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Atelier OPEN: Meet the Artist Michelle Payne

Feel the Happy

by Michelle Payne

Acrylic on canvas.
Dimensions: 40 x 40 cm.


There are just two weeks left to visit the 2023 Atelier OPEN and just two weeks to vote for your favourite piece in the People's Choice prize. Come and visit us in our gallery on Brighton beach, or view the whole show online if you can't get to us in person.

Over the past weeks we've been featuring a few of our exhibiting artists, and this week we hear from professional surface designer turned painter Michelle Payne.

I'm a mature, emerging artist, both drawing from and reacting to my experience of being a surface designer for more than twenty-five years. I've designed both in-house and freelance, specialising in kid’s designs for the past fifteen years as a freelancer, creating cute characters and patterns of all kinds. Over the past three years, I’ve dedicated more time to painting, exploring abstract-expressionism and capturing naïve, still-life moments from my small garden studio in Worthing, West Sussex. 

'Feel the Happy' is one of a series of three paintings. I created them in 2022 as a continuation of concepts explored in the first painting I attempted, 'The Summer of Us', which I made while I was going through a tough time personally. For all of them, I played intuitively with the colours, shapes and marks until they gave me what I needed, without a final concept in mind.

This one is a search for a high, a dive into the brightest colours, a mental landscape and maybe a call for attention too. All four paintings are emotion-led, made with the purpose of lifting my spirits and trying to find some joy, as well as using symbolism and mark-making that had meaning for me.

For inspiration, I looked at the work of Sonia Delaunay and Hockney, as well as taking from my sketchbook doodles. Obviously, my kid's design background is evident and the colours are an inevitable throwback to the years I've spent using full-on, child-like colourways.

My aim is to create playful, intuitive paintings that explore and experiment with my love of colour, pattern, form and mark-making. There are often symbolic shapes and details included in my paintings that speak to me of my memories, family or feelings. Predominantly acrylic on canvas, wood or paper, I enjoy experimenting with other media too. I hope that viewers find their own meanings and emotional responses to my art. I often start with a limited palette and then just experiment to see what happens. 

I went straight to art college from school when I was sixteen in 1986, and I was lucky enough to go on from there to find my way into textile design. I eventually graduated with a Fashion/Textiles BA, specialising in print from Brighton University in 1994. Since then, I've evolved a lot as a designer, embracing technology where I can and learning as I go along. In some ways, I feel I'm starting again now that I'm painting, learning new techniques, as well as re-finding old ones and exploring where I want to go in a sector that I'm not formally qualified to be a part of - I'm navigating my own way as best as I can. 

I'm lucky enough to be painting and designing full-time. I love to paint in my small studio in the garden, either on my table or at my easel. I also try out ideas, techniques, colours and just generally mess around in my sketchbooks, which can happen anywhere.

I don't have a lot of exhibition experience yet, so I'm really happy to have had the opportunity to be part of the OPEN. Otherwise, I've shown in a local cafe, taken part in the Worthing Artists Open Houses twice in the past year, and exhibited in a joint exhibition at Colonnade House in Worthing, so I'm gradually gaining some insight. In September I have my painting 'Lost in the Water' selected for an exhibition in Cuckmere Haven (@celebratecuckmerehaven).

Choosing a Desert Island artwork is a really hard question - maybe 'We two Boys together Clinging' by Hockney because it's the first one that I saw of his and I still find it beautiful...or just anything by him, Sonia Delaunay, Jean-Michel Basquiat or Lucien Freud. I love both abstract and figurative work; anything that has a sense of expression and freedom to it, as well as beautiful colour. I also love textile artists like Vanessa Barragao and Beatriz Milhazes...I can't really decide!

As well as on my website, you can see more of my work in the wonderful Inspired on Worthing seafront and more recently in the fab The Stanley Road Store in Brighton's South Lanes.

There are just two weeks left to see the Atelier OPEN. Come and visit before 17th September! We're open 11am-5pm seven days a week.