The artist Michele Fletcher has had a busy summer. Alongside exhibiting her new ‘Botanic’ series for Glyndebourne’s digital exhibition, she’s been producing work for the Instagram initiative #ArtistSupportPledge, founded by Sussex based artist Matthew Burrows, had work selected by Soho House for their prestigious art collection and reached Stage II of the John Moores Painting Prize.
It’s no wonder that Fletcher’s work is in high demand. Fascinated by flora and fauna, her paintings distill the colours and forms of plantlife with a kaleidoscopic beauty. There are moments of rhythm and joy, as in Willing the Sun to Shine, an immersive bees-eye view of a flower opening in spring. Or more pared back works like Indigo, in which tesselating forms are delicately colour-blocked across the unprimed canvas beneath. Curator Nerissa Taysom caught up with Fletcher to hear more about her practice, artistic inspirations and what she’s been listening to during lockdown.
NT: You were born in Canada and now live and work in London. Tell us about your current studio space.
MF: A few years ago I built a small studio in my garden as a way of moving back into my practice after a number of years working within the arts. The space is not huge but has wonderful light. The garden that it sits in very much informs what I do.
NT: You draw and also paint. Does one practice influence the other?
MF: I mainly use oil paint on either stretched linen or panel. My work runs in two veins. Firstly, painting that is intuitive and flowing. This is very process led. Secondly, I also make paintings based on my sketchbook drawing which utilise the raw ground of linen. This is the type of work I’m currently showing with Glyndebourne.
NT: What was your painting process for the Glyndebourne paintings?
MF: The paintings for Glyndebourne were made over the autumn and winter of 2019. The colour of the raw linen acts as a starting point for this new body of work and several of the paintings include a wash of ink over the surface. I worked up these paintings from sketchbook drawings and added colour intuitively. These paintings were meditations in my studio that I could come back to and work on over days and even weeks.
NT: How has the opportunity to exhibit at Glyndebourne developed your practice?
MF: Exhibiting at Glyndebourne has opened up my work to a new and different audience. It has also allowed me to think about how my works can sit alongside the performing arts. It was unfortunate and sad that the onsite exhibition had to move online due to COVID-19, but I look forward to visiting Glyndebourne and spending time in its beautiful gardens once restrictions have been lifted.
NT: Your paintings speak to the beauty and strangeness of nature, drawing on particular flowers and plants. Why is this a recurring theme in your work?
MF: I consider my work to be abstract ruminations on the cyclical changes of a garden. Tending a garden, like making a painting, is wresting form from nature. As the poet Susan Stewart writes in her essay Garden Agon, ‘The garden is not about nature but is rather a transformation of nature’. A garden and a painting are two separate entities, but for me, derive from the same impetus.
NT: Do you listen to music whilst you work and if so, who are your favourite composers or artists?
MF: I prefer to work in silence, but if I do listen to music then it’s got to be something quiet and minimal. Steve Reich and the British artist/musician Richard Skelton are often on repeat. This time of year, I enjoy the sound of bees buzzing on the lavender and echinacea outside my studio doors on warm sunny days - no other sound can compare to that.
NT: Do you have a favourite opera?
MF: The operas that I most enjoy would likely be considered quite traditional. I’ve seen La traviata three times, first at the incredible Detroit Opera House when I was a child and it still can bring me to tears.
NT: Which other artists do you love and whose work are you most coveting at the moment?
MF: I was recently introduced to the work of Justin Caguiat, who has just had a solo show at Modern Art gallery in London. His works are incredibly detailed and beautiful, all on linen and tipping between abstraction and representation.
NT: How has the experience of lockdown changed your artistic practice?
MF: Lockdown has given me a sustained period of time to focus on my work. Having a garden studio has been a godsend and this period has shifted my practice into something fluid and far more immediate. I have also connected with a number of new and different artists via social media. Being able to purchase works directly from them has been an amazing experience.
NT: What projects or exhibitions do you have on the horizon?
MF. As well as my ‘Botanic’ series for Glyndebourne, I am currently showing work in London at Terrace Gallery in a group exhibition, Waving in the Distance. This was forced to close during lockdown but will now reopen again in September. I’m thrilled to be included in Soho House’s art collection too. And of course I’m looking ahead to 2021. I can’t wait to come back and exhibit at Glyndebourne again next summer!
Nerissa Taysom - Curator