Today we are featuring one of our favourite Australian artists, Mignon Steele. Her expressive works bring endless layers of joy, with colour and energy that just makes you want to get up and dance. With an upcoming show in NSW, and plans to head to Melbourne soon, 2017 is shaping up to be a big year. Onward and upward, Mignon!
1. Can you tell us a little bit about you - where youre from and your journey to becoming an artist?
I live with my partner Morgen Figgis and kids Sylvie and Ernie near Wollongong (just south of Sydney). Though I’ve spent most of my life in NSW, I lived in New Zealand for my teen years and my Dad’s family are there, so my heart will always be half-Kiwi. I started art school there in a little town called Whanganui and it was really something special. The teachers were amazing, there was a painting teacher named Warwick Mcleod who taught us Joseph Albers’ colour theory exercises for an entire term and it really set me off on an endless colour adventure. I remember the first time it clicked - I was painting pictures of jar lids and found a certain combination of blue and red that vibrated in an impossible way and i became hopelessly addicted to searching for chromatic reactions.
At the end of that first year I moved back to the Gong and enrolled at the National Art School. After I graduated I was really confused about art and it’s relevance to our world and my own life.. So I took a bit of a break from painting for a while and worked in the disability and mental health sector and set-painting for a while, and travelled..and while I still question that stuff, I just paint in every spare minute I can wrangle.
2. We were lucky enough to come across your work at an exhibition at the Lock Up in Newcastle. Can you tell us a little bit about the art community around you (including the Lock Up which is such an amazing space!)?
I agree, the Lockup is a wonderful mix of dark history and contemporary art programming. I was part of a group show there and liked it so much we (as Barnacle Studio) applied for a residency, which was a really rich experience. Down here in the Illawarra we’re not as organised culturally as Newcastle yet… but we’re catching up! Our arts community is lively and supportive across disciplines, and growing all the time. Renew Newcastle seems to have been an inspiration here and in many regional centres as it’s great to be able to show councils and landlords a working model and stats that show how artists and creatives in general can transform depressingly dead retail zones into vibrant places worth visiting again… not to mention all the other benefits of accessible creative zones to the wider community. Regional and country Australia have such potential to dazzle as affordable spaces in major cities get more and more challenging to find.
The arts community is lovely in the Northern Illawarra, but my favourite things about living here are the birds, the sea, and the escarpment - which looks different every single day..
3. Your partner has a creative calling too as an architect - do you guys get to collaborate together ever?
We’ve been working together on building projects since we met 15 years ago, which usually meant me weighing in on the colour and materiality of Morgen’s buildings or Morgen weighing in on the more 3D and practical aspects of my art making and design … We’ve always maintained our independent projects and practices, but there’s often been a lot of overlap. So a few years back we came up with the moniker Barnacle Studio and made a website to document our solo and collaborative works. We’re both a bit rubbish at self-promotion, so its great to help each other out with that sort of stuff..
3. I am obviously a huge fan of your work - I love the layers to it and it feels very positive to me. How would you describe your work?
Thanks, I’m glad you get positive vibes! Making the work can be really damn thrilling. I approach painting in an intuitive way, I take cues from the music, stories and science shows I listen to while I paint, as well as my experiences in nature and the built environment. The paintings are largely non-objective but sometimes refer or allude to a human or animal presence, nature’s patterns, forms, habitats etc. Ultimately though, they are about the paint as matter, and colour… I’m also really enjoying playing around making some sculptural paintings lately too.
4. You recently exhibited at Koskela - congratulations! - how did that come about?
A friend and fellow artist/designer, Emma Rutherford, introduced me to Harriet and Jess at Koskela who invited me to be part of the Twelve group show last Christmas. I’m lucky to also have some works displayed in the showroom among all the tempting things.
5. Who are some of your favourite “undiscovered” local Australian artists?
The Egg and Dart in Thirroul has become a marvellous hub of young and established artists: In particular, Frank Nowlan, India Mark and Nick Santoro continually catch my eye with their fresh paintworks. Elyss McCleary, based in Melbourne makes nuanced, romantic paintings. And Anita Larkin’s sculptures are really rich and ingenious.
6. Where can we see more of your work?
I’m getting new work ready for a trio show called Managing Expectations with Aaron Fell-Fracasso and Matt Bromhead opening really soon at the Egg and Dart in Thirroul [31st of March]. And then later in August-September at Sheffer Gallery in Sydney with beatific painters Emily Besser and Michele Morcos. I’m really hoping to get a Melbourne show together in the future too so I have an excuse to visit!
Check out instagram @mignon_steele or website www.barnaclestudio.com.au