English artist Michelle Heron is a painter working in acrylic, known primarily for her paintings that immortalise the many threatened independent shops that make our high streets what they are. Her paintings were described by art curator and TV presenter Kate Bryan: "It’s such a clever way of tackling landscape, to give us a focus of a shopfront. It makes you think of the Impressionists when they loved painting people through glass, sitting in cafes or bars." Her work has been compared with Edward Hopper and George Shaw for her sensitive use of colour and light and the way her paintings capture the mood and feelings of a place.
Since earning a degree in Fine Art in 2002, Michelle’s work has gone on to be shortlisted for The Lynn Painter-Stainers' Prize (2016), The John Ruskin Prize (Finalist 2016 & 2019), The National Open Art Competition (2016) and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (2017). In 2018 Michelle was selected to exhibit in the 157th Society of Women Artists Annual Open Exhibition in London.
interview with michelle heron
As she grew up, Michelle never considered being an artist to be a “job”. However she felt no satisfaction in any of the jobs she found herself in, quickly getting bored. In 2011 she finally started to take her calling as an artist more seriously, fitting painting in between her various jobs. Still intrigued by her immediate environment, she painted bungalows, wheelie bins, and empty alley ways. Eventually moving to London, she developed a passion for cityscapes and architecture.
A key turning point in Michelle’s artwork came from a job working as window dresser. She started to really notice shop fronts for the first time, and an obsession with them grew. Often she would take a photo of a shop front to paint, and within weeks it had either been painted over or closed down. She’s come to see her painting of shop fronts as a sort of historical document. “I like the idea that I’m immortalising these places in paint, but at the same time I’m sad that the high street is changing so rapidly, and not just in London,” Michelle explains. “Will those stories continue when there’s just nail salons, vape shops and supermarket chains? But then again these old shops used to be different shops once before, so I guess change is inevitable. I want my work to make people notice these places that are disappearing, otherwise we could be sleepwalking into a world where all that history and community gets lost.”
Engaged with the community herself, Michelle has painted a total of fourteen sculptures for various charity art trails and schools across the UK. The first was her Paddington Bear “Book Bench” in 2014 for the National Literacy Trust, which sold at auction for £8,800 and now sits on Platform 1 at Paddington Station. “That was an incredible first experience doing these art trails,” Michelle says. “I was filled with so much pride when I went to the place where my bench was first located, seeing families smiling and talking about it. I wasn’t used to getting that immediate feedback on something I’d created... I’m so grateful that I got the opportunities to do these works, and the challenge of completing such a large painting on an irregular shaped surface helped with my own practice.”
But one of her proudest moments as an artist has been getting a painting into the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition in 2017. Another highlight was last year, being selected to take part in the Sky Landscape Artist of the Year television show. “I wasn’t expecting to do brilliantly as I’m not a plein air painter and it takes me weeks to complete a painting,” Michelle explains, stating that she did it more for the experience. “So I was shocked when the judges picked me in the final three. To get recognition by respected artists and critics is pretty cool!”
Michelle now lives in Italy, where she says she is spoilt with shops to paint. Moreover, living in Italy means that she can afford to now work as an artist full time – something she could never dream of doing in London. She has an increasing list of shops she wants to paint not only in Italy, but also back in London (where she still tries to visit every couple of months), and is particularly happy with her painting of a David Grieg shop still visible in Brixton. And of course, she has a number of paintings of shop fronts in Petworth – home to the Dragon Gallery. Michelle is doing a total of 10 commissions for the gallery, working towards a solo exhibition. “Petworth is a really interesting town which looks timeless, and appears to be avoiding the problems facing the rest of the UK’s high streets,” Michelle explains. “When I visited, I found so many old shops. I’ve done one of a men’s clothing store called Allan’s of Petworth, which has been trading since 1964.”
2019 is set to be the busiest year yet for Michelle Heron. In addition to her exhibition at the Dragon Gallery, she’s also in talks with a famous Italian art critic who could be interested in an exhibition of Italian shops she’s chosen to paint, and Michelle thinks it could be an interesting idea to compare Italian shop fronts with those in the UK. She’s also working on a group exhibition for up-and-coming artists.
Originally from the suburbs of Norwich in East Anglia, artist Michelle Heron has always had a love affair with her immediate surroundings and a passion to recreate what she sees into her art. She never recalls wanting to be anything other than an artist, and cherishes childhood memories of spending much of her time just sitting, drawing whatever was in front of her. Though her childhood itself was unhappy at times, Michelle distracted herself with her imagination, transferring her emotion into whatever she was creating. She found contentment away in her room, creating things with whatever materials she could find – even if her media was limited to cardboard and Sellotape!