Studio Visit: Joan Mellon

Joan Mellon is a painter living and working in New York. Her work can be seen in PLEAT's October 2016 exhibition as well as joanmellon.com.

Please describe your work.
In my early years as an artist I was engaged in making mixed media work on hand built structures. In the 1990s I started over—as a painter—determined to find out what that meant. I began by making paintings of recognizable objects using oil paint as my preferred medium (it still is). I soon realized that using objects as a starting point was an excuse to do what I liked best—moving paint around on a designated surface and thinking about color. This led me, little by little, to paint non-objectively. After a while it hit me that the paintings I was making weren't “about” anything other than themselves, which for me, at that time, meant soft edge geometric divisions of color. My main concerns were the size and orientation of each painting's support, if the painting was going to be one or more panels, and the intensity and relation of the colors selected for each piece. The same was true for the black and white drawings I was making with graphite and charcoal.

After some years, I longed to paint more freely and wanted my paintings to be less “beautiful.” I wanted my work to include the gritty possibilities of oil paint and the accidental happenings of paint (smears, blobs, drips, etc.) that can occur during the painting process. In order to reach these goals, loosen up, and satisfy my fondness for working on paper, I spent several months making monoprints at a co-operative printmaking workspace. The lessons learned and prints made led me to create paintings (oil on canvas, wood panel and paper) that contained irregular grids that seemed to make themselves. These paintings—challenging, pleasurable and sometimes frustrating to create—included layers of color, levels of transparency and wonky lines of roughly hewn strokes of paint.

My method of painting is to begin with random strokes of color that tell me what to do next. This allows me to collaborate with the painting on what it is going to become. For me, the magic of painting happens when, after applying paint and wiping it off, perhaps hundreds of times, there is that moment when—suddenly—the surface that was once inanimate, comes alive.

What internal and external factors guide your formal and conceptual choices?
A shape, a color, a vision of a thin line in space; the change of season, the space between objects, a dream or the sensate residue of experience—any of these can be a beginning point for me to make a painting.

Who are your artistic influences and what have you learned from them?
As a child, I spent hours looking at reproductions of paintings that hung on the walls of our apartment in Brooklyn—Toulouse Lautrec, Degas, Diego Rivera, Brueghel, Picasso, Van Gogh, an American named Sterne and others. Most of what I have learned about painting has been from looking at thousands of paintings (in person, in books, online), thinking and reading about art and other things, talking with other artists—and making paintings. I am a glutton for images—paintings, drawings, prints, photographs. Some artists whose work I never tire of looking at and learning from are: Rembrandt (paintings and prints), David Park, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Morandi, Matisse, Bonnard, Leonardo DaVinci (drawings), George Braque, Eva Hesse, Anne Ryan and the work of many contemporaries I see as a steady flow available on Facebook. Music, too, has been an influence, especially jazz —Thelonius Monk, Bill Evans, Mary Lou Williams, Clifford Brown and Nina Simone. The learning process that takes place looking at and listening to these artists is not only about sensibility and technique but also about the imporatance of one human being connecting to another