Art & Design blog: Architecture and landscape

Michael Chance on launch of Mercer Chance art gallery, London

Artist / designer:   Michael Chance
Article author:   Ricky Thakrar
Published:   Thu, 16 Oct 2014

Lapetus Transition Zone - Monotype, 76x54cm

Michael, you explore far-away worlds in much of your artwork. Is this primarily fantasy or is there a more scientific interest in the extra-terrestrial?

It’s science fiction, certainly, but not sci-fi. Depicting a foreign environment allows more freedom to play with the image outside conventional notions of landscape. The fact that many of them could appear to be earthly environments is testament to the variety of our earth… or perhaps it’s rather the sign of an earth-bound imagination.

Titan North Polar SAR map - monotype, chine colle, quill pen, 50x36cm

Your most distinctive work mixes soft media such as charcoal and graphite with structure in the form of graphs, technical annotation, architectural studies and cartography… what has influenced this combination?

In an artwork I try to express the totality of my interest in a certain place, which begins with a powerful aesthetic feeling, but may include conceptual information displayable only in graphical form or text. I try to never use graphs or data purely for effect, they are always rooted in real figures or have particular fixed meanings within my own narrative. I want everything to be readable at close range, whilst resolving to a more simple tonal impression from a distance.

I studied Peter Greenaway’s films at university and love how his use of layered image, geometry and text allows for an expansion in the possibilities of cinematic representation. The arrangement of and interplay between each element is deeply thoughtful yet also absurd, self-parodying.

St Paul's Distortion - Charcoal, graphite, 110x124cm

Whilst you studied at The Prince’s Drawing School, London, and much of your work is rooted in its disciplines, you also have a more romantic streak, producing Turner-esque landscapes in oil.  How do you relate to both?

The Drawing School is often misconceived as a reactionary return to old-fashioned academic values. In fact my experience on The Drawing Year opened me up to draw with much more freedom and really made me question all my assumptions about what constituted good drawing. After the course I felt able to meaningfully connect and combine my printmaking, drawing and painting practices in a fluid continuum.

Turner is a huge influence. He was a maverick, talented and sensitive as he was head-strong, he had the perfect balance between schooling and rebellion. He shows landscape as if witnessing a series of phase transitions; liquid, gas, earth and plasma intermixing, each struggling free from its conventional confines, interchangeable, unified in chaotic change.

Tintern - Oil on board, 152x122cm

Your new gallery, opening in Hoxton on 24th October 2014, will function as an open studio allowing members of the public to watch the artistic process in action. How do you think this will affect the work that you produce?

Well, thankfully I can close the curtain so I don’t have to be peered at all the time, especially when I’m doing unintentionally ‘arty’ chin-scratching poses! But it does mean that people will be able to come into our studio on certain days and see a variety of work, finished and in progress, and see it in the context of its making, which can be much more interesting that an impersonal blank gallery wall.

We both paint and draw outdoors a lot too, so we’re not going to be stuck in a fishbowl. I don’t think that being visible will affect my work in style or approach, I think I have some fairly unshakeable interests and principles to work by at the moment.

As well as yourself and co-founder Rachel Mercer using the space as a studio, you intend to exhibit the work of others.  How will your exhibitions compare to what’s on offer elsewhere in London?

We  want to exhibit work that is built upon a foundation of observation, contemplation and practised use of the artist’s medium, without imposing any restraints for the sake of commercial appeal.

I suppose I see a widening gulf between two extremes: private commercial ‘artefact’ or ‘investment’ art, and publicly-funded ‘experience’ or ‘engagement’ art. Both exist in an institutional context and are subject to certain restrictions and pressures, both are essentially outward looking and driven by novelty.  Representational art is criticised as ‘not enough’, ‘boring’, ‘conservative’; whilst conceptual art is equally bad-mouthed as ‘charlatanism’, ‘pretentious’, ‘inaccessible’.

This situation is ill-fitting for the artist who looks inward, making art not for the market, but to satisfy her interests, sensitively filtering her experiences and observations, searching for meaning that is deeply personal, yet universally resonant. I would describe this as a poetic approach.

Many blockbuster installation pieces make much of their anti-capitalist credentials by claiming that they are transitory; information, not product. However, they are consumed without much true contemplation; they are middle-class cosmopolitan fun fairs which do not last long in the memory, beyond the Monday morning cultural brag session. Further, they are often materially expensive and ecologically wasteful.

I used to feel completely anti-product, anti-selling-work, but I’ve come to realise that if you create something unique, soulful, made from humble materials, that will outlast you many times over and continue to provide pleasure and provoke thought throughout its lifetime at an un-inflated price – that is a true gift.

