In Conversation with Melitta Nemeth

Tell us a bit about what inspires you and your art. What was it that initially inspired you to pursue a career in art?


I have always been fascinated with paint as a material. I remember painting a broken piece of terracotta brick as a child in different bright colours just to enjoy the process. I used to watch the colourful lights of the city and would try to recreate them in paint. 
I’m also obsessed with the human figure. I constantly try to depict faces and whole figures using photographs as a reference or observation. The idea of reinventing the female figure and using it as a medium for expression came later.


In your recent works, you use a limited colour palette to great effect. Can you tell us about your choice and use of colour?


I use unusual colours and lighting effects to create cognitive estrangement. The audience cannot interpret the painting as a depiction of a real scene. Figures become dark, and light seems to emerge from them. The water is often glowing. I aim to create fictional spaces through paint. As Marlene Dumas said: ‘I wanted to give more attention to what the painting does to the image, not only what the image does to the painting’.


You’re originally from Hungary. How do you reference life and/or experiences in Eastern Europe in your work?


When I started to use images of women as source material, I first looked at an online Hungarian photo archive, Fortepan. As an ex-pat living in London, it was a great way for me to connect with my heritage. I have always been fascinated by photography because it preserves a fragment of the past.
Later, I realised I could use any photograph that moves me. Currently, I use photos regardless of the time or space they come from. My works never depict real events. I represent fictional scenes. I aim to work with ideas and emotions that are general and accessible to everybody.


What element of your work or your practice do you typically find most challenging, and how do you work to develop these elements?


I have to find the right exciting and inspiring imagery and let certain emotions come through. I cannot become obsessed with the original narrative of the image. It is difficult to give up control and let the image turn into something else. Each painting process is a new adventure. I never know what the exact outcome will be – this makes my practice risky and exciting.
I am interested in proposing narratives to the viewers, but I never tell stories. I believe art should take people somewhere else and make them connect with their own personal emotions and experiences. 


At the end of last year, your work was featured in Saatchi’s London Grads Now 21 exhibition, and recently you were named one of The Times’ 12 future stars of the art world. Have these major recognitions impacted your work at all or changed the way you think about your practice?


The great shows I was included in, starting with the MA Fine Art Graduate Showcase at South London Gallery and then the London Grads Now 21 at Saatchi, helped me gain visibility. I will always be grateful to Camberwell curator Juan Bolivar for including me in the Saatchi show. I was very fortunate to be mentioned by Waldemar Januszczak in his article in The Times. These pivotal moments increased my following.
It was great to recognise that, although painting is an isolated activity, art as experience and communication only happens through the support of other people. The feedback from these people makes an art career an exciting journey. 
Success, of course, has two faces. There is always a danger for emerging artists of being pigeonholed. I think it is every artist’s responsibility and choice to widen the box they are in as much as possible. So, eventually, they start to feel quite comfortable in it.
April 8, 2022