Michelle Harton (b.1983) is an Irish artist who works mainly in acrylic and water soluble drawing materials. She has studied art at Fermanagh College in Northern Ireland, classical portraiture and figure painting and drawing at the private art school and international arts colony Studio Escalier in France and plein air painting with David Mynett in Majorca along with many years of developing her own style.
That which can’t be seen haunts and intrigues her be it mystical, internal or injustice in the world. Through her artwork Michelle tries to make some sense of it through painting and researching but it only digs a bigger hole into the abyss of esotericism for her. The idea of control is present in her work; who is controlling us, spiritually, politically and emotionally, with her regular conclusion being that many times the only person stifling us is ourselves. This theme of internal mental battles between who we feel we are and what the world around us makes us feeds into much of her work. She feels this issue of people not finding their place and purpose in life causes much of the mental illness in the world today. These subjects are not handed to you on a plate in her paintings, instead she prefers meaning to develop over time for the viewer. Layers of bright colours, cute animals and childlike imagery are regularly used as an inroad to darker mental thoughts and world affairs.
Michelle is also very interested in bringing stories, legends and folklore from the past to the forefront to be remembered by those who once knew them and introduced to new people so they are passed down to future generations. This searching into the past also becomes a way to try and make sense of who we have become today and for her to try and find a personal connection of contentment with who she is.
“For me art is created by the viewer, their connection with the piece. The person who looks at a piece of art connects the dots themselves even if those dots might signify more mystery that they need to ponder on. I like the mystery of art. No two people look at it the same. Your personal experiences and memory will give you a totally different connection with a painting regardless if the style is realist or abstract. For example one person might look at a painting of a cottage in the countryside and just think it’s a traditional twee type painting that doesn’t make them feel anything, for someone else that painting could bring up wonderful childhood memories of the freedom and happy times of living in a little cottage in the countryside, for someone else this little cottage could be their goal in life, for them to have it on their wall it’s like a vision board for the future and for someone else it could be a spooky place where something bad happened. This is what I love about art. We can never fully know the full extent of how someone is connecting with a painting inside. And the same can be said about the artist, we can never fully know what the artist was thinking when they painted it and for me I feel like I have to just let the painting flow through me without questioning it too much in the beginning. I have to follow where it takes me and that’s where I get most of the excitement, through the process. I start in a very abstract way and work the painting until it starts to unveil images to me. As well as brushes I like to use unconventional tools to create new effects.
When I look at a blank canvas I know that many beings and lands hide within. They are locked behind a door that only paint can open. After I build up layers I feel like my work is to unearth these hidden images from the painting, to release them from the painted land they hide within and let them tell their story. I do not always know at first who they are or where they come from, but more often than not they have a message for me or for someone who connects with the piece. When a viewer tells me something about a piece that I had not thought about, I understand that painting had a specific job and that I was merely the channel, as that painting was waiting to talk to someone else.”
Michelle’s current work is an exploration into creating mystical dreamworlds for introspective art collectors as a place to escape to and meditate in to revive their spirit. Many can be hung in two directions allowing one painting to become two. They are landscapes from a lucid dreamworld and the imagined wildflowers that grow there. Some show glimpses of a contemporary colourful take on the bucolic scenes of Ireland and other countries she’s lived like Vietnam and Peru.
INTERACTIVE ART PROJECTS
The STOP PAINTING Project
May 16th 2020 – February 20th 2021 – For The STOP PAINTING Project I have handed the age long question of when is a painting finished over to the art buyer. I’m currently creating a collection of 30 paintings that I film the process of and share along with videos on Instagram and Facebook. Art collectors have an opportunity to buy one of the pieces at any stage of the process by telling me to “STOP PAINTING”. So far a third of the work has been sold and it has been very interesting to see how some people prefer my work in it’s more abstracted state and others as more figurative work. If a painting is not sold then I will continue to paint over it again until all 30 paintings have been sold. This project builds on my “Mystery Art Sale” from November 2019 which has encouraged me to seek out new and interactive ways for people to buy art.
The Mystery Art Sale
Nov 1st – 30th, “The Mystery Art Sale”. In November 2019 I launched a 30 day interactive art buying experience on Instagram and Facebook pre-selling 37 paintings in 30 days to collectors who bought without knowing what their painting would look like. Each new painting was created daily then posted online where pre-purchasers had to be the fastest to “claim” the painting they wanted. This created a great daily auction-like atmosphere on my social media platforms.
13th-17th October 2021 – START Art Fair, The Saatchi Gallery, London.
Aug – 4th-16th 2020, 8th Annual Signal Open, Signal Arts Centre, Bray, Co.Wicklow
Oct 15th – 25th 2019, “Layers”, a solo exhibition at Arklow Visual Arts Centre, Co. Wicklow
Sept 20th – Oct 26th 2019, “A House Of Pomegranates”, a solo exhibition based on “The Fairy Stories Of Oscar Wilde”, Johnston Central Library, Cavan
Dec 7th – 23rd 2018 – Joint exhibition with Siobhan Harton, The Teacher’s Centre, Cavan
July 28th – 29th 2018 – Kilnaleck Arts Festival, Kilnaleck, Co.Cavan
April 27th 2018, The Co Club, Oldcastle, Co.Meath
July 1st – 9th 2017, Samhradh, Four Woman Exhibition, Kilnaleck, Co.Cavan
Nov 25th – 29th 2015, Group Art Exhibition, The Teachers Centre, Cavan
Nov 29th – Dec 7th 2014, ‘The Hollow’, The Teachers Centre, Cavan
Nov 15th – 22nd 2014, ‘The Hollow’, Ballyjamesduff Museum, Co.Cavan
Dec 2013 – Open Season Group Exhibition, The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co.Leitrim
May 24th – June 4th 2012, An Tostal Festival Group Exhibition, Drumshanbo, Co.Leitrim
May 11th – 21st 2012, Group Exhibition, Higher Bridges Gallery, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh
2021 – Professional Artist Award from Cavan County Council
2020 – Fingal Artist Support Scheme Award from Fingal County Council, Dublin towards creating a body of work for START at The Saatchi Gallery, London
2019 – Recipient of an Arts Award from Johnston Central Library, Cavan, Creative Ireland and Cavan Arts office to create “A House Of Pomegranates”, a solo exhibition based on the works of Oscar Wilde
2018 – Received Artist Support Award from Cavan Arts Office towards joint exhibition
2015 – Arts Development Award to research and visually respond to the ghost stories and folklore of my home town Cavan in an exhibition called ‘The Hollow’, awarded by Cavan County Council Arts Office
2012 – The Tommy McLoughlin Arts Award, awarded by Cavan County Council Arts Office and The McLoughlin Family
‘Hunting For Home’ bought by Cavan County Council Collection in December 2018. This painting was inspired by the housing crisis in Ireland.