Photograph: Mary Ann Glass
“Described by others as a ‘Reluctant Eccentric’, my trademark is a badge studded kangaroo skin hat more commonly referred to as ‘me ‘at’ as in ‘Where’s me bloody ‘at?’.
My life is reflected in my art as a series of ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ experiments, thus art is, to me, a celebration of life. Each completed piece is the fruition of a challenge.
Primary mediums are oils and oil pastels often moving beyond traditional colours to use roadside dust, genuine ochres etc. I seldom use a brush preferring more rudimentary tools such as window cleaners squeegees, cooking implements etc and am a constant rummager of hardware, cooking and bric-a-brac stores for mark makers.
Computer, sketchbook and camera are the instruments within my art reference laboratory”.
Quick Facts on Merv:
Home: Benalla, Victoria
Where would you most want to live and create/write etc? Benalla!
Comfort food: ‘I love frozen yoghurt icy poles’
Artistic Influences: Tom Roberts; Dennis Hopper; Geoffrey Smart; Cornelia Selover
Current reads/films/exhibitions attended: ‘I watched ‘Frida’, on the artist Frida Kahlo, last night’.
What are you working on at the moment? ‘A portrait of a family member’
What was the first work you exhibited publicaly or sold as an artist? ‘It was a long time ago. My mother was quite a well known artist, I think it was bought on the off chance I might follow in my mother’s footsteps. It was an oil painting of a New Guinea native looking through greenery…it was pretty awful really.’
How has your background/ background influenced your artwork/creativity ? ‘My background includes growing up on a farm; working as a builder and labourer; compiling the Canberra/Goulburn Telephone directory. I returned to school, then worked for the Post Office and in public service jobs including a stint as a draughtsman in PNG. After this I went to art school, then worked in industrial design and as a freelance writer and editor. I inherited my creativity from my mum, who was a prolific artist. I’m not really an urban painter. The fact that I like painting country, bush scenes comes from my farm background. The colour and openness gave me an astute feeling for colour. Colour mixing has always been intuitive for me. I love teaching art – I really do. I like community teaching, I’ve done lots of this in Sydney.’
What’s the best part of being an artist? ‘The meditation. When I get depressed it takes me to another world. It takes me to my daydream world. It’s meditative. Most paintings I do as a challenge, to prove I can do them, to experiment.’
What’s the worst part of being an artist? ‘It can be a challenge to my self esteem. I have needed to get out of the habit of comparing myself to other artists. Like swimmers who swim against their own times, I have to watch that my self esteem doesn’t go down by comparing myself to other artists. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to sell to live…’
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about your work? ‘Hard to say… I think the main thing has been the encouragement to keep going and keep experimenting’
What’s been the most significant moment in your artistic/creative career so far? ‘An invitation to exhibit and show my work in New York and since then a number of other overseas destinations. When I sell something, it’s a boost to my ego, if nothing else. When a workshop is going well, that really is a thrill…when a workshop sells out and people keep coming’’
What do you find most challenging about (your field of work) ….. ? ‘A fair question. Myself, I think. I find if I have a break it’s hard to get back into the flow of things. I’m renovating a house at the moment and have to force myself to go back to painting’.
When you’re struggling with a painting, where do you look for inspiration? ‘Often I’ll change the medium I’m using – change from oil to oil pastels. I’m always searching the internet for inspiration. I do a lot of digital art, most paintings are planned digitally, not photographically’.
Who do you picture as the ideal viewer/audience of your work? ‘I love teaching…my ideal audience is someone who is managing to get inspired to paint’
Whether creativity in different areas can be taught is often debated – what’s your view? ‘Anybody can be encouraged to be creative – some fall in to place more easily than others. We can’t all be Rembrandt. If the motivation is there, creativity can be brought out, as the human mind has a creative factor to it’.
Where and when do you prefer to work on your art? ‘I prefer to paint in a studio, but I also like plein air painting… Lately I’m all over the place. When I have access to a studio, I’ll work all night. Lately I work in the morning; snooze in the afternoon, go to work at night’
What do you listen to when you work? ‘These days, nothing. The deafer I get, the less noise I want. If I do listen to something, I play it over and over. One of my paintings was painted to the sounds of Meatloaf’s ‘Midnight at the Lost and Found’.
Do you buy your art supplies online, in an arts store, or both? ‘Both. I buy online, but the value of going to an art store is in the advice and range of art supplies. Most art stores have online stores.’
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be an artist in your field? ‘If you want to make a living as an artist, do a marketing degree! Experiment by yourself, go to community workshops, or if you have the opportunity, go to art school. This teaches you to be an artist, not just skills. Troll YouTube – it’s a universe in itself’.
When not painting , what do you like to do? ‘I read a lot; use computers; work on websites and watch television. I’m a gardener, too!’
If you weren’t making or supplementing your living by being an artist, what would you be doing instead? ‘I’d still be writing. I started writing as therapy as I’m dyslexic, but I just took off. I’d be writing, or a grey nomad, maybe.’
If you could go out to dinner with any artist, who would it be and why? ‘Dennis Hopper. His paintings feature a lot of people in situations – he has way of marrying people, emotions and locations in a wonderful way. The other is James Gurney, He teaches so much information in his blog and in his books.’
What’s the art work that’s had the most significant impact on your life and work or an artist– and why? ‘Artists like Tom Roberts. I like the Australian bush artists. I’ve always been interested in and affected by Geoffrey Smart. My side genres include steam punk.’
Do you have a philosophy for how and why you create? ‘No – not that I know of. It’s up to the beholder to decide’
At the beginning of the interview you said you are currently working on a portrait of a family member. What do you hope viewers will take away from this? ‘It’s in the eye of the beholder. I want to create an emotion, for them to see something that’s relevant to them, not to me’.
Merv was interviewed at Rambling Rose Café, Benalla on Tuesday January 9, 2018 by Bev Lee.
Merv has an open studio at NEA , exhibits at NEA and runs workshops including 'Make your own Oil Pastels' and 'Realistic Abstract'. . His work is currently featuring on the NEA website home page and on NEA's FB page., Merv is working towards an exhibition in Violet Town later this year.
You can check out Merv's recent work on his website www.mervynbeamishartist.com .
Benalla Street Art Wall to Wall Festival
Benalla Street Art Map
Benalla Youth Action Committee
Juddy Roller Wall to Wall
Benalla Art Gallery
Shepparton Art Museum
GANEAA (Goulburn and North East Arts Alliance)
Wangaratta Art Gallery
Benalla Camera Club
Broken River Potters
Broken River Painters
Table Top Games at NEA