Michelle Scragg: An Evolution in Colour

It is immediately apparent when you meet Michelle Scragg, the intensity of her palette reflects her strength of character. "I went to Glasgow School of Art. I wasn't going anywhere else," she promptly expresses when asked about her education.

Before that, Michelle recalls vivid memories of vibrant comics as she lauds Disney and the Beano for their mesmerising tones, transforming viewing their pages into an emotive experience. Inspirational cartoons ignited an insatiable compulsion to draw from as early as three-years-old: "I knew that was all I wanted to do".

Listening to Michelle, she conveys a presence of mind despite being an adolescent at the time. Having been initially rejected entry to GSA after narrowly missing out on achieving the necessary English grade, she was accepted on appeal after insisting her teacher send a letter of recommendation.

Upon arrival, with merely 48 hours until her fine art and design course was due to begin, Michelle recalls a "snooty secretary" who was adamant it was too late to register, despite her dispensation from lecturers. Waiting another year wasn't on Michelle's agenda. The resulting stand-off was only ever going to produce one outcome.

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Once settled, Michelle embarked on developing her style and composition. Glasgow School of Art presented an opportunity to discover screen printing, photography, sewing and using artwork to produce design, which proved particularly enticing.

Although, Michelle is quick to admit: "My colour was all over the place". Self critically, describing her early work as a radiant mess while revealing: "I didn't understand the recipe". Fortunately, an encounter with a lecturer's colour formula transformed Michelle's understanding, "as soon as she explained that, I got it". Suddenly, she was thinking about tones from an entirely different perspective.

"No matter how many colours you are using, you have darks, brights and neutrals, then you have the mid-tones, to balance a painting or design, you need neutrals," Michelle explains, while using an evocative original as a reference to display her propensity to taper brighter shades.

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Despite revelling in her time at the prestigious art school, Michelle was uncharacteristically indecisive about her career progression. "The fine art world is snooty. They see design as a second class subject matter, it's almost as if they feel you're wasting your time," she reveals. Although, an understandably money-driven decision led to her joining progressive design house Osborne & Little.

In a moment of foreshadowing during her interview, co-founder Antony Little declared: "I don't normally employ people north of Watford, but I'm having you, not as a designer, but as my colourist". After that, Michelle's role involved imagining colourways for wallpapers and fabrics. However, she admits the role primarily "taught me a lot of discipline".

"Without having done design, I don't think I'd paint in the style in which I paint, so the two are hand and glove," a reflective Michelle says of her experience working for Osborne & Little.

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Around that time, a trip to the Tate sent her career path in an entirely unexpected direction. "I didn't understand abstract until viewing their Mark Rothko exhibition. I left that feeling, finally, like I had an understanding," Michelle reveals. She describes channelling her inspiration into exclusively painting in abstract, unless commissioned otherwise, for the following eight years.

The mention of Rothko's exhibition impassions Michelle's voice; you can sense she's nostalgically retracing her steps through the Tate. She expresses awe in passing through the gallery, comparing the experience to a spiritual awakening. While Rothko's block structure paintings may appear simplistic, precisely chosen tones intend to evoke specific sentiments in the viewer, and Michelle immediately understood colour's influential role in capturing emotion.

While an impulse was "eating away" at Michelle's soul for years after, she speaks of how she's progressed beyond pure abstract in her development: "I will fall back into it occasionally, but the abstract has allowed me to change my conventional work, these have become my abstracts".

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Michelle's experiences have constructed a composition melding elements from each portion of her progression to produce an authentically unique style. It's revealing listening to the artist detail her work: "You see it as a representational design, but to me, it is just abstract blocks of colour". The illusion of distance creates an effect where each abstract structure or feature produces an overall representational feel.

As we return to the subject of colour for the final time, Michelle discloses the primary intention of her artwork: "For me, the effect I'm looking for is to have my paintings project a massive intensity of colour, but there's always a story behind it".


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