We all have a story to tell.
You may feel invisible or overlooked but we are on a hero’s journey, and our lives have meaning and value.
I take the stuff of everyday life – our (super) human personal dramas and daily routine – and transform it into painted images of heroic dimensions, like the grand history paintings of the past. Think Homer, but in fact real life is more like ‘The Simpsons’, and Marg is the unsung heroine.
There are hidden depths and meaning to be found in the seemingly banal and repetitive acts that infuse our lives. Life is beautiful and mysterious and I would like to celebrate that mystery.
My surname was an embarrassment at school; everyone struggled to put sounds to the letters. I mostly got called ‘Air field’. For the record, it is pronounced Air-felt. Much simpler than the way it looks. A name can have far-reaching effects. I could have changed it but seeing that there are so few of us left – you can count them on your five fingers – I felt like it would be letting the side down.
I was born and raised in the hot, flat suburbs of Adelaide, South Australia, to Estonian migrant parents. Childhood wasn’t my favourite time. As a highly-strung, sensitive child who felt misunderstood, life dragged me along kicking and screaming. I turned to painting and drawing as a refuge. It was a small corner of the world where I felt in control and could tell stories with pictures. At twelve I started messing in the garage with a little beginner set of oil paints. I never stopped.
During primary school I read ‘Heidi’ and imagined myself escaping to a new life in the Swiss Alps, just like on the calendar hanging in our kitchen – green meadows by a gentle brook, placid cows with clinking bells, little stone and timber chalets and white peaks in the background. Of course the sky was always blue.
I grew up and trained to be a high school art teacher (something practical) but somehow couldn’t face going back to school again to deal with uninterested students. I can’t quite figure out what I was thinking, but my low point came when I found myself doing management in a huge department store – sitting at a desk in a communal office under a perpetual fluorescent glare, working on massive budgets and spreadsheets – a fish out of water. I never imagined that I could contribute anything to the world through my paintings. I was miserable and depressed.
Art was always my thing, but I resisted, out of fear. When I eventually did make the move I found myself with a scholarship to do a fine art degree at Adelaide Central School of Art, and then with another to head to London and complete a Masters programme at Chelsea College. Suddenly life was so much better.
Since then I have moved to the south of France. I know it sounds glamorous, but actually it’s quite challenging learning a new culture and language. Although I live by the Mediterranean, I have always hated being shaken about by waves, so prefer calm lakes and meditative mountains any time. I now strangle the French language less than I did a few years ago and make it to Barcelona regularly for my big-city fix. I spend my days in the haven of my studio, painting and drinking Earl Grey tea. My bedside table is piled high with art and philosophy books, and I adore Miró, El Greco, medieval chant and Arvo Pärt.
If this is all you know about me, it is more than I tell most people.
The top four questions I am asked during studio visits.
1. Why do you paint women?
I enjoy playing with images from popular culture and art history. Both are loaded with cultural baggage. We are surrounded by images of women – mostly young, beautiful, with digital skin, idealised into techno-oblivion. Yesterday’s Madonnas have morphed into today’s Kate Moss and Lindsey Wixson. I happen to be a woman, painting from a woman’s perspective, but I hope that the themes are universal.
These women are on a hero’s journey, encountering and overcoming real day to day problems and difficulties along the way. Seventeenth Dutch genre painting meets Prada handbag ads.
It’s not a new story, but it’s my story.
2. Do you use models or invent the pictures?
All of my paintings are set up with real models and actual objects. I start with little thumbnail sketches, and then make or collect the props needed for each scene. Next I select a suitable model – usually a friend or someone I know – and set up lighting, choose a backdrop and take hundreds of photos.
The background landscape is added digitally afterwards. Most of my landscapes are from photos I have taken myself whilst travelling – many shot out of the car window when there was a particular sky effect, or while passing mountains.
3. Do you only make large paintings?
Larger paintings serve my ideas better at the moment. I paint all of my figures so that they end up bigger than the viewer. The grand scale is important to convey the meaning. Think of the huge, old mythological or history paintings that fill the Louvre Museum. If I had a bigger studio I would paint even larger…
Yes, there are some smaller works, and I have made smaller series in the past, so who knows what’s next.
I have recently started to work in photography as well. In the past I never considered myself a photographer and thought that my photos were just a step in the process. A recent series of photos worked better than anything I could paint. I was stumped. So the penny dropped and I decided to release these images in a limited edition series.
4. How long does it take to make a painting?
How long is a piece of string? Yes, I know that’s no answer, but the time varies so much. It takes at least a month for a large work. Some works go on for years – they are left facing the wall and taken up again later. Some I consider finished, but I then totally rework them. I make a maximum of ten major works per year.
At least fifty percent of the time is spent in preparation before the brush even hits the canvas. Ideas ferment for several months before a series begins. I read and research and clarify the ideas.
Making or finding the required props takes a few weeks. The photo session is usually a day or two. Afterwards I spend a number of days putting together and manipulating each picture on the computer before I am ready to start painting.
The final painting is never merely a copy of the digital image. The ‘source’ image is translated into brush marks, a bit like translating from English into French. A lot of artistic license takes place, and major changes occur along the way.