When I arrived at the opening night of the Ellen Meriny exhibition, I expected that the live presentation would be a lecture. I knew only that Ellen Meriny was a French artist and that she had recently relocated to Tallinn. I almost didn’t attend, running behind and not wanting to interrupt the presentation. On the steps of Miks Mitte, I see a chalkboard sign inviting everyone to please come in for the presentation; I am not too late.
There is a cluster of people in a stone room to the left. In the center, a slender woman inspects a large canvas, trailing a pallet knife with white paint along a white canvas before turning to say hello to me.
Most of the chairs are taken and I stand by the doorway. “Painting is about mental health,” Ellen Meriny says, in response to a question before I entered. “Everyone has their own issues that need working through, just some don’t know it yet.” She daubs a touch of violet to a streak of white. The colors are bold and even now, on a painting just begun, the texture looks almost touchable. Someone asks how she chooses a color scheme. “I just know,” she says, staring thoughtfully. “It depends on where I am. It depends on the time of year.”
Another woman speaks up, saying, “It depends on everything.” Ellen nods and wields the pallet knife against the canvas again.
More people slowly filter in and watch for a moment before committing themselves by getting a drink and sitting. Ellen greets each new arrival and asks us individually if we live in Tallinn (yes) and if we are from Estonia (mostly no) and whether we also paint?
Three of the audience admit that they do also paint and Ellen asks them about their techniques. Slowly, the discussion builds and gains confidence.
Is it hard to paint in public? “It’s a different type of painting,” she acknowledges and then steps forward to show us one of the large canvases in similar colors to her work in progress. It was painted in public, she explains, in an exhibition like this one. “But it looks very different now. It took a long time to finish.”
Does she also paint with a brush? “No. I like the knife. Sometimes the spatula. You can paint with anything, though, even a credit card.” She makes a swift swiping motion.
What is her inspiration? She steps us through the exhibition, telling us about each one: where it was painted and what she thinking about. Three of them were painted during her previous trip to Tallinn.
I am drawn to one, all greens and pink and fuchsia, first because of the solid colors and then for the title: Wildflowers don’t care where they grow. On her Instagram, Ellen explains that the line is from a Dolly Parton song.
I uprooted myself from home ground and left
Took my dreams and I took to the road
When a flower grows wild, it can always survive
Wildflowers don’t care where they grow.
– Dolly Parton
As an immigrant in Tallinn, surrounded by distinctive accents debating the paintings by a newly-arrived French woman, the lyrics seem incredibly appropriate and even deep, as much as I hate to admit to feeling inspired by a Dolly Parton song.
Ellen’s event is not a presentation but a conversation. Everyone is asked for their opinion, everyone is included in the dialogue. As the discussion grows around her, she returns to her painting.
During a lull, I’m surprised that over an hour has passed since I arrived. Ellen is looking unhappily at her canvas.
“It needs to dry now.” She sighs. The damp air of the weekend thunderstorms are slowing her process. “I want to continue but now I have to wait. I cannot put on the second layer until the first one is done.” She has been working slowly, pausing to talk to the group after every few strokes, but apparently not slowly enough. She runs a finger along the edge of the canvas and gives us a guilty smile. “I want to touch it. I want to continue even though I know I shouldn’t, that it will make a big mess.”
Her enthusiasm is contagious. The presentation, which could have been a droning lecture or a silent demonstration of her painting skills, has turned into a wide range of personalities exchanging their thoughts on art and on travel and on inspiration. The live event is a breath of fresh air which would be hard to imagine in a museum; Miks Mitte seems the perfect venue and the result is quintessentially Tallinn Fringe.
Ellen’s art will remain on display at Miks Mitte until the evening of the 4th of September.