Melinda Schawel

Melinda Schawel is an artist who embeds her works with personal feelings through tearing, sculpting, drawing, drilling and painting. Her recent series, Out From Under Me, sees colours coincide and separate to create textures and patterns which are distinctive characteristics of her art practice.

Schawel integrates a variety of tools and materials including drawing ink, fluid acrylics, water, pencil, plastic, sandpaper, a scalpel and Dremel drill. She often commences with a diluted ink wash brushed onto 640gsm paper. With a scalpel, she tears one piece at a time until a form emerges. This process can be guided although only to a certain point as the shape and direction of the tears are unpredictable. The precarious nature of this procedure sees the works take ambiguous paths. A sense of uncertainty arises in the anticipation of what will grow from beneath.

Allowing such fluidity by following the inclination to freely expose the unravelling formations gives the works their defining features. As Schawel says, “I normally incorporate multiple torn forms which form the basis of the compositions, along with perforated and pencilled areas as well as ink which spreads and dries under plastic. I always strive for a focal or anchor point and, in contrast, elements that appear to move or float away.”

Working with wet media requires a fair amount of time, in particular the wait for the drying process to occur. The tearing and drilling can also be lengthy. Multiple works are sprawled across her studio, to make the best use of time. When one piece is drying, another is worked on and an additional ink wash is applied. This keeps the works connected, however Schawel finds that it becomes difficult to keep a track of the hours. Time is her most critical medium, when the works are set to dry, the unexpected happens. A regular challenge is determining when to interfere and when to set it aside and let go.

Out From Under Me was inspired by events from Schawel’s childhood, which was a time of transition and dislocation. She explains that this stage in her life provided her with “a wide array of experiences but also a particular wariness and what I hope is a healthy dose of cynical optimism”. This period set the foundation for what would become an art practice that allows her to process feelings and find a sense of grounding. Schawel reveals, “In general I had a very positive outlook as a child, aside from those niggling feelings that would regularly creep in as I quietly prepared myself for circumstances totally out of my control – the moment when the rug would be pulled out from under me. As an adult with a young family of my own, that sense of vulnerability remains but is less about me and more about them.”

Layers of rich and absorbing imagery embody the works. Some will see familiar details and make associations, others will notice the materials bleed into one another to uncover enigmatic markings and intangible symbols. When viewed closely, the images underpin diminutive complexities that were carved with meaning. As seen in ‘Protected’, the colours of blue, black, gold and white converge and rise above the red backdrop which, if given time, can almost trick the eye into believing that they are in motion, moving in the same way that clouds expand or as dye hits a liquid pool.

Schawel sees her practice evolving in subtle steps forward rather than in large, obvious strides. She is enjoying the exploration of spatial relationships on paper and cannot see this ending any time soon. She envisions that her current work will transition smoothly into a 3D realm. She hopes that viewers will connect to the physicality of her processes and that they consider the works as a unique take on paper and materials. Schawel says, “Regardless of the response, I  think it’s really important not only to engage with your audience when the opportunity arises, but also to be open to multiple interpretations.”

Out From Under Me
21 November – 12 December, 2015
Hill Smith Gallery, South Australia

Courtesy the artist and Hill Smith Gallery, Adelaide.

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