Michael James Fennell was born in Cumberland and studied at Cumbria College of Art and Design and won the County Award for his work during his Foundation Course. He later trained for 3 years at Harrow School of Art and it was there he ignored the high fashion of crude drawing and rough painting favoured by his peers. Instead he concentrated on subjects inherited from such diverse sources as Van Eyck and Peter Blake, realised with brushwork that retained the discipline of the former. His ideas may be taken directly from nature, from another work of art, from literature, a film or a piece of music or any combination of these things. A favourite source for example, was Lewis Carroll's 'Alice' books:

"In my "Alice" paintings I tried to combine literal realism with the wild imaginative leaps of a child's logic in a way that matches the spirit of the text", he states.

Michael works mainly in two independent mediums: oil paint, and a medium he has created, pioneered and developed over 12 years: smoke. He believes the process lends itself particularly well to portraiture and figurative painting. All the monochrome examples on this website are created with this technique. For an explanation of the medium see Processes.

Michael is essentially a figurative painter, specialising in portraiture. Due to the constraints of individual likeness and the adversity of his smoke medium (the chosen choice of many of his portraits), he finds the pursuit of verisimilitude all the more challenging. He also feels the portrait still has a strong and important place in modern art.

In his paintings of the nude, Michael believes the naked figure becomes a vehicle for considering ideas of real versus ideal form, and physical versus pure love. These paintings look to evoke a broad range of emotional expression, for example, the beauty of the human form and natural fecundity, lustful physical sensuality, and delicate spiritual lyricism. The themes can deliberately hark back to Botticelli's nudes with their elevated attributes and meanings.

In other works and themes, the narrative may be less straightforward. The characters and associations depicted will evoke differing interpretations from viewer to viewer. If the subject is a real person, it is important to the artist that they become to some extent a myth, a character in a fiction. Everything has to be consistent within the theme; an object for example has to plausibly belong to the character, or illustrate a part of that character's existence. The figures are often in confined spaces of calm; they rest within, stilled in meditation. The paintings aim for the concentration of poetry, elegance and quiet tone.

The artist lives and works in the southern edge of the English Lake District.