My artwork takes inspiration from current issues concerning the natural world, my main area of interest being the competition for space between humans and animals and between animal species. This shifting relationship creates a constantly evolving intricate jigsaw that I find fascinating.
I paint on wood panels, using the panel shapes themselves to convey meaning: creating a space with which my animals can interact. Although I paint my animals in realistic poses there is an element of anthropomorphism as they are conscious, knowing, aware of the concepts I am discussing. I create a stage from which my animals peer out and fix the viewer with an intense gaze: we humans are engaged, a connection formed between worlds.
To focus intensely on the story I place my subjects in empty space with minimal or no details so to avoid contextualising them. In this way I can play with negative space and direct the viewers eye inwards. Most of my pieces are painted on fields of white. The lion taken out of the Savannah, placed on a white background and viewed in a home is in our living room: there is no line of separation.
Living and working in an urban environment has shaped and influenced my practice. My paintings started from my own personal journey of surviving in London. The ever changing nature of cities highlights the key to success is adaptability. Both in the natural and human world the less fortunate, the less adaptable are pushed to the fringes. My designs are influenced by the shapes, architecture and negative spaces of the man made landscape.
My realistic painting style draws from the paintings of Adriaen van Utrecht and Frans Snyder. Their avalanches of dead animals flow to sate human appetites. My creatures similarly suffer falls of a more indirect but similarly human directed fate. I am also influenced by entomological painters such as Maria Sybilla Merian, with her dramatic use of composition and colour.
My latest project ‘Masquerade’ is a response to food chains, the removal of keystone species, the jumble of existence. Using as starting point mimicry in nature and the transformative nature of mask wearing I have created images of animals wearing the mask of their predator or prey. In these paintings I explore the question: what would happen if the animal became self-aware of this transformation, this duality of being both predator and prey. Would the food chains be reversed or would the result be self-cannibalism.
I paint animals to highlight their plight but also to highlight our own problems, so much of what is going on in nature is reflected in our own world. The fight for resources, for power, overcrowding, a reversal of the natural order where celebrity is more important than intelligence, a world consuming itself. Animals have been used as metaphors and symbols throughout western art and I am continuing this tradition.
Hazel Mountford CV