Our Featured Artist: Michaela Yearwood-Dan

Michaela Yearwood-Dan
The artist at her solo show ‘One English Pound’ 2019
The artist at her solo show ‘One English Pound’ 2019

Michaela Yearwood-Dan is a contemporary British artist born in South London in 1994. Completing her BA in Fine Art Painting at the University of Brighton, before residing back in London, Yearwood-Dan often depicts a variety of topics based on observations of society and self. Her works tend to explore themes of class, culture/race, gender, and nature and in later more current works love, loss and reflection all whilst remaining playful, personal, and vibrant. we spoke with her recently about her practice and what she finds exciting about painting.

Can you tell us where you are from and where you are based now?

I’m from South London and I’m currently based in East London.

Your paintings are vibrant and floral, the suggestions and gestural bouts of colour are a feast for a painter; can you tell us a bit about your practice?

My practice is routed in self historicization, primarily executed through large scale abstract painting and more recently, ceramics. The work I make explores a plethora of themes ranging from political dissection to personal narrative accounts with consistent references to botany and poetry.

‘The Dark Abyss never seemed so bright’, Acrylic, Ink, Glitter and Oil on Canvas
‘The Dark Abyss never seemed so bright’, Acrylic, Ink, Glitter and Oil on Canvas, 170cm x 240cm, 2019

Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist and how did you start out?

Yes and no. I’ve always loved art and it was the thing I consistently the best at during school, but I didn’t think you could make a living being an artist especially if you were black or female. The education system in schools doesn’t make it enough of a priority of showing young people, especially those of colour, examples of excellence that can help influence to achieve their dreams.

I was good at music and drama so for a while, I wanted to go down that route, but ultimately, I always thought I would be a teacher- which I’ve been doing in some variety for 12 years now.

Do you remember the first art materials you bought or were given? What was it and do you still use it today?

Yes… Blo Pens! But of course, I don’t use those anymore…

Michaela Yearwood-Dan's studio
Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s studio

How does a typical day in your studio begin?

In this order: To do list, emails and breakfast/a cuppa whilst watching an episode of a show.

What do you find exciting about painting as a medium and how has your work evolved in recent years?

I find versatility the most exciting thing. I’m forever finding new ways to use paints and finding love for new colours and mediums and ways to experiment with using them. In recent years I’ve become more confident in my use of colour and bold marks.

Artist’s studio
Artist’s studio

I have seen images of your recent ceramics; how do you see this work in relation to your painting practice?

It’s just an extension of my art making, really. I found my love for it during the first lockdown, and it helped me to keep my sanity during a very difficult time, grounding me and helping me to make sense with what was happening around me and having to be alone. It’s something you must take your time with, which is not the way I often approach paintings, so I think in relation to my paintings it allows me to hold balance and restore calmness.

Do you have any go-to tools in your studio that you could not make work without?  How do you use them and why?

Palette knives. They’re the best tool for mixing oil paints, I love the way they apply and take away paint with the same ease.

Do you have any ‘studio hacks’ to share such as DIY painting tools, storage or repurposing tips?

I keep jars and glass bottles to separate oil paint residue from the white spirit I use to clean my brushes. I leave the mixed liquid in a beaker overnight and in the morning I gently poor the clear liquid into a jar or bottle to reuse and then decanter the dirty liquid into a bottle which once filled with the thick oil paint solvent I dispose of safely.

‘Belly of a Woman’, Oil, Ink and Gold Leaf on Canvas
‘Belly of a Woman’, Oil, Ink and Gold Leaf on Canvas, 200cm x 150cm, 2020

Do you have a favourite colour?

Green and Pink. I’m currently in a ‘red moment’ after forcing myself to learn to love the colour after years of avoiding working with it.

What contemporary artists do you enjoy? And what historical artists do you look at?

Gosh, lots. I’m currently loving Virginia Chihota, Maddalena Zadra, Self and Chris Ofili. I could list 50+ contemporary/emerging artists whose work I adore but today I was drawn to those names because I’ve been thinking a lot about painting and collage and their relationship as two different artistic practices. Historically, I love Hilma Af Klint, Artemisia Gentileschi, Henri Matisse and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Left: ‘Glistening’, Acrylic, Ink, Swarovski crystals and Oil on Canvas  Right: ‘Cloud 9’, Acrylic, Ink, Swarovski crystals and Oil on Canvas
Left: ‘Glistening’, Acrylic, Ink, Swarovski crystals and Oil on Canvas, 120cm x 170cm, 2020
Right: ‘Cloud 9’, Acrylic, Ink, Swarovski crystals and Oil on Canvas, 120cm x 170cm, 2020

What do you think is the biggest challenge artists face today?

Finances. Being able to afford to live, have space, the time and the finances to make work is very challenging.

What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Manage your expectations and to focus on what you’re doing.

Do you have one piece of advice that you would you share with an artist just starting out?

Concentrate on your career goals and make the best work you can make; everyone has a different journey.

All images courtesy of the artist, click here to see more of Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s work.