Merel Ellen - insights into her beautiful art and mind

Updated: Apr 20

TUA: Your works seem to be a gateway into your mind, thoughts dreams and nightmares. This enables the viewer to either engage, dig deep and use it as a mirror reflecting their own mind. Some though might decide to not confront themselves with this journey. What would you tell those who choose not to dig deep?

Merel: As far as we know, we only have this one life as the person we are now. It would be so nice if we can manage to become aware of the patterns and behaviours that are holding us back and be able to fully enjoy and explore life without too many unnecessary reservations. My idea of doing this is by confronting oneself with the ways in which we are limiting ourselves (and inevitably others along the way).

TUA: Is art a way for you to get to know your mind and yourself better?

Merel: Art is definitely a way to get to know me better. Both in the process of developing a new work of art and then also in learning from the elements in the work that I didn’t come up with, but that presented themselves (by accident or intuitively). It is often easier to look at a subject from a distance. By making art you are forced to widen your perspective. (or you resist that widening and then the artwork is often a bit boring, stuck and/or predictable)

TUA: What are some reactions of your views when they look at your works? Can you still remember one particular reaction that stuck to your mind?

Merel: Haha, yes I can, one in particular. A young man with a heavy German accent came to see my solo exhibition in New York. That particular show was about difficult family-relations. I don’t think he knew I was the maker of the work. When I asked him what he thought about it he said: “I think this artist has had a very unhappy childhood.” And my mom was worried at my latest show about a self-portrait of me standing naked in a room filled with red waves; “Don’t you mind people seeing you like that?”. I explained to her that it wasn’t about nudity, but vulnerability. I think people can sometimes find it difficult or confrontational to look at my work. A woman came to visit my studio last winter and wondered about a work (which is still in progress) why on earth I would want to blow myself in the face.

The concept of critical self-analysis is not for everyone…

TUA: By the look of your website I can see that you have done a lot of exhibitions already, what is it like to

have exhibitions?

Merel: Wonderful, it’s like letting the dog out for a run in the forest (I imagine, ‘cause I have no dogs). You’ve made all the paintings and drawings and finally they can go out and play.

It’s always a lot of work because I usually organise my exhibitions myself (from the invitations to the transportation, the wines and crackers at location and everything back again), but it’s the best thing to have your work out in the world and be seen.

TUA: How do you combine the scientific and the artistic? Do you think it is important to combine the two?

Merel: I use input from very diverse sources to come to the start of an understanding of a complex subject. For example, the psychological concept of an Inner Child has been explained and used by classical psychologists (such as Carl Jung), but is also found in yoga-studies and other more esoteric fields. I try to get a comprehension by gaining a broad knowledge of a subject. Though one simple sentence in a book or a podcast might be enough to inspire a whole series of drawings. Sometimes certain texts conjure up clear imagery, at other times I have to build an image starting from my own global understanding of a subject. At other times yet I don’t use any cognitive input and just react to some paint on a canvas or use a picture as a starting point. It is not a cut-out recipe I use over and over again. I don’t think it is important for everyone to combine the scientific and the artistic, but for me it sometimes helps to get a broader understanding of a subject.

TUA: How do you document your inspirations, how do you get inspired?

Merel: I have a map. It is filled with artwork that I find inspirational and sentences from books that inspire me. I also have sketchbooks full of ideas, some almost finished pieces, some just a rough idea. Next to that I have pictures of people that inspire me on the wall of my studio. I have “conversations” in my mind with them. Iggy Pop is very kind for example and encouraging, but I also ask Louise Bourgeois, Nick Cave or William Kentridge (to name a few) for advise at times. They always help. Louise Bourgeois is very good at asking critical questions. When I ask Louise Bourgeois a question I usually start in french and then change to english. From the videos that have been made of her I can imagine her, the way she talks and acts. That way she comes alive (a bit) and helps me when asked politely.

TUA: How do you choose the colours for your work? Do you have specific techniques that you use?

Merel: Colours change very often in the process of a painting. It can take many different layers before I have the right combination. Sometimes I use a colour scheme I found or created, but most often it happens along the way.

