Cynthia Merhej loves to tell tales, whatever the medium
by Maria Raposo
Cynthia Merhej creates vibrant characters that leap out at you. Her illustrative worlds are bustling with stories, from the past and the present. Yet, as an artist, she’s restless – she flits between the worlds of film, photography and illustration, reluctant to settle. We spoke to Cynthia about honesty, Egon Schiele and how her practice defies definition.
KOD: So, you’re in New Zealand at the moment – Do you think seeing new places feeds into your work?
Cynthia Merhej: Yeah absolutely. After living in the bubble of London you get to see how different people live and it really changes your perspective. I don't feel under pressure to be performing all the time. My brain is taking in so much new information but I feel I can process it at my own pace.
When I'm traveling my camera is my sketchbook – I take way more photos than I sketch. I write a lot as well. I always say I'm going to sketch but I'm just so absorbed by what going on I never finds the time to sit down and draw. There are just way too many things I want to remember from one moment and I feel more satisfied about when I capture it with a camera rather than through drawing.
KOD: Do you ever feel that your camera acts as a barrier between you and what's going on around you?
Cynthia Merhej: Totally, but personally I like being in that position. When I'm drawing I get too involved in creating the image, I want to get every detail exactly as I imagine it. With photography I like feeling like the outsider, an intruder even at times, just stepping into the scene that's already there.
KOD: What do you think is more honest – drawing or photography?
Cynthia Merhej: I think they're equally as dishonest because I am the one behind the camera constructing the image. Despite the information already being there, I am the one who decides how I want to show it.
It's the same technique for drawing, a lot of time I will draw someone on the bus or tube and decide to just show a bit of their hair and hands because that's what I personally find appealing. It's honest to my emotions, but it's never going to give you the full facts.
KOD: I read that you love collaborating with fashion designers?
Cynthia M: Yeah definitely, my main woman is Timi Hayek, we've been friends for ages and she designs amazing stuff which I love photographing.
I also really enjoy observing personal style and using it in my drawing and photography. I love the way the human form interacts with garments – probably an Egon Schiele influence. I love the way he would draw the folds and wrinkles in fabrics.
KOD: A lot of your work is very narrative. You seem to embody both an artist and a storyteller - is that how you see yourself?
Cynthia M: Yeah, that's a good way to put it. It's always a struggle trying to explain what I do because I don't like to work specifically in one medium. I like to tell stories, and the way it happens really depends on the story itself.
For example, with the Atlas Hotel project, I created some artifacts from the hotel, the hotel's neon sign and the guest book. That later progressed into a film script, I created photographic portraits of all the characters, turned it into a book along with sketches and created film posters!
It all started from one simple story and just moved on from there. But you have to put yourself in a box unfortunately so it's easier for people to understand you. I found that difficult during my last two years of study. It was, are you a filmmaker? Are you an illustrator? Fuck it; I can be whatever I want as long as the story gets told.