In the Studio with Megan Rea

In the studio with Megan Rea, a British artist whose practice celebrates fictitious cityscapes in medieval Italian frescoes by reimagining them as architectural fragments. We met with Megan to tell us more about growing up in London, what inspired them to first pursue their artistic journey and their greatest influences.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

Once I left uni and decided to rent a studio. 

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like?

I’m from London, my mum’s a nursery teacher and my dad is a painter and decorator. My mum would take me and my siblings to museums during the holidays. Visiting the V&A and seeing treasures and ancient objects made from different materials always filled me with so much joy. 

My dad would always return from work smelling of emulsion and turps so those scents have a comforting and homely association for me.

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice artistic work? 

I saw Peter Doig’s exhibition at Tate Britain when I was in Year 9 and it completely enthralled me. His paintings are vast and have so much life in them but are also very calming. I think that show gave me an insight into what a painting could be, everything I’d seen before had been quite traditional. 

What events in your life have mobilized change in your practice?

My interest in Italian frescoes began during my time in Florence after being awarded the RSA John Kinross scholarship in 2017. The past couple of years encouraged me to rethink the materials I use and embark on a different way of working. It gave me an opportunity to experiment with making alternative surfaces using found materials instead of the board and canvas which I was most familiar with. Making paper is now core to my practice and I am gradually upscaling the handmade forms. 

What’s the message of your work? Where do they come from? 

Materiality is very important to my practice. I think it’s important to understand the materials that you work with and I get so much satisfaction by pulping and shaping the paper. I love the imperfections and the character of it. The surface of the paper is pocked, catching previous layers of paint to give the appearance of a weathered plaster wall, visibly soft against the structured shapes. 

Who & what are your greatest influences?  

My main influences are medieval Florentine and Sienese frescoes – the architecture, the colour palettes, the motifs. My favorites are Giotto and Fra Angelico. I look at medieval art in general, old manuscripts, altar pieces, there’s a plethora of fantastic things that I’m inspired by. The National Gallery has a glorious collection of medieval paintings which I visit quite frequently. 

An unexpected source of inspiration?

I find inspiration in a lot of things in both the banal and the abstract so nothing feels unexpected. 

What do you want people to take from your work when they view it?

I’d like my paintings to feel like a fragment of a fresco that you may find in a church or museum, to appear like preserved pieces of plaster on a wall. My colours are gradually becoming paler and more earthy to give an aged aesthetic as if hundreds of years have passed since they were created. 

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

There needs to be a struggle. I think the best paintings I’ve made have caused me grief at some stage of their making. I don’t really have a thorough plan for what a painting is going to look like which provides me the space to make big decisions as I go. It feels more natural that way. 

Tell us the inspiration behind your works?

I used to make a lot of architectural models to visualize angles and perspectives of more complex compositions. Fierce Embrace is based on paper sculpture that I made out of individually cut concertinas slotted together. The shapes cut into each are based on the inside of a church that I visited in Florence. 

Something in the future you hope to explore?

I’d like to start using natural pigments to dye the paper pulp whilst it dries, I think it would give the paper more of a stone aesthetic. A softer ground would encourage delicate forms and perhaps even more of an aged appearance.