TUA: On your website it is stated that you are currently researching the subjects Home, Family and Transformation. How do you start? What is the process like? Why did you choose these topics?

Merel: There are different ways in which I start on a new work or project. Often a starting point for me is the place I find myself in my emotional development. That means, which issues am I currently dealing with or working through. It might be that my partner points certain behaviours out to me. Or that I feel uncomfortable/dissatisfied with a specific area of my life. I try to analyse what the process is that lies beneath my discomfort and somehow understand the patterns a bit better. I read about the subject, listen to podcasts, see what different people and believes have to say about it. Sometimes a simple sentence can give a lot of inside. Or it gives me a clear image from which I can start a sketch, drawing or painting. At other times a photograph I made is the starting point of a work. The meaning of it will turn up along the way. I can’t predict when that happens. It might happen in a day, or it can take months before something comes together. The quality of the work doesn’t depend on the amount of time or struggle you had to put in.

TUA: Do you find it exhausting to know so much about the mind and to be able to constantly analyse and find out more?

Merel: Hahaha, this question made me laugh out loud. Thank you for that!! I realise so very much how little I know about the mind. There are so many different ways one can try to understand it. In the scientific study of psychology the concept of consciousness for example is very hard to grasp. It demands different approaches if one wants to get an understanding of it. The amount of information on this subject is enormous and ever expanding. It’s not always easy to try and dig deeper to get an understanding of how the mind operates and to analyse one’s own behaviour, but what is the alternative? Being stuck? I’d rather keep on moving.

TUA: How would you describe the relationship to your mind? Do you have much control over your mind?

Merel: I think the best I can achieve is to be aware of my mind and the patterns it returns to when confronted with any form of discomfort. As such, when I am aware, I can decide to take an action that is not automatic, but chosen. This way I don’t control my mind, but I can, at times, calm it.

TUA: What do you mean with “how we flow from one state of consciousness into another”? How do you explore these topics?

Merel: When we are angry, for example, we are in a state of consciousness which allows us to see things through a certain lens or filter. We encounter things very differently than in a state of being in love for example. When a state is unpleasant we would prefer to not be in that state too long. To become conscious of the fact that we are in a specific state (that we are

appreciating everything through a certain filter)

is a starting point to get back to a larger perspective. How to flow back into a more peaceful state (for example) is something to learn, and a personal journey. Many therapies, guru’s, shamans, healers and social scientists give advise on how one could do that. I am interested in exploring these and seeing what works for me.

TUA: Do you think we know us more than 100 years ago?

Merel: I think we have the opportunity much more to know ourselves than 100 years ago in the sense that so much knowledge is available right now. There is also less of a taboo on working on yourself and your mental health. I think that in a few decades working on your mental health will be regarded as something as normal and essential as working on your physical health is. It is a matter of taking responsibility of ones overall health, a more holistic approach.

On the other side we are virtually non-stop bombarded with (or inspired by, depending on your filter of the moment) images about ideal lives that are mostly concerning a physical ideal. That being a body-image or materialistic ideal, things we should have. This focus on the visible, material world leads us away from developing our intuitions and feelings, our connection with nature and pleasure in the things that can’t be seen, but only felt (love, connection, aw, spirit). In that way I don’t think we know ourselves more than 100 years ago. I think the possibility is there for us to know ourselves better, but we need some courage to devote some of our time not to money-making and status but connection to something more simple and nourishing.

TUA: What is the most fascinating thing about the human behaviour for you?

Merel: Our capability to grow, to transform beyond the version of ourself we currently are.

TUA: What would it feel like to be inside your painting”I’ve put myself in timeout until I can play nice with others. This may take a while”?

Merel: My partner says: “Ask her partner!”

But I’m glad you asked me …

It is a combination of relieve (to be away from a hectic, over-stimulating life, to have a nice little sound-prove cocoon) and discomfort, because I feel a pressure to be above the water again and mix with the world. Also a bit of shame for not being able to deal with storms and a changing environment at times and a sense of entitlement, that it is my right in this life to retreat into my own world when I need to.

If you want to stay up to date on Merel's artistic journey, follow her on Instagram and check out her website here.