The journey of an artist is always an interesting one and Mary Sewell, now based at Portland Works in Sheffield, produces beautiful abstracts that would grace any wall, your home or workplace. I’m very interested in art and artists. Mary’s work is a fantastic document of what art means to the artist, something you see in really accomplished artists.

I’ve followed Mary on facebook, the Portland Works website  and her blog, since my daughter became involved and wrote an action research PHD on the campaign to save the Works after the landlord wanted to sell it. I was really attracted to the spirit of Mary’s work and probably the spirit in it, wanted to explore her process with her.


Labyrinth Mary Sewell

Here’s the outlook of the studio she works in. when I saw this I was struck by the narrative she’s painted of the Mesters Works, how she’s using paint to tell the story of being in the Works.


Image courtesy of the Guardian 

Mary Sewell though, has links to Nottingham and the story of the industrial revolution:

‘My grandmother was born in Nottingham. She lived in the centre: Arboretum Street and worked in a stocking factory.  She was married in Nottingham to my granddad who was in the Royal Navy, so they moved away soon after they were married in the early 30’s.

Her dad, my great grandfather, looked after horses for one of the lace making factories.

Also one of nieces went to Nottingham University and my Nephew went to Nottingham Trent. My brother in law was born in Nottingham and his father worked for Players cigarettes.

I can’t believe how many links to Nottingham I have!!!!’

Like Teresa May  and many other successful women, Mary is a clergyman’s daughter but she didn’t enjoy the timetabling of school and as soon as she could, she started travelling: India, Thailand, Africa, Zimbabwe before thinking ‘mmm, this is great but it can’t go on for ever’.

She’d always experienced a need to ‘make pictures’ though and struggled with feelings of wanting to learn, explore and produce using whatever media came to hand though she didn’t know that this ‘climbing in’ to the work was going to become her artistic practice.

Below Alchemy Mary Sewell


All she knew was that getting into college required a portfolio so she made one! She won a place at London College of Printing, (now part of the University of the Arts) by confidently reassuring the tutors that she would be able to rise to the academic challenge. (It must have been all that travelling, all those people she’d met!).


Connection Mary Sewell

Mary loved the college and seized the opportunity to study life drawing and photography.

During the course, she heard about a multi disciplinary Course in performance at Sheffield Hallam where she could explore through performance, video, photography.  Coming out of it she went straight into community  projects where she could practically use what she’d learned and gained and be able to finance a studio, first at the Garden Rooms and then at Portland Works.

Mary Sewell really does ‘climb in’ to the environment or image she’s working in and uses meditation and the Enso method (see below) prior to continuing a project to really focus on painting,  process  and the demands of the problem before her. You can see this in the way the work moves across photographic image, drawing, figurative, restricted palette into abstract and then colour. You get the feeling that you’re watching the expression of breath in her work the act of breathing in and out in a working artist.

Metamorphosis,  Forge 1, Blue Machine and Forge 2

Here you can see how she is constantly changing and developing focus and media, questioning the boundaries of reality and detail to the point where everything is alchemised and becomes a story that’s bigger than itself.

Mary’s influenced by Paula Rego,  Cindy Sherman, John Hoyland, Paula Vezelay, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Motherwell.

Also the Chinese, Enso circle method/discipline where you make a circle which frees the mind to let the body create.  The relation between the mind and body, what’s inside and outside in Mary’s work gives you a sense of how she works, immersing herself deeply in processes, yet being impatient of them as frames. You get a real sense of a powerful energy applying itself to the very heart of manufacture and making, living and working. It’s work that really respects life and people and history yet is firmly grounded in the now of her studio and working with people in the everyday ordinary world. Because of this it becomes extraordinary.

Below The Jay Series and a new oil Mary is working on. all images are available as limited edition prints Mary Sewell 0790335797

Below Hide and Seek, Self Portrait, Weighing The Past, Momentum Detail,  Reflection, Momentum IV, Momentum, Labyrinth IV and Unearth