Interview by Agata Matusielańska
Martyna Merkel powerfully detaches herself from young artists who wish to shock. She stays focused on her seascapes and dutifully works on the materiality of her paintings. She tells Galeria Art about bold, for her age, artistic convictions and about waiting for artistic accidents on her canvases...
Even though you live in Wroclaw and graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts there, the majority of your works depict seascapes, such as your works which you created at the end of your studies in 2014…
I came up with this theme when I lived in Porto, I went there for the Erasmus exchange programme. I lived near a river and, because I have been interested in landscapes since 2nd year of my studies, I often observed these boats and sketched them. My stay in Portugal was a time of experimenting, I tried to discover something new in my art. I think it was because I changed an environment and left the hermetic artistic environment of Wroclaw.
How did your stay in Portugal and your studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Porto influence your art?
In Wroclaw I took classes where we were taught the importance of colour combinations. In a way, however, there was a sense of monotony. In Poland my art was muted and after my stay in Porto, maybe because I had such an artistic freedom there, it has become full of life. When I had been sending the photos of my works to Poland I often heard, from my friends and professors, that they can feel the warmth of the Portuguese sun, smell the fish…
How do you manage to achieve such a sensual effect? Tell me more about your technique…
I produced the Portuguese series by using the technique of monotyping, also called one-time printing. I spend lots of time painting one work. Firstly, it is because I use oil paints. Secondly, I apply them by layers, one on top of another. Colours are very important to me, their combinations produce the atmosphere of a painting. The next equally important element is substance.
What do you mean by the substance of a painting? Why is it so important to you?
Substance meaning a structure. I mean a way of improving the colours. I am inspired by nature in which we can observe all sorts of different substances. I don’t want to imitate nature but rather treat it as an artistic challenge and I want to recreate these textures. By painting by layers and applying different colour combinations I produce substances on my paintings.
How do you paint, in your workshop or outdoors, where you can observe nature, your main inspiration?
I paint in my workshop. I am not sure why, but I really like working in the evenings. Only after I sort out all personal things I can sit down to start painting. I need an empty head to do that. Each painting session is a process, during which I experience things inside my head. Often these are dilemmas, because I want to achieve something and it doesn’t work, but then something else is created…
Is the issue of coincident important to you in your art? Do you expect it?
Yes. I treat events like these as lessons for myself. An artist Jozef Halas called it the conscious utilization of a coincident. Following this idea I produced some of the first and, I believe, my best works.
It is interesting that to start painting you need to sort out all your personal things, but in the process of painting itself you rely on coincident.
That is true, I’ve always worked like this.
What are your artistic inspirations when it comes to specific artists or movements?
In my art I am influenced by the Wroclaw’s colourism. It is natural for me, I was born here and gained my artistic education. Since I was a child I was surrounded by art, because my dad is a painter and a lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wroclaw.
Do you inspire each other with your dad when it comes to painting?
When I got accepted at the Academy we decided not to discuss things related to school and painting at home. We naturally like to talk about art, dad tells me what he currently works on, what makes him content and what frustrates him. I don’t impose my art on him, because I know that he doesn’t like some of the things I do… I am different and I make different art.
You always had a contact with an artistic world, but did you consider to follow some other path?
Yes, in high school I thought about trying something else. I attended an artistic secondary school, but I had an impression that there was a non-professional approach to teaching. I really rebelled against it. It came to a point that I was in conflict with my teacher who asked me arrogantly if I am going to listen to her or my dad… I replied that my dad. These events made me choose a high school without artistic profile and I had a distaste to art. I thought about applying for psychology or journalism degree, but after my final exams at high school I came to my senses and applied to the Academy of Fine Arts in Wroclaw. After the first semester I got very engaged with my studies, it was love at first sight.
It seems that you are quite rebellious. Do you think that you art stands out in comparison to other students’ works?
Yes, but it had a contrary effect. I think I am more traditional in my art. There are many young artists who aim to be controversial and lose touch with the values which every artist should represent.
What kind of values do you mean?
Sincerity for example. And being faithful to what one believes in their art. And other fundamental issues like being faithful to form and content. For me, for example, without a colour there is no painting.
One may say that your seascapes with boats became your recognisable theme. The history of art is full of artists who devoted their lives to master one theme in order to achieve an artistic perfection. Is that your plan too?
It is hard for me to say, I don’t have any long term plans. I treat my art as my self-portrait. If you compare the first boats with the most recent ones it is noticeable how my style evolved. I changed personally, but it is noticeable in my paintings too. I want to work on that theme, expand it, but not to its extremes.
What is your most recent project?
In my new series I decided to come back from the seaside to Greater Poland, because I have been recently spending lots of time in the countryside. I am always inspired by what surrounds me. In my art I try to recreate my world, which right now is inspired by the fields… and this blue countryside sky which is completely different that the one in the city.