Interview: Artist Michelle McKinney
I first spotted UK artist Michelle McKinney’s work over at The Jealous Curator and was immediately hooked. How she can create such delicate, ethereal pieces from metal is beyond me. As is beautifully put on her website: Whilst utilising symbols found in nature that have a timeless constancy, the methods and media used are innovative applications of contemporary industrial materials subtly handled so that even the closest scrutiny give almost no intimation of their origins.
Although she began her creative career as a jewellery designer, it was after falling in love with ultra-fine woven metal that led her into the work she does today, making larger-scale artworks-cum-sculptures. She has even had high-profile commissions from The British Council, The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter and The Dorchester Hotel Group. Michelle has put woven metal into a whole new stratosphere – giving it life, energy and a story.
Here she tells me about herself and her work …
Please tell me about yourself – what is your background, what did you study and how have you ended up where you are today?
My background is actually in jewellery design. I completed a degree at the Birmingham School of Jewellery in 1998 and for a number of years created and sold my own collections of precious jewellery.
Throughout my time creating jewellery I was always interested in using translucent materials. Using frosted Perspex and precious metals to create shadows and blurred edges within my designs were the key inspirations. It was this fascination with translucent materials that led me to the ultra-fine woven metal I use now. I had read about these very fine woven metals that were used in industry for scientific filters, among other things, and was keen to get my hands on some. When the samples arrived I realised they were so fine it would not work with the jewellery application but I fell in love with the materials and knew that was where my future lay.
There is a real juxtaposition between the use of metal and the resultant ethereal, delicate appearance of your pieces. When and why did you begin exploring/ working with fine metal?
I began exploring the woven metal alongside making my jewellery collections but soon realised I wanted to work on a larger scale. Still keeping the intricacy and detail I was used to but exploring much larger ideas - putting together multiple tiny elements to create a whole. It was a completely new direction for me and a new start and for some reason the symbolism of butterflies really inspired me so my very first piece was a mass of hundreds of stainless steel butterflies rising up into the sky. I very much enjoy this contrast between the strength of my material – steel – and the delicacy and fragility of the subject matter.
Can you tell me about the creative process – how it works for you – where your ideas come from – and how you bring them to life?
When I am working on new ideas I spend a lot of time just looking around me I am fascinated by nature and the constancy of it. I walk, take photographs, sketch and collect. My prize possession is my cabinet of curiosities in my studio in which I display all my finds. The changing seasons and fleeting beauty that surround me; the themes of life and death and this idea of trying to hold onto a moment are also important. My work is full of movement but with a quiet calm stillness – it is contained but has the feeling that at any moment it could float away – an ethereal quality.
I spend many hours just working on a single form cutting forming and colouring the metal so it has a lifelike presence and sense of movement. I work from life so will collect a leaf for example or pick a flower and then try and recreate it in metal. If I cannot do it justice then I won’t use it. I am very hard on myself in that respect.
What would be your dream project/commission?
I think a dream commission would be for someone like Kew Gardens or The Natural History Museum in London where I could go and be immersed in their amazing collections and create a piece inspired by them.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
I think one of my “who’d of thought moments” was when I discovered the amazing book sculptures of Su Blackwell. Her work is just magical and it lifts my spirits every time I see it.
What do the next ten years hold, do you hope?
In the next 10 years I hope to be able to continue growing as an artist. There are so many more ideas I want to explore. I like to keep moving forward and trying new things but I think it will be a long time before I grow tired of working with woven metal. I just love it!
If you’re in London and you’d like to see Michelle’s beautiful work in person, you can find her at …
Starting in Dec and running until January 2014 she will have a Solo exhibition titled “Nature studies” at the Northcote Gallery, Kings Road, London.
You can also find Michelle on Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/MichelleMckinneyArtist, and Twitter @McKinneyContact