As a child I was intrigued by monochrome reproductions which I discovered in Arthur Mees’ old encyclopaedias. The pictures were mainly of Renaissance, Post -Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite paintings. The figures depicted struck a chord. (Colour hit me a bit later!)

To return to the beginning. My great-grandfather, Jean-Prophète, had retired from the French diplomatic service at thirty to concentrate on his art. He drew, painted and made beautiful ceramics.

My grandmother Solange and my mother Yolande, both accomplished artists, would sit and pose for me for hours. I never heard them complain!

Pen and ink work remained a family favourite with all of us. I think my grandmother’s carved French furniture created my manic love of detail! (This found form in my later etchings). Luckily looser work seem to develop alongside.

Poster paint is a useful, bright medium and with watercolour was ideal for my varied childhood paintings for the Royal Drawing Society. I used to paint everything from family members to still lives and landscapes.

Edward Burra was an artist who fascinated me when I was young. His strangely coloured figures inhabited strange worlds. There was a disturbing element throughout that made me aware of deeper human feelings and experiences. 'John Deth' was a painting that I came across amidst the vast array of books at home. It was my first encounter with the depiction of mortality. I wanted to know more!

Next it was the great Picasso exhibition that was a turning point. I was eleven. This time it was my first encounter with a real abstract painting. I will never forget the force of 'Woman in a red armchair' - red squares on a white background!  Wham!  Again, something clicked. I still have the catalogue and the 'treat' postcards.  (There was another shock in store, but I will write about this at a later date).

I seemed attracted to strong shapes.

In my teens I adored the pen and ink that John Piper combined with luscious watercolour. I tried to emulate this on coloured papers with varying degrees of success!

Good kind Corot, who had been a family friend, was always a reliable favourite. His optimism and humanity, whether depicted in figures or landscapes, was reassuring. His soft colours contrasted with those of Burra. I seemed to be able to appreciate both. Matisse and Dufy are the masters of rich colour and sensual line.  All unnecessary detail is removed and the joy of the human and human activity is celebrated. Vuillard’s dissolving of figures into textured backgrounds is also compelling.

Inspiration is to be found everywhere in art history. My favourites range from Pre-Columbian art and other art from ancient civilisations, Cimabue, jewel encrusted icons, tribal art, Rembrandt’s stunning chiaroscuro (vital in representational work) Da Vinci, Watteau’s drawings, war artists, and Van Gogh, to Chagall, Jasper Johns, Hodgkin, Hartigan, Hepworth, Krasner and Kusama. I can also add Kossoff, Tapies , Frost and Lanyon to the list. (I could go further!)

I like to use a lot of rich colours. The seductive quality of water colours continues to intrigue. I find the directness and modernity of acrylics appealing. For me these paints work particularly well for portraits - it is also easier for the sitter and makes posing sessions shorter.

Pen and ink, as mentioned, reigns supreme. The effect of black ink on thick water colour paper is as the bright sun rising in the morning, or the saltiness of the sea.

Seeing the Van Goghs in Amsterdam, I was astounded by their fresh colour - they looked as though they had been painted that morning. I try to keep a feeling of freshness in my work.

Humour is vital in any form of creativity! I find it can creep in at a moment’s notice, and so it should ... whether is in my wild humanised sunflower prints and 'Pigs smile in the rain' or the strange smiling lobster (aka Lobelia) in my acrylic painting 'Le pêcheur anglais!' How I admire Gerald Scarfe!

Etching is my favourite printmaking medium. I have used traditional and modern methods. I also enjoy monoprint and monochrome work in linocut.  Hogarth is a wonder with his amazing depiction of figure groups. I also admire the prints of Dürer, (manic detail again!),  Rembrandt (I was lucky to be able to handle one of his etchings), Sutherland, Raverat,  Mila Judge-Furstova (with whom I met) Hopper, Calder and Ryan. The rawness of Goya’s 'Disasters of War' etchings should not be ignored. Sometime ago I found myself captivated by the Litvinenko episode and made a print accordingly. Again, I enjoy the wide range of this area, from overwhelming realist detail to fantasy and complete abstraction. This ties in with my approach to painting.

I draw when I can, in pencil and ink, and find myself steadily filing sketchbooks. I find ideas all around me and sometimes look at Old Masters for studies.  In order to keep my work fresh I tend to use drawings as rough guides - hence the idiosyncratic nature of my working!

Recycled materials are challenging to work with, as is collage. I like to use wooden fragments - painted and then incorporated into larger works - sometimes for wall hangings.

At the moment I tend to keep oil paint for my commissioned portrait work. I use the paint in a gentle layering way to produce soft texture, which for me can capture the character and vitality of the sitter. (Establishing a good relationship with your model is absolutely vital!  The interaction usually grows naturally.)

Sometimes I think it is important to make your creative mistakes and experiments in private - problem solving often needs solitude. Returning to the 'group' is also vital in order  to share experiences, get a balanced and more objective view of your efforts and, where possible, to learn from others. For me working in total isolation can distort your vision. I have to extend my self by having tuition in order to keep myself from falling into well-worn clichés!  I enjoy having a group of artists working in one of my studios.

I feel I am continuing the process started by my ancestors!


Click here to see Merlith's full website