Q&A session with printmaker Paul Catherall

Artist / designer:   Paul Catherall
Article author:   Charlotte Bradford
Published:   Mon, 5 Nov 2012


Paul Catherall is one of the country’s leading linocut printmakers and has been one of Transport for London’s most popular and prolific poster artists of the past ten years.

Catherall draws much of his subject matter from the city’s more characterful landmarks, with a broad focus on modernist design. Each linocut print is created entirely by hand in a painstaking relief process that can take several weeks to complete.

XETH: At what age did you start to take an interest in art?

Paul Catherall: I honestly can’t remember but there’s a film of me drawing pictures in the sand very studiously around five years old. I started taking a serious interest in art when I was around 12 years old. That’s when I realised I could draw.

XETH: What is it that drew you to printmaking?

PC: I really like the methodical process – I always say it takes a few seconds to mess up a painting that you’ve spent days on – while although printmaking is thought of as non-forgiving your can see problems arising and can nearly always tackle them. Also, just love the simplicity of it and the fact that it can throw up surprises and happy accidents.

XETH: Have you got any exciting projects/commissions coming up?

PC: I’m working on a cover for George Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris for Penguin at the moment which is just a very nice thing to work on – it’s the kid of thing you did as a project at college and daydreamed about doing it for real one day.


XETH: Have you got any exhibitions in the near future?

PC: Yes a joint one with Ed Kluz at Potterton Books for all December – a lovely little bookshop with collectable books on design/artists/architecture etc then a large solo show at next May.

XETH: If you weren’t an illustrator/printmaker what other career would you have chosen?

PC: In all honesty I don’t know – I think I’ve survived and made a living from this because I wouldn’t contemplate anything else.

Phil Askew

From 27 July 2013, exactly one year after the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, the Olympic Park will begin to reopen as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – with twice as much open space as the Olympic site.

The vast majority of the parklands designed for the Games will remain, whilst some of the new areas will be designed by James Corner Field Operations, the landscape architects responsible for the award-winning High Line in New York.

XETH interviewed Phil Askew, Project Sponsor for Landscape and Public Realm, about some of the design considerations.


XETH: The three main areas of the parklands are the Great British Garden (themed in three areas: bronze, silver and gold!), the 2012 Gardens, and the wildflower meadows. Who was involved designing the various gardens?

Phil Askew: Yes, the gardens are really distinct and include some of the most creative planting ever seen in a public space.

The Great British Garden was the result of a design competition by the Royal Horticultural Society and London 2012, which offered two individuals, Rachel Read and Hannah Clegg, the opportunity to help design a garden for the Olympic Park. It is more traditional in design with carefully planted areas taking visitors through the garden in a journey of discovery.

The wildflower meadows were carefully designed by Sheffield University professor Nigel Dunnett to both bloom spectacularly for Games-time but also to attract wildlife, including bees to the Park.

The butterfields, birds and the bees

XETH: Yes, were you worried about how fast the natural population of such insects could be attracted, or were they introduced artificially?

PA: We have not and will not artificially introduce wildlife into the Park but we are already seeing it return and in the New Year will be carrying out extensive wildlife counts to get a really accurate picture of what kind of wildlife has made the Park its home.

XETH: The 2012 Gardens comprise four beds of planting, representing four distinct parts of the world. What was the creative process for deciding which regions and species would be represented?

PA: Well, the Gardens form a living timeline of Britain’s long history of exploration, trade, and plant collecting and its impact on the richness and diversity of British gardens.

While the overarching focus of the parklands is on native biodiversity and ecological networks, the 2012 Gardens, based in the southern area of the Park, draws inspiration from the distinctive characteristics of plant communities found in the wild in Europe, North America, the Southern Hemisphere, and Asia. These will remain in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.


XETH: Some of the wild flower beds are extremely dense, and on sloping sites. What challenges does this pose in terms of adequate irrigation and drainage in the future?

PA: The parklands, as with the rest of the park, were designed with legacy in mind. Treated black water will be used to irrigate the Park and sustainable drainage systems will not only protect the planting but create a natural flood plain protecting 4,000 homes in Canning Town from flooding.


XETH: During the Games, people were quite comfortable roaming through the dense meadows compared to what you might experience with a formal garden – was there an intention to ensure that the gardens were inviting and accessible to people in this way? How does the mobile smartphone app contribute to this?

PA: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is a haven for both people and wildlife, our approach is to make the parklands inviting and accessible for all. The smartphone app adds to that accessibility providing information in a really effective way.

We will continue this approach as we open Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park providing beautiful parklands that are both innovative and welcoming – and we look forward to welcoming XETH readers to the Park from next year!

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Q&A session with printmaker Paul Catherall

  Paul Catherall is one of the country’s leading linocut printmakers and has been one of Transport for London’s most popular and prolific poster artists of the past ten years. Catherall draws much of his subject matter from […]