An Artist, A Hopeful, A Visionary, A Soulful Escape
“Art is the vessel of the soul”
– Dawn Garcia
2013 has been one of the most creative years I’ve ever encountered and it seems fitting to close off the year by telling you the story of a truly gifted sculptor. Melanie Newcombe. The very essence of art is its ability to move you. The details, the unspoken emotion, the movement, the material tend to all be secondary. Until you come upon Melanie’s work. Made of cold, seemingly emotionally vacant materials of aluminum and metal, you are warmed by the very sight of her sculptures and find, that without pause, you are becoming entangled in the swell of feelings it provokes. It can be heard, seen, and felt by everyone who experiences it. That is not an opinion, it’s truth. You feel this unexplainable pull to sit and dissect every hand sewn thread of aluminum. Her pieces are like liquid confinement penetrating through every shallow and hollow space to reveal an incessant desire to be freed … and the tide of deliverance soon follows.
Each chunk of aluminum screen is outstretched and formed in such a way that its as if the soul is cast in a body of beautiful internal dialogue that is pouring through the tiny little unspoken squares. As you follow along every crevice, every silhouette, every bend of metal flesh, it is a sultry and soft sensuality gliding along your line of vision. And as the body fluidly moves upwards as if it cannot be cemented below, it’s the hair of every subject that inspires a delight and profound sense of emancipation. There are few words to describe that visual of the hair whether wildly curled or simply outstretched eager to touch the infinite passion just beyond it’s reach. And then you meet her. Her presence and ability to convey that passion in person is unparalleled.
I first met Melanie at a collaborative Art Show in Los Angeles. The show was at The Church Boutique and the theme was: What Do You Worship? Featured with a multitude of talent, her sculptures spoke loudly and sweetly. My first impression of her and her work:
“The human form is telling. Body language, posture, how we are pieced together … Are we folding? Bound together with aluminum screen wire, positioned with the structure of woods, sewn with heavy wire, Melanie’s two pieces on display tonight were sheer awe. Each figure, both “Folding” and “Haven” represent so much emotion through the positioning of both females one cannot help but find the breath escaping you. Each piece taking anywhere from 9-12 months because she does this part time … I imagine were she to be free to do it full time, it would take on a form that would change the world in the most transforming and extraordinary way. The intricacy of each figure is as if every square in the screen wire takes stock of every trapped feeling brimming inside and then, with careful weaving, Melanie is open to piece you back together. The breakthrough in her work is revealed in the “hair” of both figures. It has a sensational sense of movement that act as the releasing of the soul. It is – as a viewer – sublime.
Should you ever meet the artist, be prepared for sunlight.”
It is an absolute privilege to share this interview of Melanie Newcombe with you. Art is truly the vessel to our soul. Experience it as often as possible and find whatever will enliven and inspire you. Your being is reflected in every piece you witness. Melanie is an artist that dares to expose the fragility, vulnerability, seduction and strength of not only a woman but our entire essence. She is creating story in every honest movement …
“Art completes what nature cannot bring to finish. The artist gives us knowledge of nature’s unrealized ends.”
ATOD – Dawn Garcia (DG): The process of your sculptures, the details and time, do you draft out the vision first or simply allow the process itself to guide you?
MN: It is during that middle time of consciousness when I am beginning to fall asleep or beginning to wake up that I see what I will create. I process my life most in these still moments and this is where my primary inspired visions for sculptures just come to me – as I work out my life grief and joy and meet my inner goddesses.
I then create gesture sketches from these ideas, sometimes waking myself up from a dream to create the sketch so I don’t forget. Periodically I’ll create a finished drawing of my idea for a sculpture, but I don’t like drawing very much, so I usually jump right to creating the maquette and then the sculpture.
When I hire the model – we work out the pose together. I tell her what I want and then she adds her own sensitivities to the work. I create a maquette from her live modeling and from the maquettes to build the life-size screen wire pieces. I particularly pay attention to how she places her hands in the pose, for the hands are a focal point for me in the plot.
The process of metalwork does influence the outcome of the pieces as well. As I twist wire and see how the light hits the surface of the metal in different ways, I change things as I go … make decisions based upon what is happening with the materials.
