Q&A with artist in residence, Anouk Mercier

Artist Anouk at work inside Stourhead House

To get us acquainted we asked Anouk a few questions to give some background to her and her approach to this year.

Could you tell us a bit about who you are and your approach as an artist?

I spent my early years growing up in France and studied classical drawing in Paris, before moving back to the UK to complete my studies. As a child, my grandmother used to take me to Versailles at the weekends and this sparked a life long passion for art, architecture and garden design, as well as their influences on each other. In many ways, my practice reflects an endeavor to act as artist, architect and gardener all at once.

Anouk creates dystopian style landscapes
An extract of Anouk's artwork, Vista with Moonrise Over the Falls (After Piranesi)
Anouk creates dystopian style landscapes

Can you tell us about the techniques you use in your practice?

My practice combines multiple and layered processes including drawing, airbrushing and acetone transfer. I use the latter to transfer fragments of existing artworks, mostly 18th century Landscape etchings, which I seamlessly assemble to create new scenes. The resulting artworks are composed of hundreds fragments, interwoven by delicate pencil work, which are positioned against graduated skies with futuristic qualities.

Could you tell us about how this commission came about?

As the result of fortuitous timing: I visited Stourhead three years ago and became fascinated by it. I felt compelled to respond to the very obvious connection that existed between the art works from the collection displayed in the house, and the design of the gardens. My gallery encouraged me to approach the team at Stourhead and it happened to coincide with their beginning to develop and plan the launch of their new ‘Genius of the Place’ story. They were interested in working with an artist so I pitched a proposal and things went from there. In many ways this project is a continuation and celebration of the Hoare family’s generational tradition of patronage and commissioning of artists to create works of art for Stourhead.

What is it that interested you about Stourhead?

I first visited Stourhead on a cold, grey and rainy day in back in March 2015. I remember sitting under the shelter of the grotto, listening to the rain falling on the lake, looking across to the Temple of Flora and thinking how utterly fascinating the site was. The tension between the wilderness of Nature and the very deliberate staging of scenes, interspaced with architectural features, created a unique atmosphere; time and reality both appeared suspended. The impression of having entered a painting, of becoming a character within a carefully crafted scene, was overwhelming.

This was further reinforced by a visit to the house and look around the Stourhead art collection, which absolutely mirrored the vistas from the gardens. The temples, bridges, urns, statues and tree-lined scenes that I had just witnessed had so clearly been inspired by the works of art collected by the Hoares during their Grand Tours. I found this connection incredibly powerful, the endeavor to shape Nature to replicate Art, to manufacture Utopia, the sheer scale and ambition of it… Yet at the same time I was also drawn to the absurdity of this process; there is something humorous in the staging of a Rome-inspired Pantheon in the heart of Wiltshire.

Are there any particular works in the collection that are of interest to you and your practice?

Many of the works and objects in the Stourhead Collection are of interest to me however I am especially fond of the capriccios by Francis Harding and Giovanni Paolo Panini. I love the somewhat absurd and utterly theatrical quality of these; the curated accumulation of architectural monuments and archeological ruins interspaced with peopled scenes. They are a celebration of artistic freedom and imagination  - an artist’s architectural fantasy rather than an accurate depiction of an observed scene. This approach is replicated in my own practice and, to some extent, mirrors the way in which the gardens where created and developed at Stourhead.

Could you tell us about the work that you have loaned to the House, where it is and why?

When the house asked whether they could borrow an artwork of mine to display in the Column Room to coincide with the launch of the new ‘Genius’ story, I felt inspired to create a new piece in response to the artworks displayed in the room itself. The Column Room had stood out on my first visit to Stourhead due to the wonderful set of Ducros watercolours that adorn it’s walls; the connection between these works and the scenes presented in the Stourhead gardens seemed so obvious. I therefore lifted fragments of these (perhaps most noticeably the waterfall from Ducros’ ‘The Stables of the Villa Maecenas at Tivoli’) and used them to stage a new scene.

A painting by Abraham Louis Ducros called The Stables of the Villa Maecenas
A painting by Ducros which is on display in Stourhead House
A painting by Abraham Louis Ducros called The Stables of the Villa Maecenas

Could you give us an overview of what this project is and how you will be spending your time with Stourhead?

It is a year-long project, including two week-long residency periods, which will culminate in the production of a new site-specific artwork responding to Stourhead’s ‘Genius Loci’. The first six months of the project were research- focused and included multiple site visits, gathering information from staff, volunteers and invited guests. I have now entered the production stage and am working from my studio in Bristol. The completed artwork will be installed in the Temple of Flora later this year, and will be on show throughout September – November 2018.

For updates on Anouk’s progress and follow @Anouk_Mercier and @NTStourhead on Instagram and @Anouk_Mercier on Twitter for more regular updates.