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  • Writer's pictureMark Michael

Viewers may take the stance that Not So Plain Jane is a painting solely about Jane Austen, some may see the image as nothing more than just a cheap piece of shock art created for the soul purpose of sticking a thumb into the eye of a much beloved literary icon. As with all art everyone, is allowed their own opinion, however nothing in the aforementioned could be further from the truth. I wanted to create a portrait that dealt with the ideas behind ownership and appropriation of the author's image along with the history and quiet rivalries between the places who claim a form of possession over this iconic figure. ‘Not so Plain Jane’ was painted in early 2017. It felt an appropriate time to explore these ideas as August of that same year marked the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s’ death. There are several geographical locations who are eager to stake claim to certain stages of Austen’s tragically short life as her name and literary out-put is seen as the personification of Britishness, which of course is a very lucrative commodity. Winchester and Bath are the two cities who both hold legitimate claims and have the most to gain from Austen’s literary cachet. They each mark territory with plaques and museums which bewitch tourists to buy STUFF. Sadly seldom copies of the author’s works, instead the more easily digestible and commercially viable key chain or tea towel. Unfortunately the worship of Jane Austen feels very bloated and tired. I decided to offer an alternative perspective during the 2017 bicentennial celebrations, to look passed the conventional images of the author whom I have much respect. It felt necessary to take the image of Austen that we are all familiar with and hopefully challenge the viewers to see how a literary icon and her image has in some instances been simplified into a commodity for tourism. The idea around consumption and ownership of Austen’s image influenced the composition of the painting. I felt it was appropriate that the focal point of the portrait should depict Austen’s head presented on a platter, garnished and ready for consumption. The use of a fork in her neck Illustrates the marking of ownership echoed in the use of text ‘Our Girl.’ inscribed on the forks handle. The fork also helps to show the idea of dividing and serving up Jane Austen the brand.

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  • Writer's pictureMark Michael

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

For the last year I have been working on Cold in the Sun, a book which combines both my artwork and writing. As an artist, I have always looked for the balance of connecting images and the written word in my paintings, whether incorporating text literally into the artwork, or using the titles of a painting to engage with the viewer. Cold in the Sun seemed a natural progression for my work as I have always loved the way in which a few simple words are able to evoke a response within us all. It can be visceral, humorous or shocking. The right combination of words can realign a person’s mindset in ways that are either positive or negative. I enjoy the way in which text can cause one person’s brow to furrow in confusion or contempt, whilst the very same configuration of letters could encourage someone else’s mouth to curl into a wry smile.

With Cold in the Sun I wanted to make a book that people could pick up and explore. One that doesn't necessarily require a reader to start at the beginning and read cover to cover, as the book has no narrative structure. Although the way in which our brains are wired, page one always feels like the best place to begin, even with a book that is rather unconventional.

I recoil from trying to over analyse or burrow too deeply into why I wrote this book. I suppose the best way to begin is with a sweeping statement Modern life is strange, in ways that are both terrific and terrible. I am absolutely fascinated by the way in which during the last decade we have adapted so fast to absorb content and the manner in which it is presented to us, which is often laughably polarising. We now live in a world where memes and other bite-sized hits of content have reduced our brains to crave condensed shots of digital espresso, which often hold no real neurological nutritional value other than to set us up for the day ahead. If a misjudged tweet can cost someone their job or force the thin skinned and the bored to troll, it is obvious that we are only slightly sophisticated apes, graduating from using rudimentary tools to bludgeon our pray to death, our means of inflicting blunt force trauma now are hash tags, Vlogs and Blogs. I am not about to lie, it is a fascinating time, where cancel culture boils over and scolds anyone who dares to endeavour to temper the heat from under it. What a perfect yet precarious moment to create anything.

Cold in the Sun consists of hundreds of short sharp phrases and over 70 original black and white images that explores dark humour, surrealism and the absurdities of 21st century life all served up in bite-sized chunks. In our current tiptoeing PC, woke society, I wrote this book to try and explore through art and writing, the grey areas between the black and the white.

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  • Writer's pictureMark Michael

This piece is called ‘The Pissing Contest’ put simply it’s about the games people play, it’s about prodigal children, the hopes parents have and how frustrating it is to see people live vicariously through their spawn. I am also drawn to the simplicity of the image and its clinical, cold and detached feel. Limited edition Giclee prints are available HERE

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