My timeline is about 9 months for each piece from the first concept to the final creation of the pedestal. This timeline is based upon a part-time work schedule.
DG: What made you decide to use one of the most challenging materials to create such infinitely soft and truly beautiful art?
MN: Thank you for your kind words.
I am so pleased with the way that this semi – transparent material shows gravity. The weight of flesh that I’ve sculpted with this aluminum window screening is incredible to me! It is funny, but I do perplex about how well this material has worked out for skin.
I first tried to work with screen wire in undergrad, but gave up. Fast forward several years when an artist friend gave me a roll of screen wire that she didn’t want. I studied that roll which leaned against my studio wall for awhile before I decided to try it out as the final cover for my sculptures. What I saw was that the window screening began to transcend into skin for me. I was intrigued by the way the light played off the folds in the curved metal and I’ve become inescapably seduced.
I sew it over the chicken wire with tie wires, which lends itself to the concept of the work. It all came together quite unconsciously as I followed the process – gave myself to the material and allowed it to guide me.
DG: As a child, what was your favorite game to play?
MN: Life as a child with my grandfather was always one of creative discovery. He and I would sit on the kitchen floor delightfully creating kinetic toys out of toothpicks and rubber bands demanding the materials fit our purposes. Enamored with this process, I’ve continued to draw upon my experiences with him for my sculptures. Part of the job of the sculptor is to tell a material what it will be, and this is a gift that I learned early on in part, because of the games my grandfather taught me.
DG: Where was the first place you visited that completely opened you up to the world?
MN: One of my first memories was possibly the age of 3, though I’m a little fuzzy on that detail. I visited an aquarium with my mom. She held one hand as I leaned over the edge of a pool and pet a dolphin as it arched its back up near me. I’ll never forget the sunlight playing on the dolphin’s gray skin and the smooth, rubbery feeling – it was a moment of a creative awakening, I believe – that such an odd creature was not only alive, but was kind enough to swim up to me and allow me to touch it!
DG: The first piece of art you recall that sparked that “life” within?
MN: Jay DeFeo’s “The Rose” 1958-66, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. I was 17, turned a corner of the museum and there it was – like the harmonic monolith from Space: Odyssey 2001 – it sucked me in!
There was a video next to it of her sitting in her studio windowsill watching from above the movers taking her piece and she looked so heart – broken. I feel that way every time my sculptures leave my sight.
It was the way the light hit the angles of the piece, the scale, and the texture of the cement. I was amazed at how a story could be told with monochromatic color schemes and simple 3-D forms radiating out from a center. I’d not been a fan of abstract artwork prior to this moment, mostly because I didn’t quite understand it, but when I stood in front of her work, I felt it, I felt an idea, I felt my eyes experiencing greatness.
DG: If you could craft a two-sentence story to tell the story behind your sculptures, what would you say?
MN: I am perpetually pushing materials toward innovative structures, with my recent work featuring layers of aluminum screen wire sewn into human forms. The repetitive lines of the stitching connect a patchwork of wire mesh, arranged to convey a tension between beauty, sensuality and ephemerality.
DG: Close your eyes. What does bliss look like?
MN: Strawberries, wine, chocolate, an evening or late night swim in a pool and some crazy dancing – in no particular order.
DG: The hair in your three sculptures is, to me, vital to the freedom and emotion of each piece. Is that their final expression? Their ultimate liberation?
MN: The hair seems to contribute a lot to the mood of the work. It is the last thing that I sculpt and it takes some ingenuity and trial and error. The hair could be sculptures in and of themselves, which I may explore more in the future. I want the hair to be about movement, about mess and turmoil and weather. The idea of liberation is an accident, but yes, the hair does seem to have this kind of energy that moves outward.
Thank you to Melanie for giving me insight, encouraging my own curiosities to delve into the swirling vortex of creativity longing to rage free within myself. You are truly exceptional and the ability you have to transform something so cold and still into fragments of life and movement and texture and fabricated divinity is a gift to anyone who sees it.
And that, my wonderful readers is the final interview of 2013 and it is – in every way – the most lovely close to an exceptionally vivid year.
Thank you for allowing me and my incredible staff of writers to share our worlds with you.
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