London based artist Michaela Yearwood-Dan recently completed the inaugural exhibition at QUEERCIRCLE Gallery in Greenwich, South London, to support a community center for young LGBTQ+ artists. We've established a year-round partnership with the organisation and joined Michaela on her journey as she took her vision for the creation of an immersive, inclusive and mindful space from idea to reality.
The driving forces of ‘love’ and ‘self-actualisation’ had to be channeled into the practical realisation of this multidisciplinary initiative. The narrative around the process provides valuable insight for others wanting to follow a similar course.
“Working with QUEERCIRCLE came along quite organically; I think we sat in my studio and spoke about love for an hour.”
After meeting the Director of QUEERCIRCLE in her light-filled studio space in North London and speaking about her work and the gallery’s mission to be a safe space for young LGBTQ+ artists, her concept for the work began to form.
This year the exhibition theme is ecology, which made Michaela the perfect artist to open the gallery; her paintings abound with botanical references, inspiring text and living plants.
The themes of self-confidence and self-actualisation are prominent in Michaela’s work. She says, “Feel confident of what you’re worth. It’s ok to take a beat and be selective about what you do, why you do it and what it means to you.” And this is showcased in her bold, eccentric mural which concaves around the space.
She adds, “There’s a pressure to be both unique and to conform and around comparison, which is super difficult to navigate.”
Two of the most limiting factors for artists today are space and money, Michaela acknowledges, “If I was a young artist just starting out, I’d love to have spaces like this, they are important… the biggest challenge today is financially, it’s very hard to be an artist.”
“I think painting is wonderful, it’s always exciting to see it do what you want it to do.”
The work merges installation, painting and ceramics. Bold, gestural, organic blocks of colour run across the entire piece as if they are dancing along the surface, down the wall, over the seat of the bench and surrounding furniture to the floor. Each mark feels like it’s at once a statement of confidence and a warm invitation to sit within the work.
The bold red of Cadmium Red Hue and the flat darkness of Mars Black were some of the initial colours Michaela responded to, then the work progressed to include mixtures of Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue Hue, Sap Green and more.
Like an increasing number of contemporary artists, Michaela regards the unconventional mix of mediums as an opportunity, using sand texture gel to create raised impasto botanical shapes on the wall and scratching patterns into acrylic painted leaves to reveal earlier colours underneath. More textures and marks build up as she adds materials as diverse as Promarkers and faux pearls to build a palimpsest of painting that moves joyfully and brings the entire space to life.
Adding to the organic feel, plants hang from spiky organic ceramic pots made especially for this installation; Michaela’s ceramics are a recent extension of her practice and clearly reflect the language of her paintings while adding to the sense of life in the space and it is exciting to see how the two disciplines riff off each other.
With text and poetry being the final marks of the artist, the flowing cursive writing brings the painting together as a ribbon of continuity. The words are positive thoughts which come from popular culture and her original poetry, they serve to emphasize the sensation of the artist’s presence in her absence. This adds to the ephemerality of the painting and emphasizes her intent that this is an experience rather an object.
“Be comfortable with the ephemerality of work. Things will get scuff marks and things will probably chip a little bit and that’s ok.”
Often artists work with curators and are invited to show specific work, but this project was different. Michaela was given complete freedom. The fact that this space is temporary – even Greenwich Peninsula where the Design District is based is only leased to the 16 creative initiatives temporarily – changed the way Michaela approached the project.
She made peace with the fact that the work may get damaged, scuffed, and eventually removed completely. “Working in this site-specific way feels different to when I work towards an exhibition. I see the works as a body, they all have to harmoniously work with each other, they’re like pages of a diary.” This attitude to the work only adds to the feeling that this is not a work of art to look at, but interact with and be immersed in.
“I wanted it to be more of an experience, we did that by making this curved structure so people can place themselves within the work.”
Michaela began with the concept that the gallery itself should be an immersive experience and decided to create a work that visitors could sit within, reflect, and relax in the form of a curved wall that wrapped the space. Visitors are encouraged to lounge on a purpose-built bench and clamber over the painted areas to gather in the curved space. They feel as much part of the work as the mural, it almost feels empty without people in it. As the title of the show ‘Let Me Hold You’ suggests, the work is designed to make you feel immersed and comforted, the idea being, “ The busyness of the painting surrounding you and holding you within this negative space.”
Michaela used a range of mediums to bring this vison to life and her search for warmth, tone and subtlety in colour was exhaustive. “There was this intention for it to feel warm, so I went in with Naples Yellow, this very warm Italian colour – luscious sage greens and warm buy icy blues.”
Using a range of Galeria Acrylic colours, Naples Yellow was used as the base coat, bringing the influence of warm Italian light inspired by a recent visit, into this painting.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this window into the process of making ‘Let Me Hold You’ as Michaela fulfilled her vision of holding the viewer within an embrace of colour, and allowed us to show the steps along her journey.
‘Let Me Hold You’ is exhibited at Queercircle in Greenwich, UK until September 8, 2022.