture.

The proximity of water © Mari French 2021

I love the contrast of the wild Penwith coast with its small rocky coves and energetic tides crashing in and out; a contrast to the usually calmer North Norfolk coast close to where I live. I haven’t exhibited them yet and all five are still available. You can see the full set on my website at www.marifrench.com

Sea language © Mari French 2021

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