Life experiences inspire my artwork

The river is still burning oil painting contemporary art by Edinburgh artist Michele Marcoux

LIFE EXPERIENCES inspire my artwork.
The river is still burning (our house), 2021,
oil & acrylic on The Financial Times, linen.
This painting was inspired by the Cuyahoga River fire in Cleveland, Ohio in 1969

I AM A PAINTER based in Edinburgh, Scotland making contemporary art, that includes painting, collage, video, and installations. Inspiration happens throughout the creative process. Like many artists I am a magpie, inspired by colour, found objects, memory, real and imaginary places. My creative process is simple: I go to the studio (or go outside) and I get started. I don’t wait for inspiration, for it is through making that thoughts, ideas, and connections, surface and become something new.

In 1990 I migrated from the USA to Scotland an experience that continues to inform my work. I often say that the process of painting helps me restructure what I see and what I remember. By putting together different elements and materials, I experience the world now, and can remember the past, in ways I otherwise couldn’t.  I never know what the outcome will be, but I hope to surprise myself (and the viewer!).

Life experiences inspire my artwork From Brooklyn to a sheep farm in Angus

Life experiences inspire my artwork. This is a black and white photograph of Brooklyn Bridge and the Twin Towers taken in 1988
The view from Brooklyn, 1988
Life experiences inspire my artwork. This is a black and white picture of a farm cottage where I lived when I first moved to Scotland.
Easter Peel Cottage (right), Lintrathen, Angus, 1990

I GREW UP IN CLEVELAND, OHIO in the US Midwest, before living in Vermont, Philadelphia, California and New York City where I met and married my Scottish husband.

In 1990 we decided to leave our urban life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for the wilds of Glenisla, in Perthshire. I was lucky to have a warm and welcoming new Scottish family, but the contrast couldn’t have been more stark – I went from East Village bars to Women’s Institute coffee mornings! The uninsulated farm cottage we rented was freezing with only a coal fireplace – and an old electricity meter that you threw coins in. But it was such an adventure I loved it and didn’t really notice the big decision we had made until later. I assumed we would be back in the States but in the end, we made our life in Scotland, eventually settling in Edinburgh. It was a good decision, but not without its challenges.

IN pre-internet 1990, moving to another country meant a severing with the past, with family and friends that many people today probably can’t imagine. We wrote letters, very occasionally spoke on the phone, saved up for a flight home once a year. Travel was the opportunity to embrace something completely new and unknown that was hugely exciting, but it brought with it a sense of displacement and sometimes residual sadness.

See my project ECOLOGIES OF DISPLACEMENT with Pakistani artist Farrukh Addnan, and Edinburgh filmmaker Sana Bilgrami.

At Thompkins Square Park, Manhattan, 1988
Up a hill, Dykends Crossroads, Perthshire, 1990

Life experiences inspire my artwork The story of objects is the story of ourselves

FOR MANY PEOPLE WHO MIGRATE, ‘identity’, ‘place’, ‘home’, begin to shift, to feel transitory. There is an odd sense of parallel lives, of being displaced in time. Nostalgia becomes a force to be reckoned with. In my creative practice I interrogate these feelings and look at the nature of displacement, the danger of nostalgia, our shared experiences of time.

Here, artist and Scholar Svetlana Boym describes the origins of nostalgia and as both individual and historical ‘sickness’.

The story of objects is the story of ourselves

IN THE STUDIO, personal memory and cultural references are material to work with. Found objects and images are prompts to remember stories, associations, visual qualities. Narratives of figuration vie with abstraction to create new crossovers that sometimes move beyond painting and become installation. I want to challenge nostalgic narratives, while acknowledging the value in the aesthetic choices of memory. My work is an imprint of this ongoing process.

Life experiences inspire my artwork. What goes around comes back in a containership

Image of a chair, a quilt and a painting
A chair and a quilt from our house in Ohio, art work by Cleveland, Ohio artist, Ginna Brand, who I apprenticed with as a teenager.
image of dolls, including Raggedy Ann and Barbie
Wee Bridget, Raggedy Ann, Malibu Barbie, and 1950’s Barbie

IN SEPTEMBER the last of my belongings that I had left at my parent’s house in 1990, arrived in Scotland. During Covid, my mom had sold her house, and all my old things went into a storage unit in Connecticut. After being in storage for three years, then three weeks at sea in a containership, ten boxes, a chair and two small tables arrived in my living room. Books, photographs, letters, my high school portfolio, all had come back, though smelling a bit musty for having spent all that time in storage.

It’s been very emotional and strange to feel a compression of time, to realise that my American home is now just a memory. For the first time in 33 years, home is a single place: our flat in Edinburgh.

Life experiences inspire my artwork. Caisser Maison (breaking the house)

THE NOSTALGIA OVERLOAD created by this shipment of objects, inspired me to revisit a previous project Caisser Maison, first begun in 2019 while I was on residency at The Museum of Loss and Renewal in Collemacchia, Italy.

French slang for ‘breaking the house’ Casser Maison refers to a French-Canadian end of life ritual to clear a house when loved ones move into a care home. Of Quebecois extraction myself, I became fascinated by the term. Now that my family has indeed ‘broken the house’ – new ideas, new questions present themselves. How do we preserve a sense of ‘home’ when that home disappears. Is ‘home’ people, a place or the objects that we keep? Is ‘home’ a process, of clearing away, and moving on in our lives?

[I first came across the term Casser Maison in a paper by Jean-Sébastien Marcoux (no relation) The ‘Casser Maison’ Ritual: Constructing the Self by Emptying the Home]

Casser Maison and our planet ‘home’

THERE ARE CLUES within the process of Casser Maison (which is similar to other end of life rituals across different cultures), which could help us approach current climate emergency – including the destruction or ‘breaking’ of our planet ‘home’. Could learning how to ‘let go’ and process our relationship with time, nostalgia, objects, helping us to redirect our energy where it is most needed, toward making positive change?


CASSER MAISON began in Italy as a bricolage of drawing, painting, and collecting. This autumn and in the new year I will be looking at ideas from Casser Maison and recent work done on residency in abandoned places in Scotland and Spain to develop new paintings for a solo exhibition ETERNAL RETURN which will take place at the Scottish Arts Club in April 2024.