Rooted in her life experiences and emotions, Matilde Merli's work taps into anger, disappointment, suffering, but also joy, hope and curiosity.
What are the challenges that you have encountered over the last twelve months?
MM: The pandemic has been a difficult journey: as an artist, it was hard to keep on working. What I create is very exaggerated, so I hope it comes across. I want people to understand what I am trying to say. Everything I make is based on an honest message and it matters to me that people understand the pain behind my pieces.
To date, I have sold one artwork. It was just before I was offered the Hari residency. This person came to see a flatmate, and they bought my work. We spoke a lot and had a good conversation, I felt he understood me, so I felt ok about letting him have the picture.
As an artist, what do you wish for that would help you build your practice?
A studio, with a wider range of materials!
Why did you apply to the residency initially?
MM: I got some information about it via an email from Westminster University [where Matilde currently studies]. At the time, I was working full time in a pub.
I am not very confident, so I didn't want to apply. Who knows how many people apply to these opportunities? But one night I just decided to do it. I never hoped it would happen, it’s an amazing opportunity, I truly needed it. It’s been a tough year back home. It was a blessing – I needed a push. It came at the right time.
Has the residency unfolded as you expected?
MM: I didn’t have many expectations. It was liberating, because before the residency, I was working in my kitchen or in the living room and for my five flatmates it was a bit tricky, although they are supportive of my work. I lacked space. Here, it’s incredible to have all this space to myself: I listen to music, I can spread my work around the room. I start on one piece, then move on to another one, and then the next, with a different colour, different materials – I always have several works on the go.
My process reflects my personality; I never finish one thing, I’m impatient for the next thing, I act on impulse. Sometimes I think I lack the concentration to finish any one work. I imagine things quickly, I also forget quickly, so I have to capture these fleeting images rapidly and release them on the canvas. Later I will return to a specific work and add something different to it. My first year at university was hard, because they introduced limits, whereas I create in a crazy way, often leaving things half finished.
I don’t like reading for a long time, I find it difficult. Creating art is my way of talking. I hold many feelings inside, which I am good at hiding. But with a canvas in front of me, I explode and I liberate myself from my emotions into the artwork I create. It can be hopeful or painful. It is something that I don’t always understand.
Tell us about an artwork created during the residency
MM: Face Reality is a 3D artwork on canvas 60cm x 50cm. A group of small monsters on the bottom half of the painting are creeping up towards an eye made of bubble wrap, cotton, plastic, glue, spray paint, adorned with cable ties by way of eyelashes. I am focusing on subjects, using colour and chaos. Sometimes we have our eyes open, but we don’t see. We are standing in front of something difficult and we don’t want to face it. These little demons are telling me to open my eyes and face reality.
In which ways has the location at The Hari impacted your work or process?
MM: I was scared of coming here, I live in a different world both in London and in Italy – I come from a very small town. Maybe the public won’t get me. I can be weird and crude. I wonder whether my style might be too strong for the context of the hotel. I come from Woodgreen, it’s a very different world to here. Maybe people want something more beautiful, like Dolce & Gabbana. Coming inside the hotel I feel I stand out, but this is me. But I have to be honest with what I create, or I will never know what the rest of the world thinks of it.
Coming to The Hari made me think more about who looks at my work. Should I be more professional and technical in what I make? I’m taking a bigger view of what art can be. I’m also thinking of doing editions of artworks that I have done in the past. I’ve been very focused on what I want to create for myself as opposed to creating for the public. In Italy, I made large installations which I gave away to friends and here, I wanted to challenge myself to create for a wider audience.
Have you found any connecting points or synergies with the work of Emmanuel?
MM: He is very different from me (twice my size!), he has a lot of experience in design and fashion. It is great to work alongside another artist. I love being inspired by other artists. Looking at how he works, I think I should be more organised… Emmanuel researches a lot, maybe it is because he has graduated already. I am very interested in his process, in how he researches, how he approaches the act of creating. He is very methodical and more professional than me. I hope we will stay in touch and collaborate together.
Can you read me?
Installing Matlide's artwork in the bar of the Hari
You are using new media in this residency, 3D objects… It seems to be a point of departure for your practice. Tell us more.
MM: I started to use recycled materials, flowers, the blue metallic colour of the red bull cans that I’ve been collecting over the last five years. I will do a collage with them. I transform what is rubbish, into something new… a work of art.
I like to use materials that I can touch and physically engage with. It is as if I am creating subjects and they keep me company. It is more liberating than oil on canvas. It’s my personality.
You have another year of art school, what is your objective for it?
MM: I am a bit apprehensive about the coming year. Time has passed so quickly. At first, I didn’t want to go to university, art was a hobby. I did graffiti murals and some sketching. I came to London, the city of the arts, to run away from Italy. I learned English. It took me 3 years in London before deciding to go to university, many people encouraged me. Making it to Westminster University was like winning because it was a validation of my work, and it is expanding my vision. I want to continue to create and find my voice.